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Revolutionary pedagogy: Primer for teachers of black children

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Sat, 29 Apr 2017 Source: Francis Kwarteng

“But to educate you have to teach and you cannot be a good teacher until the pupil has learned” (Prof. Molefi Kete Asante, p. 14).

The title of this review is the title of Dr. Molefi Kete Asante’s newest book, “Revolutionary Pedagogy: Primer for Teachers of Black Children,” now one of his eighty-two (82) books.

“Revolutionary Pedagogy” defines a bold new paradigm for educating black children. Yet, while this radically new paradigmatic definition of pedagogy focuses primarily on black children, it tacitly yet confidently speaks for children of all races and ethnicities, for instance in a multi-ethnic, multi-racial geopolitical context such as the United States. Consider this statement (p. 82):

“I [Molefi Kete Asante] believe that evolutionary pedagogy provides all Americans an opportunity to accept and promote a more equitable understanding of nation… (emphasis added)”

Dr. Asante advances this argument of revolutionary pedagogy on several fronts in a dispassionate and discursive manner, an argument he executes from the point of view of his vastly rich experience as a widely respected educator in the US and across the world, as one of the leading authorities on teacher and curriculum development, and as an African-centered or Afrocentric trainer of administrators and teachers and community leaders.

In the main, the epistemology of Afrocentricity constitutes the foundational architecture upon which the general character of the book is built. And here, we should point out that Dr. Asante’s African-centered approach to pedagogy fundamentally shares a very useful framology of mutual interface with Boaventura de Sousa Santos’ “abyssal thinking” and Paulo Freire’s “critical pedagogy.”

Santos writes:

“Modern Western thinking is an abyssal thinking. It consists of a system of visible and invisible distinctions, the invisible ones being the foundation of the visible ones. The invisible distinctions are established through radical lines that divide social reality into realms, the realm of ‘this side of the line’ and the realm of ‘the other side of the line.’”

Santos is in effect positing a world of bifurcation in which the West, “visible” or “this side of the line,” stands in sharp contradistinction to the rest of the world, “invisible” or “the other side of the line.” In this relationship of unequal dichotomy this “other side of the line” is conceptually presumed to be non-existent—so to speak—and yet shrouded in a dramatic mystery of otherism according to the questionable assumptions of Eurocentrism. Eurocentrism is the Beaventura “line.”

The late Edward Said’s critique of this paradigm of false universalism eventually resulted in the book “Orientalism.” Granted, Eurocentrism assumes a fulcrum of confident centrality, of hegemonic universalism, in the space of cultural globalization. This fundamental truth about life points to the fact that this imposed hegemonic universalism denies agency to those it has forcibly pushed to the periphery of cultural globalization, through the active channels of slavery, imperialism, colonialism, racism, and neo-colonialism. Listen to Bob Marley’s “Crazy Baldhead” which laments the corruption of education to inferiorize blacks and sustain white supremacy, while this system of white supremacy belittles or ignores Africa’s contributions to Western civilization:

“I'n'I build a cabin;

“I'n'I plant the corn;

“Didn't my people before me

“Slave for this country?

“Now you look me with that scorn,

“Then you eat up all my corn…

“Build your penitentiary, we build your schools,

“Brainwash education to make us the fools.

“Hate is your reward for our love

“Telling us of your God above

On the track “Talking Blues,” he sang:

“Building church and university…

“Deceiving the people continually

”Me say them graduating thieves and murderers…

These two songs capture the narrative essence of what Dr. Asante is saying. But then again this denial of agency, of individual and collective self-determination, namely, seems to have built up a sense of false consciousness in the collective psychology of those banished to the periphery of cultural globalization. As a matter of course, cultural dislocation and double consciousness and racial inferiority and dysconscious racism are just four natural corollaries of this forced banishment.

On the other hand, in so far as we are concerned double consciousness is a matter of conscious, rational—and even deliberate—choice, the kind of choice not rooted in the existential biology or genetics of our ontological realities. This is exactly where the work of Dr. Asante, an activist intellectual and the polymathic scholar Cornel West once deferentially referred to as “a living legend,” comes into play.

