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2013 - 37th Annual National Council for Black Studies Words: 1121 words || 
1. Hoff, Pamela. "Seeds of Fire – African American Indigenous Knowledge and Skill Development" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 37th Annual National Council for Black Studies, The Westin Hotel - Downtown, Indianapolis, ID, Mar 13, 2013 <Not Available>. 2020-02-18 <>
Publication Type: Panelist Abstract
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: Abstract:

The primary objective of the presentation is to elucidate the ways that African American culture contributes to the development of highly prized critical thinking skills associated with school achievement. The critical exploration of “sayins”, conceptualized here as African American indigenous knowledge, made transparent the ways that this method of oral conceptualist teaching and learning were used as tools to transfer cultural knowledge and to promote socio-cultural awareness. In the dialectical prism of hegemony, transformative resistance, skill and cultural development, “sayins” functioned as teaching and learning tools used to stimulate higher level thinking needed to bring about conceptual awareness. The process of decoding made it possible to apprehend the complexity and contradictory nature of the lived experience. The purpose of the research is tri-fold. Firstly, the research seeks to center and revitalize oral conceptualist teaching and learning in educational discourse in traditional and community based settings. Secondly, it seeks to challenge long-standing and pervasive cultural deficit thinking mental models that shape salient perceptions that African American culture undermines school achievement. Finally, the research seeks to continue dialogues that lead to a deeper understanding of the ways in which diversity efforts must converge with social justice efforts.

Paper Overview:

The so-called academic underperformance and underachievement of African American students has dominated educational discourses for decades. Informed by hegemonic ideology these generalized concepts are impregnated with cultural meaning with far-reaching implications. Underperformance and underachievement are dialogically linked to social construction of smartness and achievement (Hatt, 2012). As vexing and recurring themes in the teaching and learning of African American students, underachievement is fashioned from deficit ways of knowing that have resulted from and contributed to the systemization of unequal power relations. Deficit theorizing evolved from manipulated scientific inquiry which sought to establish a hierarchy of humanity based largely around cultural development distortion (Valencia, 1997, 2010). Hegemonic dialogues, inherited from these ways of thinking, put forth the perception of racialized and ethnically “othered” groups as culturally deprived. The theoretical assumptions and explanations that inform cultural deficit thinking are more transparent in educational discourse, particularly those discussions about “urban” schools, students and communities. The conflation of hegemonic perceptions and confounding cultural issues that underlie these discussions suggest cultural negligent and/or irresponsible by parents as the primary reasons why minority students’ underachievement (Dove, 1998; Lee, 2005). The underlying ways of knowing that fuel these perceptions are deeply rooted in cultural deficit theorizing.

Cultural deficit theorizing puts forth the premise that the academic underperformance and achievement of low income and students of color can be attributed to their natal culture (King, 1990; Valencia, 1997, 2010). In fact, cultural deficit models have been the most effective in shaping the salient perceptions that African American culture actually undermines school achievement. Undergirding these dialogues is a persistent mis-perception that African American culture lacks the resources and processes to aid in the development of the requisite conceptual skills associated with school achievement. African American parents continue to express a structural awareness that disregards them as resources in the cognitive development of their children (Banks and McGee, 2007; Dove, 1998; Hale, 2001; Lee, 2005, Thompson, 2003). This awareness is substantiated in the perceptions of veteran and pre-service teachers’ normative views of African American parents, as primary cultural transmitters, impartation of socio-cultural deficiencies on to their children that schools are obligated to correct (Lee, 2005).

African-centered and critical race theorists and pedagogues have been diligent in producing research that illuminates the ways in which education and schooling in America perpetuates inequity through hegemonic indoctrination (e.g. Dove, 1998; Ladson-Billings and Tate, 1995; Peavy, 2000; Perry, Steele and Hilliard, 2003). Of particular importance are those critical discussions which emphasize familial and institutional based systems of support, inequity in the distribution of resources, language discontinuities, and methods of cultural competency that contribute to the stagnation, resiliency and/or continued development of students from historically marginalized groups. Contrary to these ideological advancements, deficit thinking still lingers in public discourse evinced in culturally charged terms as “minority”, “disadvantaged”, “inner-city”, “at risk” and/or “urban.” So much so, that normative explanation of African American underachievement mechanically defaults to issues stemming from cultural deficiency. There exists a lacuna in the literature which examines the ways in which African American culture fosters conceptual skill development associated with academic readiness and achievement.

The research presented in the proposed presentation seeks to fill this gap. We propose to present data from the qualitative exploration of the African American oral epistemic tradition. The presenters collected over 100 African American African American “sayins” and corresponding explanations from more than 20 individuals situated in four states and six cities throughout the south and mid-west. The African American oral conceptualist way of teaching and learning, in the form of proverbs, parables and/or narratives and/or ‘sayins’ are used to transmit cultural awareness and knowledge that shaped self-determination, norms and values. In this context African American “sayins” are identified as indigenous knowledge. Shaped by hegemonic and counter-hegemonic (transformative resistance efforts) this indigenous knowledge was used as a teaching and learning strategy to transfer cultural knowledge and to promote socio-cultural awareness. In the dialectical prism of hegemony, transformative resistance, skill and cultural development, “sayins” functioned as conceptual tools used to stimulate higher level thinking needed to bring about awareness. A conceptual awareness and thought process that made it possible to apprehend the complexity and contradictory nature of the lived experience.

Analyzed through the lenses of African-centered and critical race paradigms the researchers found that African American “sayins” fell into three larger instructive categories. This presentation will focus on the critical exploration and interpretations of a portion of these “sayins” aligned with the African American tenet transformative resistance. These “sayins” and the process of decoding these “sayins” necessitate the requisite conceptual skills associated with academic achievement. One of the most important outcomes of this research is the curricula and pedagogical potentialities that emerge from the dialogical intersection of skill and cultural development. This research seeks to foster dialogues that challenge parents and educators to think in creative and bold ways about the dimensions of diversity and systems of oppression. This research continues dialogues which seek to challenge and re-frame achievement and underachievement as socio-culturally constructed concepts. More important, this research seeks to re-introduce and center a tangible and critical piece of African American culture in educational dialogues in school and community based settings for the development of African American students. Finally, to empower parents and educators in the development of culturally based skill development as a method of academic and intellectual transformation.

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