Education In African American Schools And Communities

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Education performance for African American children has continues to deteriorate, especially in public schools. This poor performance has been attributed to several factors, including differences in cultural and social backgrounds of African American children. Two models have been developed to address challenges facing education of African American children and could offer lasting solutions if implemented. This paper discusses problems facing education of African American children and how the two models address these problems.

Problems with Education of African American Children

The major problem with education of African American children according to Murrell (2002) is poor performance. He observes that African American children have the poorest performance in public schools in comparison to children from other racial backgrounds. Hale (2001) agrees with Murrell (2002) and further attributes increasing levels of education failure among the children of African American community to inadequate educational materials and facilities in predominantly African American public schools. She further blames it to lack of accountability among school administrators, persistent teacher shortages in urban public schools, increasing number of children originating from single mother families and racial discrimination against African Americans. These factors cut across all social and economic backgrounds of African American children, lowering their educational expectations. (Hale, 2001).

Murrell (2002) observes that African American children gradually begin to perceive schools as institutions of controlling, coercing and demanding conformity rather than places that encourage learning and inspire creativity. He basically attributes this to the fact that it is not possible for American public schools to transform social injustices associated with oppression and inequalities that have existed throughout the history of US, a transformation that requires pedagogy to make explicit core of cultural practices and social conventions. Murrell (2001) reiterates that sometimes, even the otherwise capable teacher makes choices that result in negative experiences of schooling for African American children, which go unrecognized, only to manifest later in behavior problems and achievement gap phenomena.

Poor performance of African American children originates from the fact that current and contemporary teaching practices in urban schools lack pedagogy that fully incorporates cultural and social developmental aspects of African American children on individual level, interpersonal level and cultural symbolic level. This makes it difficult for African American children to attain cognitive development, identity development, character development, social development and cultural as well as political development (Murrell, 2002).

Models to Overcome Problems with Education in African American/Minority Children

Hale (2001) proposes a model for culturally appropriate pedagogy that should be used to overcome educational barriers among African American children. The model targets classroom and outside interactions between teachers and children through effective collaboration, use of culturally important materials as teaching aids to enhance creativity in teaching and provision of alternative strategies for achieving specific education outcomes. Hale's model aims at increasing and enhancing children's motivation through instruction in small groups and use of activities that involve physical movement during teaching practice.

Hale's model of culturally appropriate pedagogy encourages cultural enrichment activities in schools, reiterating that such experiences act as a remedy for social skills and moral training needed for development of positive character traits. This is because many African American children are raised by single parents and have few siblings hence they are highly likely to go to school without social training necessary for positively interacting with teachers as well as fellow children (Hale, 2001). The model further encourages programs such as trips and cultural excursions planned by cultural enrichment committees to broaden children's social experiences through introducing them to people, places and things outside their immediate environment. Exposing children to institutions dedicated to their culture such as museums and cultural concerts also helps in development of positive self image and sense of pride (Hale, 2001). Hale's model of culturally appropriate pedagogy advocates for children to be given specialized training in social skills and nonviolent conflict resolution along with mentoring and tutoring programs to broaden their repertoire of social proficiencies at an early age (Hale, 2001).

In her model of culturally appropriate pedagogy, Hale (2001) emphasizes on importance of children being involved in community service programs such as those organized by church and social welfare institutions as they grow up. This makes them to learn and understand that they have the skills and power to positively contribute to improvement of quality of life in their neighborhoods and in their entire society. This model encourages religious leaders to expand their missions to schools by cooperating with school principals to create family outside the school. According to Hale (2001), there should be strategic liaison between the schools and fraternal groups, religious institutions and neighborhood civic associations upon which the school principal draws external resources to support a continuous cultural enrichment programs for all children in his or her school.

For effective results to be achieved using Hale's model, it is necessary for schools to create structures of accountability under guidance of school principal. This makes it possible for individual classroom teachers to implement their instructional plans. Creation of instructional accountability infrastructure should be all inclusive, involving classroom teachers, parents, community volunteers and learners for each classroom to ensure that no child is left out (Hale, 2010). Furthermore, African Americans who have achieved middle class status should assist their brothers and sisters who have not been able to take advantage of social, economic and political changes that have occurred since 1950s to protect their children from racist beliefs and practices woven into the fabric of American culture. Through cooperation and formation of coalitions among educators, parents and middle class African American professionals, the academic achievement gap would be closed in a move to prepare African American children for leadership roles in 21st century (Hale, 2001).