The methodology and epistemology of African-centeredness therefore seeks to overthrow this imposed hegemony of universalism, cultural and racial superiority, and scientific racism and most indispensably, to chart the course out for a new established order in which parity of esteem, cultural justice, respect for human dignity and diversity, and social justice assume a defining character of race relations and cultural globalization. Besides, there is good and bad in every culture. Here is Dr. Asante on the role of the revolutionary pedagogist in transforming minds:

“However, the purpose of education for the revolutionary pedagogist is to prepare students to live in an interconnected global world with personal dignity and respect for all other people as human beings with the same privileges that one seeks for oneself while preserving the earth or those who will come afterwards…” (p. 9).

We should add that those afore-referenced internecine contradictions do not exist in a vacuum. In fact, the classroom is the precise lab location where the unfolding drama of psychological warfare is taking place, subject to the dictates of political ideology. Furthermore, the idea that education and teaching are political acts gains on the defining moment of truth than we are willing to accept.

“In fact,” writes Dr. Asante, “teaching is a political act…Therefore the revolutionary pedagogist sees teaching as both a political and cultural act…Knowing consciously what we are doing when we are teaching moves this act from political to cultural” (p. 15).

This stance of moving beyond teaching and education as political acts, and making room for cultural justice as a critical focus of pedagogy, constitutes a radical departure from the critical pedagogy of Paolo Freire, although this unique typology of Freirean philosophy of education informs Dr. Asante’s own theoretical and intellectual development, of what he appropriately calls “revolutionary pedagogy.” Other substantial differences also exist between critical pedagogy and revolutionary pedagogy nonetheless (p. 17-10).

It is our understanding that Dr. Asante’s believes those who teach children must have more than a passing familiarity of the cultures of those children they teach in order to shift the paradigm from the purely political to the cultural.

What is more, he did not spare teachers in his surgical indictment of the system (regents, superintendents, state administrators, politicians, governing school boards), placing an enormous burden of responsibility on them to explore the benefits of self-knowledge, arguably the best form of knowledge, in order to make up for what the system does not impart to them and in order to adequately prepare their students for the larger world of globalization and cosmopolitanism.

This is all because he strongly believes that all children, black children particularly, are capable of intellectual sophistication, absorption and readiness if we set the standards high and if we teach them well and give them the right information. Revolutionary pedagogy therefore places a lot of emphasis on discipline and character development among others, as opposed to official overemphasis on testing, in other others which he aptly characterizes as bringing "hardware solutions" to "software problems. He writes:

“If you set the bar high the students will leap over it!”

Yet why he calls the classroom “interconnected global world” appears to be undermined by the particularistic exceptionalism of educational philosophy advanced by John Dewey, an influential American educational reformer and psychologist. Dewey would write:

“The general purpose of school is to transfer knowledge and prepare young people to participate in America’s democratic society” (p. 8).

Dewey’s views hold sway over the content and general character of American education to this day. Unfortunately education is more complicated than that, more specifically the question of knowledge transfer. On the other hand tailoring the general purpose of education to America’s democratic needs shortchanges students in the arena of intellectual globalization, putting the cosmopolitan needs of beyond their reach.

This may be why Dr. Asante’s pedagogic formula incorporates a critical assessment of relationships, ethics, values, literacy, and reasoning, which he also describes as “the five aspects of revolutionary pedagogy” (p. 9-10) (Readers should consult Dr. Asante’s paper “The Asante Principles for the Afrocentric Curriculum” for other dimensions of his revolutionary pedagogy). At this point we should mention the five basic central theses around which the concept of revolutionary pedagogy revolves (p. 19-20):

• There is no universal history with Europe at the center of it.

• In the United States, specific educational responses to the transmission of knowledge represent cultural inheritances often complicated by issues of racism, class, and gender.

• A revolutionary pedagogy begins with a proper corrective at the level of chronology as a feature of place.

• Education is the arena of ideological struggle between the status quo and the progressive forces for transformation.

• A revolutionary pedagogy must necessarily critique and reconstruct the infrastructure of contemporary education.

And here are the main features of revolutionary pedagogy (p. 18):

• Uses agency as the central concept for analysis and actions.

