For Black America-We Are “Still a Nation at Risk”
The National Black Education Agenda Responds to COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS advocated by The Council of State School Officers and the National Governors Association.
Principal Criticisms of the Common Core State Standards: On the Road to Educational Genocide
Neither the assumptions of “A Nation at Risk” nor the soon to be implemented “Common Standards,” both of which assume an American student population embodied with a similar history of freedom and cultural neutrality, is sufficient to educate students of African descent whose ancestors in the United States bore the scars of physical and mental chains of enslavement and who themselves, whether they recognize it or not, are still victimized by a white supremacist culture and school curriculum. No other race came to America in chains to be suppressed and vilified by Americans of European descent who are presently accorded unearned special privileges because of their skin color and heritage.
Although the new standards claim that no specific curriculum materials are being advocated, in several areas that specify common standards in English Language Arts, and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Mathematics, Science, and Technical Subjects, grades kindergarten through the 12th grade and college, the “sample” of illustrative texts rarely contains any books or writings by Black authors, and, for that matter, of any writings by Hispanic/Latino, Native American or Asian writers! The “illustrative” texts for student reading in grades K-5 contain no readings identifiable as written by or about authors of color.
Yet, as the Common Core State Standards make clear these are only recommendations, not required readings. States are free to choose their own texts and materials. The State of Texas, for example, has already decided to remove such illustrious Americans as President Thomas Jefferson and Justice Thurgood Marshall from its textbooks and curriculum.
The frequent suggestion in ‘The Standards’ that students be paired for diversity is an implementation deception in schools that are primarily or all of one racial group or where some students are separated into elite “gifted” or “advanced placement” groupings.
“The Standards Movement: Quality Control Or Decoy?”
The assumptions of both “A Nation at Risk” and the soon to be implemented “Common Standards” ignore the history of and ongoing reality of structural racism and white supremacist culture in school curricula and educational practices.
More than a decade ago in a speech at Howard University entitled, “The Standards Movement: Quality Control or Decoy?” the distinguished psychologist and educator, Dr. Asa G. Hilliard III, reminded us that the many standards movements in American education are but decoys rather than attempts to reform education to serve all students:
“I believe the standards movement is generally a decoy. I don’t care whether it’s a Democrat or Republican who calls for it. When people put so much emphasis on standards as a school reform tool, it means that they want to act like they’re performing a reform effort, but they’re actually moonwalking. They look like they’re going forward but they’re going backwards.”
No Emphasis on Education for Cultural Democracy
A principal criticism of the Common Core Standards is that there are no recommendations for honest readings and discussions to prepare all students of whatever ethnicity or gender to live in a cultural democracy, that is, to become divested of cultural, racial, gender or sexual biases. Without honest discussion and understanding of white supremacy racism and cultural domination, the citizens of the United States and immigrants present and future will remain unwitting instruments of an unjust and still unrealized democracy.
Although the new standards claim that no specific curriculum materials are being advocated, in several areas that specify common standards in English Language Arts, and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Mathematics, Science, and Technical Subjects, grades kindergarten through the 12th grade and college, the “sample” of illustrative texts rarely contains any books or writings by Black, Hispanic/Latino, Native American or Asian authors! The “illustrative” texts for student reading in grades K-5 contain no readings identifiable as written by or about authors of color.
Illustrative readings, grades 6-12, recommend 6 of 32 works of Black writers: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Zora Neal Hurston, Lorraine Hansberry, and Richard Wright. However, if teachers are not prepared culturally and emotionally to help students discover the central theme of all of these writers – - truth and justice in an anti-racist society – - then the readings of even these giants of African heritage will be of little value.
These proposed standards ignore the reality that the majority of African American and Latino/a students attend schools in which they are the overwhelming majority and white (and Asian) students are the “tracked” into gifted and Advanced Placement classes. Therefore, although the proposed standards frequently suggest that students be paired for diversity, how can that suggestion be implemented in schools that are primarily or all of one racial group or where some students are separated into elite “gifted” or “advanced placement” groupings?
Disconnected from the Reality of Racialized Joblessness and Mass Incarceration
A second criticism is that the Common Core Standards approach to educational reform also ignores the reality that massive joblessness has rendered education all but irrelevant. What is needed is a comprehensive approach to education and opportunities for meaningful work that will interrupt the current cradle-to-prison pipeline and give our children a real hope for a future.
The Repetition of Failed Math and Science Education Approach Continues
A third principal criticism of the proposed Common Core Standards is that we find, once again, the inane repeating of a failed math and science education approach that relies heavily on rote memorization for high stakes tests, rather than inquiry based learning in math, science, and technology. This is coupled with inadequately educated math and science teachers who have to rely on the textbook industry to tell them what and how to teach.
Moreover, mathematics– and to some extent, the sciences –are the only subjects taught from an ahistorical perspective – - allowing for the total erasure of the roots of math and science. Continuing to omit the historical foundations of math and science in Africa, Asia, and the Americas does not permit Black students, for example, to see themselves in mathematics, the sciences and engineering. This erasure helps to re- enforce the myth of white and Asian mental superiority when it comes to understanding and “doing” math and science.
However, pioneer Black math educators such as Bob Moses and his Algebra Project, Dr. Abdulalim Shabazz, Dr. Everard Barrett and others have established tried and true pedagogy that enable Black students to excel in mathematics (and subsequently, the sciences). As the NABSE document points out, Black educators have demonstrated the effectiveness of teaching and mastery of Basic Algebra BEFORE a student enters high school so that students can complete at least one year of Calculus before high school graduation. However, the “Common Core Standards” proponents have deliberately ignored such successes.
We need to recognize that when it comes to scientific and technological knowledge our Black children are now stuck in the late 19th Century! Our youth are immersed in all kinds of electronic gadgets, but primarily as consumers with little or, no idea about how these technological wonders work!
We see this reality ultimately as part of the general ongoing process of “Educational Genocide”: the deliberate dumbing down of a people while erasing or distorting their history to the benefit of others.
“A Nation at Risk,” “No Child Left Behind,” “Race to the Top,” or “Common Core State Standards” have not and cannot provide the basis for a truthful curriculum and educational excellence for American children and youth who are comfortable with themselves, their own personal histories and culture, who are confident and capable of working well with other Americans like and unlike themselves toward a more perfect union.
Neither “A Nation at Risk” nor “Common Core State Standards” considers the lasting and undermining effects in the educational system of the unique circumstances under which Africans were kidnapped and brought to the shores of the Americas, Australia and to Europe. Neither document suggests any real educational remedy to address history’s greatest crime against humanity.
Without a truthful history of its founding, how this nation acquired its wealth on the backs of enslaved Africans, and the continued denial of the cultural resources African people possess to participate in building a real democracy, the United States will continue to remain a segmented nation, a nation which will soon find white Americans the new minority and still in control.
We are “Still A Nation at Risk.”
Next Week: NBEA Recommendations