Tuesday, April 8, 2014

African Centered Homeschooling

Mama Kyna speaking to the children in the Kemetic Circle at the closing of B.L.A.C.K. class, an acronym for Black Literary Awareness for Cultural Knowledge

I've come full circle and now it's time to do it again.  A friend and fellow homeschool mom told me that in her research to create culturally relevant curriculum for her children, she came across an article I wrote.  Since it was more than 10 years ago, I could hardly remember.  So I decided to dig up that article and re-post it here.  Lots has changed since I wrote the article.  I lost my beloved husband and the esteemed Dr. Asa Hilliard is now an ancestor.  But I must say I'm pretty proud that I stayed the course in teaching my son from an African-centered perspective.  His history took center stage as we learned about the world we live in, and as a result, he has a deep respect for people of all cultures, but especially oppressed people from all over the world.  Thank you Mama Kyna and for finding my article and for the B.L.A.C.K. Class (more than that later).  The journey to "Know Thyself" never ends.

First published in 2004 for Fungasa, the online magazine for African-American Unschoolers

Imagine attending a conference with Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Marcus Garvey, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Ida B. Wells?  You'd probably be awestruck.  That's exactly how I felt attending the Challenging the Genius Within:  Excellent Education for African Children Conference in Philadelphia, Pa., in September, 2004.  Many of the world's giants of African-centered scholarship were in attendance.  Being in the same room with the authors of many of the African-centered books that I read when I first stumbled down the path on the quest to gain "knowledge of self," made me feel like a giddy schoolgirl.  I was so excited to be in the presence of these intellectual geniuses, and they certainly did not disappointment me.

I attended this conference as a reporter for Fungasa, but I was also looking for ways to expand upon my vision to raise and educate my son from an African-centered perspective.  I knew that homeschooling my son had many advantages, but I had no idea how profound an impact I could make concerning his liberation through homeschooling.  I was blown away by Dr. Asa Hilliard's talk about the state of African education.  Dr. Hilliard is a professor of Education at George State University, one of the leading researchers in the field of Egyptology, author of Reawakening of the African Mind, and architect of the Portland Baseline Essays, which represented the first time that a comprehensive global and longitudinal view of people of African ancestry had been presented in a curriculum.

While I knew that my goal as a homeschooler, and specifically as an unschooler, was to help my child cultivate a love of learning, I had no idea that as an African-centered home educator, my job was also to undo what Dr. Hilliard described as the "12 Challenges for African People."

1) We are unconscious, with no global view of ourselves.  We experience ourselves as local people in a global world.
2) We have no knowledge of ourselves as a historical people evolving through time and spreading through the world.
3) We have lost our solidarity and feel no bond of identity with our people.
4) We are not raising our own children.  We have no systematic socialization structures for the masses of our children.  They are raising themselves or being raised by others.
5) We have a loss of faith-based initiatives.
6) We have no long-range strategic goals as a people.
7) We do not have an appetite for wealth building.
8) We do not have an adequate comprehension of how to nurture health and prevent illness.
9) We have no major, independent, self-funded think tanks to help us define ourselves.
10) We do not have adequate African Centered Higher Education.
11) We do not have sufficient cultural centers, movements, monuments, and celebrations that highlight important experiences and shape directions.
12) We have no way to communicate independently with each other without going through some sort of filter.

When I examined this list, I realized that I could build a curriculum around these themes and in the process give my son the greatest gift imaginable--liberation.  There are also entrepreneurial possibilities within this list.  Most importantly, this kind of education would speak to the core of who my child is and what he is to become.

When I approached Dr. Hilliard afterward (a very warm and kind man), I told him that as a stay-at-home mom and home educator, I was truly grateful that he spoke about the importance of "raising our own children," in an academic environment.  When he equated sending children off to daycare institutions with what happened in the film Rabbit Proof Fence, the room grew silent.  I felt like the sole member of the "amen corner." The film is based on a true story and documents a time when the Australian government's policy was to steal children from their Aboriginal parents and place them in institutions to learn how to become white or integrated.

In his talk, Dr. Molefi Asante, professor of African American Studies at Temple University, the premier center of graduate training in African American studies and the author of more than 25 books on the Afrocentric experience, said that there are some basic assumptions that must be made in order for Afrocentric education to be successful.  I'll highlight a few here:  phenomena must be interpreted from an Afrocentric perspective; we must understand that there are elements of commonality in all African cultures; Afrocentric theory is not masculine-oriented or female-oriented; the African origin of civilization is a scientific fact; and that research must take place from within the culture.  Learning takes on a whole new meaning when you start with the assumption that the cradle of civilization is in Africa!