• Suggests the importance of cultural justice as a way to force thinking beyond social justice so that art, music, language, robotics and all symbol creating activities can add to the promotion of equality.

• Reaches for a robust content formula for discipline in the classroom and school building because students are awed by what they do not know but what is within their reach.

• Aims to insure the transmission of humanizing values based on historical and social narratives that empower the students.

From the foregoing discussion, Dr. Asante proceeds to advance a comprehensive description of revolutionary pedagogy (p. 12):

“The practice of revolutionary pedagogy is a fundamental tool in the creation of a new perspective on education…Revolutionary pedagogy is an incremental process intended to announce the complete overhaul of the educational system…A revolutionary pedagogy is an intellectual and emotional commitment from the school boards and commissions to the superintendents and principals.”

However a more precise definition of the concept assumes the following descriptive structure (p.17):

“Is a philosophy of education that seeks to overturn ordinary thinking, methods, and practice of creating and delivering knowledge to children by employing Africological, Kemetological, and rhetorical techniques to reset the instructional focus for children. Africological refers to the study of African and African American history, cultures, and phenomenon from the standpoint of African people as subjects…”

This second definition captures the technical synthesis embodied in the corpus of rigorous scholarship handed down to us from the intellectual libraries of Ama Mazama, Cheikh Anta Diop, Maulana Karenga, Kwame Nkrumah, Theophile Obenga, Yosef Ben-Jochannan, Carter Woodson, Kofi Kissi Dompere—to name a few.

Still, what these profound scholars have in common is the central idea that European or Western culture is merely one of many cultures and that these cultures must co-exist in a creative ambience of interacting parity. Respect for cultural and ethno-racial diversity and Afrocentric approach to the study of multiculturalism take center stage in the development of curriculum content.

In other words, revolutionary pedagogy derives its strength of theoretical and practical substance from an unquestioned respect for our common humanity and for the fact that each ethnic and racial group has contributed to human knowledge and civilization. This statement reinforces the idea that there exists no particular typology of knowledge that the African genius has not contributed to. Kwame Nkrumah described “African genius” this way:

“When I speak of African Genius, I mean something different from Negritude, something not apologetic, but dynamic…I do not mean a vague brotherhood based on a criterion of color, or on the idea that Africans have no reasoning, but only a sensitivity. By the African Genius, I mean something positive…the efficiency and validity of our traditional statecraft, our highly developed code of morals, our hospitality and our purposeful energy.”

An excellent example of African Genius consists of the work and legacy of African-American scientist Ernest Just, arguably one of the most influential modern cell theory pioneers. This reviewer has studied general biology, anatomy and physiology, and microbiology yet he never once came across this great African-American cell biologist whose research and publications exerted enormous impact on developmental biology and modern evolution. Dr. Asante briefly discussed him in this book, using the Just example to explain why we need to appreciate and acknowledge the contributions each ethnic and racial group has made to human civilization.

This is just one of the many empowering ideas Afrocentricity brings to the table of ethno-racial and cultural diversity. Perhaps most significantly, we cannot deny the fact that white scholars from Howard Zinn to Martin Bernal to James Loewen have all been influenced, one way or the other, by the rigorous approach of the Afrocentric methodology to historiography, in spite of Mary Lefkowitz’s uninformed hostility to the epistemology of African-centeredness in general and Afrocentric education in particular.

The idea that the West or Europe will absolutely control or have exclusive access to the production and dissemination of knowledge is as remote and foreign to the revolutionary pedagogist as is what is beyond the great beyond. This notion is premised on the fact that when we know the truth about ourselves we are more likely bound to respect each other and not to subject the other to the curse of inferiorization. This is why attempts to de-colonize universities and educational systems around the world are such an excellent idea. The works of Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ana Monteiro-Ferreira and Chandra Kant Raju, the world-famous Indian polymath, mathematician and statistician, educator, computer scientist, historian and physicist, are commendable.

Dr. Asante’s revolutionary pedagogy is a major contribution to these noble efforts of de-colonizing education. In a related context, the concept of Ellisonian invisibility captures this rich rhythm of revolutionary pedagogy. Of course, “invisible man” knows he exists in his own immanent ambience but in the oversight context of someone else’s reality and social-political consciousness, yet this external reality and social-political consciousness denies him the luxury of self-existence.

