‘We are an African People’: An Analysis of How Culture Influences the Learning Processes of African-American Children Attending Urban Public Schools
Rona Monique Frederick
Thesis DT 3.5 1996 F582
xiv, 147 leaves: ill. (some col.); 28 cm.
African American children living in the urban cities of America often depend on neighborhood schools for an education. However, many teachers and administrators employed by public schools fail to acknowledge the important role that culture plays in their learning process. Furthermore, much of the literature written by African American educators fails to provide instructional strategies that produce "cultural literacy" in the classroom. "Cultural literacy," as defined in this thesis, is knowledge of a community's unique history, rituals, communication styles, coping patterns, and attitudes.
The scope of this thesis will illustrate the cultural expectations of the urban school and the learning experiences of African American children, as shaped by their cultural experience. Furthermore, this research will show the correlation between the devaluation of African American culture and the learning experience of African American children in urban schools.
This thesis examines the role of culture and its influence on the learning process of African American students from three perspectives: historical, socio-psychological, and academic. Historically, a high premium has always been placed on education by African Americans. This is evidenced by African Americans' continued initiatives to develop their own educational institutions. This thesis highlights the Freedman's Schools, the Rosewald schools, and the African centered schools of the 1960's as proof of the continuous tradition of educating African American children within the community. The base of this analysis is the interplay between interpersonal variables (Black teachers and Black students), institutional variables (Black schools being a reflection of the culture of the community), and community variables (support from families, churches, and businesses) in the segregated school. The interdependency of these variables creates a culturally affirming environment for African American children.
Currently, many African American educators are examining the role of culture on the learning processes of African American students attending urban public schools. This thesis utilizes socio-psychological literature in order to answer the question --- Do African American children have their own cultural learning style? According to an influential group of African American learning theorists, the response is an emphatic "yes?" African American children do have their own learning styles based on their cultural ethos. However, constructing one's classroom to foster African American learning styles is not routinely done. The very concept of "learning styles" is rooted in westernized thought, and is not applicable to African American children. In fact, the notion of "learning styles" undermines the totality of African American cultural experiences by not allowing for a holistic approach to learning. It is asserted that teachers must strive for "cultural literacy" within the classroom environment. This would consist of a culturally relevant curriculum, teaching style, classroom environment, and community involvement.
After outlining the components of a "culturally literate" classroom, this thesis examines the curriculum, teaching style, and classroom environment in an exemplary "culturally literate" school--- NationHouse Postive Action Center. Educational strategies observed at NationHouse are described, providing practical suggestions for producing a culturally affirming environment. Based on these observations, research and past teaching experiences, the author will present strategies that produce "cultural literacy" in the classroom.
Finally, this thesis explores "culturally literate" innovations; Webb Elementary School, located in Washington DC, and three select Black male academies, located in Detroit, Michigan- The Malcolm X school, The Marcus Garvey school and Paul Robeson school. The examination of these institutions provides insight into the type of resistance faced when attempting to implement "culturally literate" teaching practices in a public school setting. This thesis concludes by challenging culturally and politically conscious African Americans to become active in the educational process of Black children in the urban environment.