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Contentious Curricula

Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools

Amy J. Binder
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Contentious Curricula
    Book Description:

    This book compares two challenges made to American public school curricula in the 1980s and 1990s. It identifies striking similarities between proponents of Afrocentrism and creationism, accounts for their differential outcomes, and draws important conclusions for the study of culture, organizations, and social movements.

    Amy Binder gives a brief history of both movements and then describes how their challenges played out in seven school districts. Despite their very different constituencies--inner-city African American cultural essentialists and predominately white suburban Christian conservatives--Afrocentrists and creationists had much in common. Both made similar arguments about oppression and their children's well-being, both faced skepticism from educators about their factual claims, and both mounted their challenges through bureaucratic channels. In each case, challenged school systems were ultimately able to minimize or reject challengers' demands, but the process varied by case and type of challenge. Binder finds that Afrocentrists were more successful in advancing their cause than were creationists because they appeared to offer a solution to the real problem of urban school failure, met with more administrative sympathy toward their complaints of historic exclusion, sought to alter lower-prestige curricula (history, not science), and faced opponents who lacked a legal remedy comparable to the rule of church-state separation invoked by creationism's opponents.

    Binder's analysis yields several lessons for social movements research, suggesting that researchers need to pay greater attention to how movements seek to influence bureaucratic decision making, often from within. It also demonstrates the benefits of examining discursive, structural, and institutional factors in concert.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2545-5
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xi)
  4. One Introduction to Afrocentrism and Creationism, Challengers to Educational “Injustice”
    (pp. 1-28)

    In 1988, the District of Columbia public school system found itself perched on the edge of a controversy that would bedevil it for the next ten years. Although the issue would ebb and flow as the decade wore on, one superintendent lost his job over the controversy, and a great deal of ink was spilled, and vitriol expressed, in the local media over the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed plan. All of this discussion was activated by a proposal to infuse “African-centered” materials and methods of instruction into the local public school curriculum. The people who advanced the proposal...

  5. Two The Challengers
    (pp. 29-52)

    Before describing the specifics of how Afrocentrists and creationists made out in their challenges in the seven public school systems, we should know more about the history of these two groups. In this chapter, I describe the social, cultural, and political characteristics of those who made up Afrocentrism’s and creationism’s constituencies; the kinds of identities that adherents crafted in these efforts; and the kinds of claims activists drew upon from the cultural landscape and from past struggles in schools. I set out to describe, through this context, what Afrocentrists’ and creationists’ goals were for their children’s education and for society’s...

  6. Three History of the Three Afrocentric Cases: Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and New York State
    (pp. 53-103)

    Having laid out the historical context for the Afrocentric and creationist challenges in the previous chapter, I now embark on the first of four chapters in which I look in detail at the seven cases that make up the comparative study. In this chapter, I will describe events and outcomes in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and New York state, and will draw attention to thecultural framesthat the challengers used in each of these cases to mobilize support for their cause. A frame is a set of images, symbols, or narrative tropes used by social movement leaders to tap into...

  7. Four Cultural, Political, and Organizational Factors Influencing Afrocentric Outcomes
    (pp. 104-135)

    Although interesting from a historical standpoint, the foregoing chronology of the three Afrocentric cases leaves us with a deluge of data that will remain a mind-boggling puzzle unless treated to some form of systematic analysis. With analysis in mind, I have two goals for this chapter which, at first glance, may seem to be at cross purposes. The first is to demonstrate thesimilaritiesof cultural resources available to all Afrocentric advocates in their struggles with schools. Despite their locations in three separate school systems, Afrocentric challengers laid claim to remarkably similar arguments for why they had a right to...

  8. Five History of the Four Creationist Cases: Louisiana State, California State, Vista, California, and Kansas State
    (pp. 136-193)

    In chapters 3 and 4, we saw the role that culture, politics, and organization played in the Afrocentric cases. We found that school systems proved resistant to lasting reforms in all three cases, with insurgent achievements ranging on a scale of practically zero (New York) to modest and largely symbolic (Atlanta and Washington, D.C.). Sensitized to these processes, we should now wonder if the same sort of factors figured into the creationist battles with school systems. If Afrocentrists used similar rhetoric across their three battles, but achieved varying rates of at least temporary success along the way, would the same...

  9. Six Cultural, Political, and Organizational Factors Influencing Creationist Outcomes
    (pp. 194-215)

    In chapter 4, I argued that Afrocentrists were in possession of three rhetorical resources that they used to their advantage in debates with public schools. Culturally, Afrocentrists had a compelling assertion that educators could not deny (schools’ historical failure to educate black children well) and a set of deeply resonant principles with which to stake their claims for black children: the arguments for equality and liberty.¹ Afrocentrists also could use an effective charge of discrimination against reluctant school officials, arguing that their foes were “racist” if white, and “race traitors” if black. Finally, Afrocentrists were contesting a discipline—history—that...

  10. Seven Making More Institutional the Study of Challenge
    (pp. 216-244)

    After six chapters of description and analysis, what do we now know about these seven cases of Afrocentric and creationist challenges to American public schools? We have learned that both sets of challengers attempted to sway school systems to act on their behalf using rhetoric about the welfare of children, the purported lack of justice found in school classrooms, the intellectual bankruptcy of educational curricula, and the need for pluralism in the classroom, among other arguments. We have seen that Afrocentrists had an easier time advancing these arguments in the schools than creationists did, and that Afrocentrists, at least for...

  11. Appendix
    (pp. 245-248)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 249-284)
  13. References
    (pp. 285-296)
  14. Index
    (pp. 297-307)