The Founder of Kwanzaa, Dr. Maulana Karenga, was also in attendance.  Imagine teaching your son about the principles of Kwanzaa and then showing him a photograph of mommy alongside the founder and his lovely wife (yes, I got a picture!).  Anyway, I digress.  Dr. Karenga is a professor in the Department of Black Studies at California State University, the Director of the Kawaida Institute of Pan African Studies, and author of too many books and articles to list here.  Surprisingly down to earth and still very radical, Dr. Karenga described education as an ethical enterprise, "bold, difficult, important and urgent."  According to Dr. Karenga, education from the classical African concept is a practice and process, which cultivates knowledge, transmits tradition, and fosters reasoning which provides opportunities for students to develop and prepare for a meaningful contribution to do good in the world.  This is accomplished through what Dr. Karenga calls four basic kinds of knowledge transmission, acquisition, and exchange:

1. Knowledge of the world;
2. Knowledge of ourselves in the world;
3. Knowledge of how to negotiate successfully in the world; and
4. Knowledge which aids us in directing our lives toward good and expansive ends.

If there were any unschoolers in the audience besides me, they would have been smiling broadly as he charged education with the task of improving the human condition and the world, and made numerous references to learning being linked to life, nature, and well-being.  Dr. Karenga went on to say that education must also have a moral framework, which includes a profound respect for the sacred, human life, family and community, and the environment.  Finally, he spoke of the importance of the concept of relatedness.  He called it reciprocal solidarity for the mutual benefit of humanity.  In layperson's terms, we like each other and want to be around each other.  Dr. Karenga used the lunchroom example to highlight this point, stating that when all of the Black students sit together it's not about being separatist, instead it's culturally healthy.  As African American unschoolers, I'm sure we understand this point.

My brain was starting to get heavy at this point.  The best place to park all of this knowledge is inside of a brain that is thinking optimally.  Enter Dr. Linda James Meyers.  I'll admit, I'd never heard of her.  But after her presentation, I'll never forget her.  For the past 25 years she has been working in the areas of African Psychology.  She is a professor in the Department of African American and African Studies and Psychology at the Ohio State University.  She is the Executive Director of the Center for Optimal Thought, and author of two groundbreaking works:  Understanding an Afrocentric World View:  Introduction to an Optimal Psychology and the newly released Blessed Assurance:  Deep Thought and Meditations in the Tradition and Wisdom of our Ancestors.  Did I mention that she was very nice? After giving a profound talk, she humbly sat next to me and asked me questions about my notes for this article.  Again, I digress.

Based on the wisdom tradition of African Deep thought, Dr. Meyers asserts that, "no area of American life in which the racial and cultural biases historically plaguing U.S. society serve to the detriment of African American children and families more than in the arena of formal education."  Wow! Now that's saying a mouthful.  She went on to say that "the U.S. systems of formal education, policies, and practices serve to perpetuate a status quo that is detrimental to African American children."  Hello!  She highlighted a few points that are particularly harmful, including educational environments that are not nurturing, relevant or supportive; worldviews, values and beliefs of the dominant culture that are counter to the health and viability of African American individuals, families, and communities; and a fragmented, non-comprehensive, incoherent worldview unsupported by science.

And who can discuss education without an essential piece of the African American cultural experience-the Spirit.  According to Dr. Wade Nobles, a sought after social psychologist, professor of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University, Founder and Executive Director of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Black Family Life and Culture and the Center for Applied Cultural Studies and Educational Achievement, a California State University System Educational Research Center dedicated to studying and developing models of culturally consistent education for African American Children.  Dr. Nobles' teaching model is called the Nsaka SumSun (which means, in the Twi Language of West Africa, to touch deeply and profoundly the spirit).  When love is a component of the educational process, Dr. Nobles says that there is a "merging of the spirits [student and teacher] to create greater spirits."  The teacher is held in high regard and described as the "Jegna," another term from the Twi language, which means, "to protect the people and the culture."

According to Dr. Nobles, "the purpose of the educational experience should be to respect and reinforce the spiritual evolution and cultural maturation of the child in harmony with their own existence, family, and community."  He went on to list what he called four postulates for educating African American children, paraphrased here:

1. The content should be connected with their experiences.
2. The teacher must be able to speak the child's language.
3. The child must have adequate time to process and apply new information and make it culturally meaningful.
4. African American children must feel in harmony with his or her learning environment.

First published,
In essence, because of the experience of the extended family, our children are accustomed to receiving more emotional support and thrive in a cooperative learning setting.  Our children also want to know the what, how and why of what they are learning relates to their own lives.  That's a good thing and a sign of a thinking person.

If there were any holes in my homeschool plan for Zion, they were filled and running over with information by the time I left this conference.  I also discovered there was much for me to learn as I journey alongside my son.  More importantly, I put to rest (at least temporarily) many of my fears that crop up about whether I'm "depriving" my son by not sending him to school like everyone else.  These scholars confirmed for me that even the African-centered schools are not fully addressing these deficits.

