Milwaukee educator Taki Raton sees the problem with failing black students in very stark terms.
“Black people are the only ones who can teach black children, it’s as simple as that,” he told me, in no uncertain tones.
Raton, currently a writer and lecturer who runs an educational consulting firm, also founded Blyden Delany Academy, a well-respected private school, which operated under Milwaukee’s choice program for 10 years. Raton closed the school a few years ago because of financial concerns, but while Blyden Delany was open, it was consistently praised by black parents in Milwaukee with children enrolled in the institution.
Raton doesn’t think that was anything out of the ordinary. Blyden Delany was African-centered–some call it Afrocentric–in its approach to teaching black students. Raton and a legion of similarly minded black educators in Milwaukee and across the nation believe that distinction makes all the difference.
“We know what we’re doing,” he said, referring to African-centered schools in general. “We don’t have the kind of problems other schools have because we’re following a classical model for African-centered education.”
The basic model, developed by black educators and activists, is a simple one that has often created controversy when proposed for a traditional public school system.
It goes like this: All black staff, all black student body, and all black school board.
More important, Raton said, the entire curriculum was based on African principles that are considered part and parcel of a framework taught to all students. As a result, African-centered schools have higher graduation rates, fewer discipline problems and more respect for education than other schools.
Most African-centered curricula focus on teaching students principles such as self-esteem, civility, responsible citizenship and other values said to be taken from a classical view of traditional African society. The schools also use African-American history to provide cultural and academic information to students to help them to understand their role in society as young black Americans.
Like many African-Americans who remember all black schools before court-ordered desegregated plans, Raton believes the education of black children began to suffer after they were bused to predominantly white schools.
“Throughout history, people have always stayed with their own kind,” he said. “The bottom line is we are not all the same. Black children are not going to grow up and be white.”