As part of Black History Month, the Community for Race Relations Committee of Peterborough (CRRC) and the Centre for Gender and Social Justice (CGSJ) organized a roundtable discussion on Africentric Education and inclusive pedagogy. The event took place at Catharine Parr Traill College on February 26 and featured Leah Newbold, a Toronto-based visual artist, community organizer and educator at the Sheppard Public Africentric Alternative School in Toronto; Charmaine Magumbe, co-founder of the Afrocentric Awareness Network of the Kawarthas (AANK); and Dr. George Sefa Dei, educator, researcher, writer and professor of Sociology and Equity Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto.
Each of the presentations brought to light a different perspective on the merits and challenges facing Africentric educational platforms: Leah Newbold spoke primarily of her experience as a teacher at the Africentric Alternative School; Charmaine Magumbe spoke about how her experience as a student of Jamaican-descent influenced the ways she raised and educated her children in Peterborough; and George Dei’s presentation pertained predominantly to how mainstream education can demotivate youth from minority groups and push them to disengagement. With the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) facing a 40% rate of drop-out amongst students of the Black communities, this panel provided a space to examine the reasons behind this drop-out rate and offer concrete solutions to counter this trend—notably, by questioning established pedagogies and curricula.
In her presentation, Leah Newbold explained that the Africentric Alternative School was initiated in 2009 with 130 students. It now comprises of 170 students from JK to grade 6, and the school is expected to grow by one grade per year. Though the school received considerable negative media attention and was accused of “encouraging segregation” and offering “ghettoized education,” Newbold demystified the latter allegations by explaining that segregation is a form of dominance that aims at separating groups with the purpose of making them unequal. Africentric education, on the other hand, is set up to address systemic failure and disengagement from youth. Newbold pointed out that mainstream education, as we know it, is itself Eurocentric, but the latter fact is taken for granted and not questioned as in its role as dominating or “segregationist.”
George Dei, was also adamant about Africentric schools being the solution to a problem that had been ignored for far too long. Dei explained Africentric education as a pedagogical methodology that, within the classroom setting, introduces culturally relevant references, histories, and experiences that resonate with a student’s identity and community. While the curricula followed is still the ones established by the TDSB, the core element of African-centered education is to “center” African experiences within these school curricula so that children and youth of African descent can see themselves through the lens of a valuable history.
Dei explained this history as a totality of lived experiences and not just as dates and facts that happened at particular times and places. Charmaine Magumbe echoed this notion of history through the work carried by AANK. AANK aims at raising positive-- rather than negative-- awareness of Black heritage in the Peterborough and Kawartha regions. Moving away from lectures and classes, AANK aims to teach and create comfort around Africentricism by sharing lived experiences and practices in order to restore learning about pre-colonial Africa.
One of the major points raised during the round-table discussion is the impact of mainstream education on the self-perception of youth belonging to minority groups. While Magumbe spoke about how her own schooling experience was destructive to her self-image, Dei argued that youth who drop out of schools do not generally do so because of any limitations of their own, but because they are “pushed out” of schools by the educational system. This “push out,” explains Dei, is a process and it needs to be identified and minutely analyzed.
For Dei, one of the ways in which this “push out” can be countered is by making sure that test scores are not the only measure of success for youth in schools. Instead, he proposed a thorough investigating of how students feel about who they are and how they feel about their community. Along the same lines, Newbold proposed forms of teaching that take into account histories of oppression while reinforcing positive models of self-image. Africentric education has the aim of encouraging youth to be proud of their history and their inherited culture, and to question the authority of mainstream whiteness and Eurocentricism.
For Dei, a successful Africentric education is one where Black youth recognize their community, and their community’s past and achievements. In other words, Dei encourages teaching models that move towards a culture of community rather than a culture of individualism. Speaking of Africa not as a continent, but as a state of mind, Dei reiterated that this African consciousness needs to be carried forward proudly. All the participants on the panel spoke of colonization not only in terms of the land, but also in terms of colonization of the mind—which is what an Africentric education aims at decolonizing.
By educating through engagement with identities and experiences, the Africentric educational platform aims to reach out and engage a multiplicity of experiences and identities that may or may not specifically pertain to the Black communities. With time, the panel hopes that such models will open themselves to other marginalized groups and different sites, and have the transformative power to reconfigure the current mainstream educational models.