Culturally Centric: An exploration

Lupita Nyong’o, in her acceptance speech at The Oscars in Hollywood, USA, stated a most important fact: “No Matter where you are from, your dreams are valid” (Oscars, 2014). Her words provide the perfect segue for the premise of the Afrocentric Curriculum promulgated by Molefi Asante: No matter where you are from, what your ethnicity or your neighbourhood is, the sum total of your experiences and by extension your culture, is valid. It is important. It informs all aspects of your life and therefore it is significant.

Asante, having traversed the African Continent, noticed, as any astute educator would, that African children were empowered through a curriculum which incorporated their culture in the classroom. It was ‘centric’: the nucleus of classroom activities was their African culture, which allowed students to be ‘grounded’ and centered as they were instructed using a language and teaching strategies that they could relate to.

The arguments put forward by Asante is applicable across the board, no matter the education level of the students or the subject matter being taught. The Afrocentric curriculum highlighted several important points. One of these is the importance of incorporating the experiences of students in the teaching and learning event. When this is done, the material comes alive for the student, who know being able to relate to and visualize the content, is empowered to learn. This aspect is Existentialist in nature, as facilitators recognize that students live within a socio-cultural environment by which they are affected.

As one draws on the various experiences of the student, language becomes important. For the learner, the facilitator must speak the ‘language’ that they understand: their issues, their everyday environment and experiences, their culture, and their concerns inform the language they speak. Unless information is communicated using that ‘language’, the material will not be understood and utilized by the student. The teacher adds value to the experience by utilizing and manipulating this knowledge to the benefit of the student and results in a culturally inclusive and socially aware environment that enables the facilitator to become the intentional teacher who capitalizes on every opportunity to create a learning event.

Language is a formidable tool as it relates to education. It can make or break the learning experience but it is often an overlooked medium. As a tool of communication, in a centric curriculum, utilizing local vernacular and articulations that the student understands sets the stage for a profitable learning event. It makes learning interesting, relatable and valid.

In the Jamaican context, the use of Patios in the classroom is a much debated subject. As an educator myself, I am in agreement with Asante who advocates that the language of the culture is important. Though it is understood that English is a world standard and is essential for communicating effectively with others outside of our domain, unless I use what is familiar in particular instances, my attempt to inform, educate and empower will be a useless exercise. By using their language, students become intimately involved in the learning experience.

Having identified, acknowledged and validated the various cultures in the classroom, the stage is set for a solid series of exchanges to occur. Though one cannot guarantee that every single learning event will be successful or every single individual reached, on each occasion, by putting this into practice, there is an increased likelihood that even one will become centered.

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