It turns out that that someone else’s reality and social-political consciousness have succeeded in usurping and de-activating his agency of location. Afrocentricity therefore detaches him from the gripping periphery of that external reality and social-political consciousness and places him at the center of his own familiar reality and social-political consciousness, historical or not. This may have been what Dr. Asante meant when he wrote:

“The reason this is important is because the transmission of common values should be at the center of education. This can only happen if we see that the African person, since the beginning of the nation, has moved from the periphery of the narrative to a place where we all share in the center.”

Yet, Dr. Asante strongly cautions us against needlessly dwelling on the past and rather advises us to appropriate the best from the past and use that as a guide into the future. Neither does he push the idea that “the past was better than the future…that studying the past allows us to choose what was good and to avoid what was bad in the past” (p. 117). This is extremely important particularly for those uninformed critics who mistakenly think he either romanticizes the past or is obsessed with the past, or both. Finally, for those who are not clear about the glaring contrasts between Eurocentricity and Afrocentricity, here is Dr. Asante’s take (p. 21-22, p. 67, 81-82):

“Afrocentricity is not a counterpart to Eurocentricity as it is seen in the United States and Europe…While Afrocentricity tends to operate as an ethnocentric concept assuming that European ways are universal and therefore superior this is unthinkable in Afrocentricity. Indeed rather than a ‘counterpart’ to this type of thinking, Afrocentricity is a definite ‘counterpoint.’

“On the other hand, Afrocentricity is not the opposite of Eurocentricity. In fact, Afrocentricity does not valorize itself while degrading other perspectives. Eurocentricity imposes its view as universal, making a particular historical reality the sum total, in the European’s view, of the human experience…

“It is based on white supremacist notions which endeavor to protect white advantage in education, economics, and politics by teaching that what is white is universal, even human, on the other hand, Eurocentric instruction often de-valorizes what is black…Afrocentricity seeks to place the African in the center of events and situations that involve African people….

“The resisters say that Afrocentricity is anti-white. If Afrocentricity as a theory is against anything it is against racism, ignorance, and white hegemony in the curriculum. This is not anti-white; it is pro-human…

“Afrocentric education is not ‘against’ history; it is ‘for’ history, correct, accurate history. If is against anything, it is against marginalizing African American children, Latino children, Asian children, Native American children—a true revolutionary pedagogy will be different from a racist education, that is, a white supremacist education…

“Others have written that it brings about ‘tribalization’ of America but America already has red state and blue state divisions with a large clan of whites who voted for Donald Trump for example because they saw in him a leader of a tribe that felt threatened and under severe stress because of the increasing multicultural nature of the society.”

Dr. Asante also celebrates all the trailblazers in the field of education and curriculum development, while elsewhere he painstakingly explores the benefits of revolutionary pedagogy to the study of science, mathematics, engineering, technology and other forms of human knowledge.

Ghanaian and African policy makers, educators, activists, educational philosophers, professors and lecturers and teachers, researchers from think tanks, school administrators, and ruling classes have a lot to learn from “Revolutionary Pedagogy: Primer For Teachers Of Black Children,” bearing in mind that radical education reform is at the root of revolutionary pedagogy, a liberating force for cultural justice, social justice, educational justice, equity and fairness, racial justice and above all, clamor for equal representation in the space of man’s intellectual civilization, historical and contemporary. And no human being living today is more qualified to speak to these pressing matters passionately than the multifaceted genius of our time himself, Dr. Molefi Kete Asante.

For our largely colonial educational systems demand that we listen closely to Drs. Molefi Kete Asante and George Sefa Dei, of the University of Toronto, a scholar whose theory of “transgressive pedagogy” informs the former’s theory of revolutionary pedagogy. The latter also strongly encourages a healthy dialogue between teacher-centered and student/learner-centered paradigms in intellectualizing the experience of students, unlike the traditional education formula.

This latest book by Dr. Asante will certainly be as influential as Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”

Columnist: Francis Kwarteng