The Politics of Teaching History: Afrocentricity as a Modality for the New Jersey Amistad Law – the Pedagogies of Location, Agency and Voice in Praxis
Author(s)Harris, Stephanie Nichole James
KeywordsAfrican American studies; Educational philosophy; Curriculum development;
Afrocentricity; Amistad law; Curriculum development; Educational policy; New Jersey
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AbstractAfrican American Studies
This study examines how legislated policy, the New Jersey Amistad Bill, and the subsequently created Amistad Commission, shifted the mandated educational landscape in regard to the teaching of social studies in the state of New Jersey—by legislative edict and enforcement, within every class in the state. Through a century of debates, reforms, and legislations, there has been a demand to include the contributions, achievements, and perspectives of people of the African Diaspora that deconstruct the European narrative of history. It is my belief that the formation of an educational public policy that is reflective of the Afrocentric paradigm in its interpretation and operation, such as the Amistad law, with subsequent policy manifestations that result in curriculum development and legalized institutionalization in classrooms across the country is central to creating the curriculum that will neutralize mis-education and will help American students to obtain an understanding of African American agency and the development of our collective history. The Amistad Commission, created by legal mandate in the state of New Jersey in 2002, is groundbreaking because it is a legal decree in educational policymaking that codifies the full infusion and inclusion of African American historical content into New Jersey’s K-12 Social Studies curriculum and statewide Social Studies standards. This infusion, directed by the executive leadership team, is a statewide overhaul and redirection for Social Studies and the Humanities in all grades in every district throughout the state. The Commission’s choice of the Afrocentric theoretical construct—a cultural-intellectual framework that centers the African historical, social, economic, spiritual and political experience as pertains to any intellectual experience involving Africans and people of African descent—as its organizing ethos and central ideology was central in framing the resulting curriculum products and programmatic directives. This study’s conclusive premise in utilization of the Afrocentricity construct is evidenced in the Amistad curriculum’s Afrocentric tenets: de-marginalization of African historical contribution and agency; the importance of voice and first person narrative when transcribing history, and how shifting of —as in, correcting—the entire Eurocentric structure is important. Rather than an additive prescription of historical tokenisms, or a contributive prescription that does not allow for a centralized locality from within the culture, Afrocentricity allows for a cultural ideology when applicable to the Amistad law. Thus the use of Afrocentricity in the implementation of the Amistad law transforms the entire narrative of American history in the state of New Jersey, one of the original thirteen colonies. The study seeks to remedy the void of research as to how the incorporation of the particular theoretical framework of Afrocentricity impacted the decision guiding the policy directives, programmatic and the curriculum outcomes within the implementation of the New Jersey Amistad Commission mandate. The case study asserts that the Afrocentric theory was put into praxis when operationalizing the New Jersey Amistad law and the work of the Amistad Commission. It chronicles the history of similar mandates focused on the incorporation of African American history in American classrooms that led to the Amistad law. It also enumerates the Amistad law’s subsequent operationalization and curriculum development efforts elucidating practical application of the Afrocentric theory. It has direct implications for teacher education, practicing teachers, and policymakers interested in understanding how Afrocentricity and its tenets are paramount in curriculum development efforts, especially as it pertains to New Jersey, New York, and Illinois. These three states have passed legislations that have attempted to proactively remedy their educational policies. The disparities in knowledge and education about African diaspora people in our Social Studies classrooms are targeted by these states.