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Alchemy of the Soul

An African-centered Education

by Joyce Piert (Author)
Monographs XVI, 161 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgments
  • List of Adinkra Symbols
  • Chapter 1. The Dream Within a Dream
  • Chapter 2. Roots of an African-Centered Educational Model
  • Chapter 3. Defining an African-Centered Educational Model
  • Chapter 4. Locating the Caravan to Egypt
  • Chapter 5. Locating the Treasure
  • Chapter 6. Gleaning the Mines for Treasure
  • Chapter 7. Holding the Treasure to the Light
  • Chapter 8. Blemishes in the Treasure!
  • Chapter 9. Back at the Sycamore Tree
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

← viii | ix → FOREWORD

However, I must prepare you for an intense lesson in understanding the historical ­perspectives of key African Americans…in this quest for an education that equips African Americans with the skills for self-­determination…(p. 12)

This description, excerpted from the first chapter in this book, tells the readerâ?¨in partwhat Joyce Piert sought to do in producing this extraordinary book. In this volume, she does a spectacular job of (a) defining African-­centered education, (b) exploring the various “models of African-­centeredness,” and (c) describing the experiences of some of those who were involved in one African-­centered schoolturned charter schoolin Michigan. But, more than that, she chronicles the development of African-­centered education in this country and analyzes this important phenomenon with a critical eye.

An important organization involved in the effort to provide African-­centered education for more than 40 years is the Council of Independent Black Institutions (CIBI).1 In 1972, the CIBI, an umbrella organization for independent African-­centered schools, was founded in Frogmore, South Carolina. Individuals at that historic meeting included Kasisi Jitu Weusi, John Churchville, Ndugu Lubengula, and others, representing 14 independent African-­centered schools that were operating at that time. The founders ← ix | x → had met with other Black educators earlier in the year to consider the current status of Black children’s education. Two camps had developed from the earlier meeting. One group wanted to continue to pursue community control of schools. Weusi and his colleagues sought a second route: independent African-­centered schools. During that founding meeting, Weusi was selected as the first chairman of CIBI.

Now in its 43rd year, CIBI promotes African-­centered education nationally and internationally, in part through the sharing of information, materials, and curriculum. Member institutions seek to practice the Nguzo Saba, or the Seven Principles of Blackness, a value system developed by Dr. Maulana Karenga in the 1960s.2 For CIBI, African-­centeredness consists of the following:

•  An acknowledgment of the essence of African spirituality (Ani, 1994; Anwisye, 1993; Clarke, 1991; Richards, 1980/1989).

•  The practice of self-­determination (Karenga, 1980).

•  A focus on self-­reliance, nation maintenance, and nation management (Clarke, 1991).

•  Acknowledgment of the link between Black families and nationhood.

•  An understanding of the relevance of African customs, traditions, rituals, and ceremonies.

•  An emphasis on the link between African identity and African cultural history.

•  A focus on knowledge and discovery of historical truths, through comparison, hypothesizing, testing, debate, trial and application, analysis and synthesis, creative and critical thinking, problem resolution processes, and final evaluation and decision making (Akoto, 1992).

•  A conscious engagement in the process of Afrikan-­centered personal transformation.

•  Strict reliance on human perception and interpretation (Shujaa, 1992).

•  An understanding that “children are the reward of life.”3

In the mid-­1990s, CIBI also addressed the issue of what it means for an educational institution to be independent. It concluded that independence has three components:

•  A focus on nation building and obtaining land.

•  A Pan African framework for decision making in pursuing, receiving, and investing funds.

•  A community-­based budget for essential expenses.

← x | xi → Since 1972, more than 150 African-­centered educational institutions have been members of CIBI. Some current CIBI members have been operating since the 1970s, including NationHouse Watoto School in Washington, DC; Frederick Douglass Institute in St. Louis, Missouri; Roots Activity Learning Center in Washington, DC; New Concept Development Center in Chicago, Illinois; New World Learning Center in San Antonio, Texas; and Ujamaa Shule in Washington, DC (founded in 1968).

One former member of CIBI was Faizah Shule/Marcus Garvey Preparatory Academy (FS/MGPA),4 a K–12 school founded in 1974 as an independent African-­centered educational institution, later transitioning into a charter school that sought to practice aspects of African-­centeredness. FS/MGPA operated for over 40 years, closing its doors in October 2013. This book is largely about the experiences of former students at FS/MGPA.

In this important volume, Piert begins by chronicling in creative and clear detail the impact of her upbringing on her deep commitment to Black people in general and Black education in particular. She recounts how she became devoted to understanding the nature of Black education and how she ultimately sought to relate the experiences of some former participants in an African-­centered educational environment. She says in Chapter 1, “My life experiences with education both formal and informal nurtured the desire to create schools that would address the concerns of African American communities” (p. 11). Piert speaks, in effect, to the true role of education. She then provides an historical and analytical exploration of the concept and delineation of the key components of African-­centered education (e.g., curriculum, pedagogy, and organizational formats). From there, she reports on a study that she conducted of the experiences of students in one African-­centered school, turned charter school. Piert’s fundamental query begins in Chapter 1, where she highlights the primary critical questions that drove her:

•  What kind of education would truly center descendants of Africa within their own culture?

•  What would be the benefits of that educational experience?

•  Could those who have had that experience delineate the benefits, if any, of this experience? (p. 11)5

In her report, she provides a description of the methodology she employed. She delineates the setting, including the history, daily protocols and rituals, and curriculum. Piert then provides colorful and exacting descriptions of the respondents’ voicesthe students whom she interviewed.

← xi | xii → Piert concludes that there were four student outcomes that were sought and in many cases achieved in FS/MGPA: a commitment to (a) nation building, (b) cultural knowledge, (c) self-­advocacy, and (d) personhood. She describes the personal challenges that some of the students experienced as a result of attending an African-­centered school. Interestingly, she also talks about the challenges faced by FS/MGPA as a result of its conversion from an African-­centered school to a public charter school. Finally, Piert concludes with useful recommendations for the field and realistic suggestions for further research.

Piert has provided a thoughtful, honest, theoretical, and practical discussion of African-­centered education. This work illuminates educational ­pedagogy in the context of an African-­centered school. It is a refreshing and valuable readparticularly given the scarcity of high quality work on this topic.

Summary

It started with a dream, a dream in the night that challenged the dream of the author’s life. That dream, which evolved through her personal experiences, was to start an African-centered school. The dream in the night ignited the journey that led to this book, which was to discover answers to critical questions such as: What is an African-centered education model? How do former students perceive this experience? And can, or even should, this educational model be effectively adopted in traditional public schools? Joyce Piert offers this book as a critical resource to parents, educators, potential teachers, community leaders, and policymakers who are seriously pondering the question of how to provide all students with a holistic educational experience. In Alchemy of the Soul, the vibrant voices of African American young adults share their stories in robust and candid narratives of their educational experiences at an African-centered school.

Biographical notes

Joyce Piert (Author)

Joyce Piert is the CEO and founder of I AM Institute for Learning (IAMIL). Piert earned her doctorate from Michigan State University in educational administration (K–12). She is an educator who has taught in both secondary and higher education. Her current research is on African-centered education; spirituality and education; and school leadership. Her areas of interest include urban education, school leadership, ethnocentric education, mathematics education, and social justice. She is the author of publications in journals such as The Journal of Urban Mathematics Education, The Urban Review, and The Negro Educational Review.

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