The conference was a first-class affair.  The workshops were informative and very organized, the vendors were superb, and the food was great.  Sankofa Publishing Institute founded and sponsors the conference for African-centered educators to come together each year.  The founder of Sankofa Publishing is Dr. Freya Rivers, author of the Challenging the Genius Language Arts Curriculum-a wonderful, holistic literature based curriculum.  (I loved the book Becoming and purchased it for my son).  The city of Chicago is rallying heavily to hold next year's conference.  Wherever they are, I hope to be there.  This event has profoundly changed my life.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Literal Mathematics - Montessori

If my children had attended school, it would have been Montessori.  I love the way education is approached in the Montessori tradition, especially mathematics.  Children are literal and Montessori appeals to that part of a child.  One morning after grumbling about not wanting to sit down to do his Singapore Math, I decided we would instead do an inventory of our Gold Bead Materials. This is an expensive investment in Montessori and I wanted to see if I could piece it together through other Montessori math materials I already had on hand.  In the process, I thought I would sneak in a lesson.

First I asked LionHeart to stack up all of the 1,000 cubes.  Sure, he knew that one thousand is a big number, but now he can see a visual representation of just how large that number really is in comparison to 100.  He figured this out after a few karate chops.  I had to explain that Montessori materials are not toys and should be treated respectfully.

Next we counted out our 10-unit bars.  You need about 45 of them to do the Golden Bead Material work.  Check! After we counted them all out, I asked LionHeart which number was larger 52 or 75? He said 75, but when I asked how did he know, he could not answer.  He certainly didn't tell me because 75 has two more 10s than 52.  So I decided to show him why it was larger.  This led to us doing comparisons of several other numbers.

Next we discussed how many 1,000s go into a 10,000 chain.  He held one end and I held the other.  I walked from the living room all the way back to my bedroom.  He was absolutely amazed! We discovered this after I untangled him.  These numbers now have so much more literal meaning for him.

What does 170 really mean? Using Montessori materials, LionHeart is able to figure it out.  Expanded notation takes on a whole new life.  The 100 square is 10 squared and it's actually a square.  Nothing is accidental in Montessori.

In Montessori there is a game called Go Get It. He loved this game.  Give me more, he pleaded.  LionHeart never, ever does that with our book work.

After our inventory was complete, I discovered that all I really need are more of the wooden squares.  I'll use my decimal symbol cards from Shiller Math.  In the meantime, we'll keep working with what we have.  Taking inventory has never been this much fun.

Using Montessori to teach math helps LionHeart understand all of the things I had to memorize as a child without any real meaning or true understanding of what I was doing.  This blog post explains it best: Everyone Should Learn Math the Montessori Way.

Later in the week LionHeart was much more receptive to learning about place value.

This lesson even survived a wardrobe change.  LionHeart will literally be able to see why 7,000 is larger than 700. 

Interchanging 3 math programs can become exhausting.  But it comes in handy when there is a stall in understanding or when seat work just won't cut it for the day.  I deliver these programs the Singapore Math Way: Concrete, Pictorial and finally Abstract! Traditional Montessori is my concrete lesson.  Shiller is my pictorial lesson.  Finally, Singapore Math is my concrete lesson.  It takes a little longer, but what's the rush.  True understanding is all that matters.

Friday, February 14, 2014

How to Create Your Own African American Library


Many years ago, 10 to be exact, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting author Dorothy Ferebee.  She was a guest speaker at a Mocha Moms event and had come to share about her recent book How to Create Your Own African American Library: A Selection of Books That Belong In Every Home From Classic Novels to Children's Stories To History and Biography. I had been collecting African American books for children since the birth of KingMan and was thrilled to have a definitive guide.  Ms. Ferebee shared something in her talk that I never forgot.  She said that most African American children's books are not written by African Americans.  I was perplexed.  She explained the reasons why, but I have since forgotten them.  Fast-forward to 2014 and the blog The Brown Book Shelf, which demonstrates to me that times have changed.

The Brown Bookshelf showcases African Americans who write and illustrate children and teen books with themes that speak to African American youth. During Black History Month, for 28 days, the blog features a month-long spotlight on the best in Picture Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult novels written and illustrated by African Americans.  I love this idea! Whenever I read the author's note to my children, they roll their eyes because they just want to hear the stories.  Not only will I continue to read the author's note, but we'll also hop on over to the Brown Bookshelf to read the author's spotlight.  Since I just discovered this blog, I plan to head to the local library to locate the books we have not read that are featured for Black History Month 2014.  To the founders of The Brown Bookshelf, bravo for a job well done!


I grew up listening to Hip Hop and my children listen to the music (the cleanest we can find), so it was nice to read about it's history in this picture book.

I definitely plan to read this book with both of my boys.  The illustrator is one of my favorites, and the subject matter is close to my family's heart.  My sons recently lost their father; maybe this book will lead to some healing conversations.