The opinions raised in Hale's model concur with those of the African centered model that recommends on integration of historical, cultural, political and developmental considerations of African American experience into a unified system of education instruction. Its approach is centered on the theory of teaching and learning based on critical reinterpretation and appropriation of several key educational framework such as constructivist teaching, responsive teaching, child centered learning, cognitive guided instruction and innovations; such as project based learning and cooperative learning (Murrell, 2002).

According to Murrell (2002), an effective pedagogy provides teachers with unifying framework on how to apply understanding of human cognition, learning and development. It guides teachers on how to situate the concepts into practice and take full charge of lives, histories, cultures and worldviews of children in diverse urban communities. It further reveals to teachers how to circumvent the deep seated uncontrolled structures of inequality in schooling that pose real barriers to quality education for African American children. Murrell's model focuses on how to achieve results under actual conditions of interactions between teachers and students, explaining how teachers should acquire knowledge in practice required for successful teaching of African American children in a culturally responsive manner as well as how they should use the knowledge acquired and awareness to improve their teaching practice. The African centered model explains what specific changes teachers should take towards organizing classroom life, assessing learning achievements and supporting learning activities that will result to quality education for African American children (Murrell, 2001). This elaborative description of teachers taking full charge of their students has been omitted in Hale's model, which emphasizes on the aspect of culture being integrated into education system.

Murrell's model of African centered pedagogy gives five educational frameworks relevant in improving the achievement of African American learners. The first framework is the idea of learning communities; the second framework is having culturally responsive teaching or culturally relevant teaching for African American children and the third one is teaching for understanding, which emphasizes on meaningful and purposeful learning enterprises as the foundations of teaching. This is exemplified in coalition for essential schools as well as teaching for learning framework (Murrell, 2002). The fourth framework is learning through activity, which is derived from situated learning theory. This is the idea that what people perceive, think and do develops in a social context. Murrell (2002) argues that learning is situated because what people interpret, how they conceive of their activity and enact their actual performance on that activity all develop together. The fifth framework in Murrell's model is the idea of cultural and racial identity development, drawing from the notion that ecology of language, cultural expression and participation in classrooms is important to healthy identity development of African Americans and all students of color (Murrell, 2002). These five frameworks are in agreement with Hale's model although they are more elaborate as they give detailed explanations on how an effective teacher should deliver as far as African American children are concerned.

Murrell (2002) points out that the main aim of these five frameworks upon which the model of African centered pedagogy is based is to integrate the historical, cultural, political and developmental considerations of African American children into a unified pedagogical theory for producing educational achievement. Generally, this pedagogy incorporates teachers personal theories of human learning and development, their favored paradigm of instructional delivery, their understanding of how learners think and develop their thinking and the general knowledge of how the social instructions work in the world to impact on teaching and learning (Murrell, 2002).

How Well the Models Propose To Overcome the Problems and Improve Education In African American Children

Both the Hale's model of culturally appropriate pedagogy and Murrell's African centered model provide for accomplished teachers of African American children to create the intellectual environment and cultural community in their classrooms. This would systematically provide the social, intellectual and cultural tools for effective learning and development (Murrell, 2002 and Hale, 2001).

Hale's model calls for a meaningful cooperation between the school and the entire community, including religious community, civil community and other cultural as well as social groups for effective learning. This would enhance cultural and social values of African American children as they grow up, making it easy for them to develop social skills and moral training needed for development of positive character traits (Hale, 2001). Development of positive character traits is important for African American children as they accept themselves and begin to view schools as institutions of learning rather than institutions of coercing and demanding conformity. Furthermore, accountability in management of school would ensure that resources are utilized for the benefit of children, making it easy for individual classroom teachers to implement their instructional plans during teaching practice.

The Murrell's five frameworks ensure that there is meaningful, purposeful teaching and learning based on the deep structure of African American culture, history, language and lifestyle. This is also in agreement with Hale's model that integrates the rich African American culture in teaching practice (Hale, 2001 and Murrell, 2002). When this approach is embraced in teaching and learning for African American Children, they gain a sense identity, improve on their self image and open up their world for learning new things, knowing that they can make meaningful contributions to bring lasting changes in their society.

Personal Opinion of the Two Models

The models integrate perspective of culture that has been overlooked into education practices. Its implementation into teaching practice for African American children would create effective and acceptable learning environment by changing the perception of African American children towards schooling and leadership roles in the society.

These two models will not only improve performance of African American children in school but will also equip them with necessary social and personal skills required for development of positive character traits for effective living. This is because the two models advocate for practice to be perceived as a performance of life that involves the entire society rather than an activity between students and teachers.

The two models advocate for accountability and community involvement in teaching and learning activities of African American children. This will give a new perspective to teaching and learning among African American children, while solving the problem of racial segregation, discrimination and lack of identity that have continued to affect performance of African American children.