" Saving the African American Child (1984) offered a set of guidelines to stakeholders who have an interest in and commitment to the education of African American children. Cultural and Educational Excellence Revisited suggests that although this interest and commitment has captured the attention of researchers for over two decades, there is a need to take stock and make efforts to understand whether or not things have progressed, regressed or remained the same." "In Cultural and Educational Excellence Revisited the authors question the assignment of time and effort to improve the performances of schools serving learners of African descent while ignoring the cultural excellence issue. Of what value is excellent school performance with learners of African descent, we ask, if those learners are to graduate and enter a world not characterized by cultural excellence?" "In Cultural and Educational Excellence Revisited, the prevailing view of leadership as the capacity to influence behaviors and attitudes in an organizational context is explored against the opportunities for educational and cultural excellence." "The view surrounds an expectation that leaders can produce positive results through both their ability and willingness to think critically and solve problems. This view can be examined by inspecting the content, subjects, and knowledge covered in the curriculum of the schools historically."
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"This society is not likely to become free of racism, Thus it is necessary for Negroes to free themselves by becoming their idea of what a free people should be." Ellison, 1999, p. 356
Derrick Z. Jackson, a Boston Globe columnist, in an outlook piece entitled "Black’s sitting down for all the wrong reasons now" points to "several studies" in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine that support the contention of the barber played by Cedric the Entertainer in Barbershop, the movie: "Now look at us. Now our problem is that we sit down too much. We used to get mad at white folks for calling us lazy and shiftless. Y’all watch so much television, you wouldn’t even notice your own funeral" (in Jackson, 2002). Jackson goes on to support the contention of the barber played by Cedric the Entertainer in Barbershop, the movie, with the following data:
While 31 percent of Americans overall are obese, 50 percent of African American women are obese.
While 57 percent of white women are over-weight, 77 percent of African American women are overweight.
The rate of overweight African American children is double that of white children.
Jackson allows as to how the barber played by Cedric the Entertainer in Barbershop the movie may be "exaggerating a bit" but he allows, "statistics do not lie. If you ask me, the number one reason [B]lack folks have gotten so huge is our addiction to television. Last year," he goes on, "Nielson Media Research and TN Media found that while the television is on in the average American household 54 hours a week, it is on in African American households for 76 hours per week."
Jackson goes on to share the following as well:
"An astounding 42 percent of African American fourth graders watch six or more hours of television a day. That is three times more than the 13 percent of white fourth-graders who watch that much TV and a stunning five times more than Asian/Pacific Islander fourth –graders."
"While only 6 percent of the best readers in the National Assessment of Education Progress tests watch six or more hours of TV a day, 34 percent of poor readers watch that much."
A study in North Carolina found that students who watched six or more hours of TV a day were behind a full year or more in their studies. That study found that 40 percent of African American children watched six or more hours, compared with 16 percent of white and Asian-American children.
While it is not our purpose to make real or imagined correlations among ones weight, television watching habits, and academic achievement the focus of this chapter, Jackson’s observations are especially instructive, in view of the National Alliance of Black School Educators’ (NABSE) definition of culture and survival. Culture is defined by NABSE as "the sum total of artifacts which accumulate as a people struggle for survival and self determination." Survival is defined as "…the preservation of one’s people and one’s self, the reproduction of one’s people and one’s self, and the care of the progeny which result" (NABSE, 1984, p. 22).
Jackson’s remarks are equally instructive when viewed in the context of NABSE’s definition of a functional culture: "a culture is functional when the group is able to preserve itself, reproduce itself, and care for its progeny, when the group’s birth rate exceeds its death rate, when the mortality rate of the group is average or normal, and when the progeny are as successful as the parent group. Cultural performance is excellent," the NABSE document goes on, "…when the group’s birth rate exceeds its death rate, infant mortality is below normal, the mortality rate of the group is superior to the average and the progeny are more successful than the parent group in social progress using education, income, occupation, and political office holders as indicators, and when the group is conscious of its history and culture" (NABSE, pp. 12-13). Finally, Jackson’s observations are instructive because they suggest a need to better understand the nature of the various cultural performances of Americans of African descent.
The purpose of this chapter is to contribute to that better understanding by answering the following questions:
Question I: What are some facts and characteristics associated with cultural performances of Americans of African descent?
Question II: How do the cultural performances of Americans of African descent compare with the cultural performances of Americans of non-African descent?
Question III: Given the NABSE definition of excellent cultural performance, to what extent may the cultural performances of African American citizens be judged as excellent?
Question IV: What steps or actions can be taken that will improve the cultural performances of Americans of African descent?
Our first two questions are: How do the cultural performances of Americans of African descent compare with the cultural performances of Americans of non-African descent, and given the NABSE definition of excellent cultural performance, to what extent may the cultural performances of African American citizens be judged as excellent? These two questions suggest a third question as to how one construes relationships among cultural performances of a people and quality of life outcomes.
It is important to place cultural excellence in the context of curricula goals and methods valued and pursued by school officials and in the context of short and long-range outcomes of schooling for African American versus white children and youth, their families and their communities prior to addressing these questions. A first issue is driven by excellence. From the perspective of all taxpayers the value of what is learned in school must be judged in terms of extents to which learner mastery of expected outcomes of schooling result in excellent cultural performances. From the perspective of taxpayers of African descent, the value of what is learned in school must be judged in terms of extents to which there are no significant differences between African American and white learner outcomes of schooling—the equity issue.
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