“Effective teachers must be cognizant of the child’s culture and learning styles before a curriculum is designed. African American children have a high verve, are relational in their thought processes, and are more oral in cognition. Our ultimate quest is to develop positive self-images and discipline in Black children; this cannot be achieved if we do not include the capital of the child in curriculum design.”
“Developing Positive Self-Images & Discipline in Black Children” by Jawanza Kunjufu (2000)
Black students in the US fall behind their White peers in academic achievement. Many factors contribute to this achievement gap, including systemic racism and a variety of socio-economic factors. Research shows that Black students are more likely to be suspended or expelled, less likely to be placed in gifted programs, and subject to lower expectations from their teachers. Structural racism and poverty exert tremendous pressure on a Black child’s ability to excel, and new approaches to teaching must confront these issues and prepare Black children to navigate these harsh realities.
The current K-12 educational system disregards the tradition of Black teaching excellence to Black children. There is ample evidence that Black teachers can add unique value to Black students’ academic and socio-emotional outcomes, but systemic racism in the US has separated Black cultural and community knowledge from educational practice. Too often Black educators don’t receive the necessary support to cultivate the inherent genius of Black students.
Black teachers are overwhelmingly placed in high-poverty, racially isolated schools where their impact is most needed and has the greatest potential. Nonetheless, there is a lack of training, support, and retention of Black teachers to maximize their impact on Black students. This lack of support contributes to higher attrition rates among Black teachers.
In addition, limited attention is given to the development and support necessary to reap the potential for increased impact on the academic and socio-emotional development of Black students when taught by Black teachers.
Black educators must ensure that Black children achieve high levels academically while simultaneously preparing them with the intellectual, social, emotional, and cultural capital to participate in the advancement of their communities. Likewise, Black communities should ensure Black teachers provide learning environments in which Black children can thrive. For Black students to build a positive racial identity, it will take Black teachers employing innovative, African-centered pedagogical practices.
Through professional development, if Black teachers employ more effective instructional strategies for teaching Black students, they will be better positioned to apply instructional practices that lead to improved Black student outcomes. This can occur through a new paradigm for Black teaching excellence rooted in African-centered pedagogy. For starters, Black teachers can increase their understanding of Black history and African culture so they can infuse the Black experience into the curriculum.
For instance, when a Black high school math teacher introduces geometry or trigonometry to his or her Black students, it’s an opportunity to raise their students’ awareness of the fact that ancient Egyptians were Black and they were the first to use geometry as evidenced in building the Great Pyramids of Giza.
We must acknowledge the genius, power, and beauty of Black children. We also recognize that Black teachers at Black schools are tremendous assets who, with additional capacity building and support, can provide a more culturally enriching learning experience for Black students.
Of course, Black teachers play a crucial role in the development of Black children, although a broader educational ecosystem of parents and community have essential roles, as well. By working together, we can ensure Black children are properly prepared to advance the communities in which they live, work, and prosper. Educators must be devoted to the transformational change for Black children energized by their belief in Black children and their desire to see them tap the fullness of their intellectual capacity. They can guide young Black people to this belief in themselves and encourage them to commit to building the skills, knowledge, and capacity to contribute to the collective struggle for Black liberation.