About Me

BEYOND MIS-EDUCATION: A PERSONAL QUEST AGAINST SYSTEMIC ANTI-BLACKNESS


The ubuntugogist

An Autoethnography

One purpose for schools–education of the intellect–is obvious. The other–an education in character–is inescapable.

Theodore Sizer, 1984

Ever since I understood the concept of learning in my early age, I have always wanted to develop learners. The first learner I focused on was my younger brother. He was forced to attend my version of school and learn what I prepared for that day’s lesson. Once my younger sister became of age, she too was forced to become my student and learn my curriculum. By the time I turned twenty-four, I gained my teacher certification and license from the state of Maryland, permitting me to educate other people’s children legitimately. However, I had to use the State’s version of school and their sanctioned curriculum since I was now licensed to enculturate learners with Eurocentric values, concepts, and ideologies.

Using a colonial script, my aim was unconsciously to mis-educate my students by using Euro-American mythology as the core subject.  My vision matched the state’s vision for education, which in Maryland at that time, was to ensure that every Maryland student has the resources and support to achieve at the highest level. My educational philosophy was that of an essentialist. Like Theodore Sizer, I believed that culturally and linguistically diverse students would be better educated if public schools got back to teaching the basics, i.e., reading, writing, and arithmetic. As an essentialist, anatomically I was an African American female, but mentally I was employing the mindset and ideology of a European male. I functioned in the paradigm of traditional pedagogy, as opposed to critical pedagogy, or fugitive pedagogy, or revolutionary pedagogy, or resistance pedagogy. I was hyper focused on teaching my black and brown students the ways of the West and developing their characters into that of good Euro-Americans.

At that time, in the early 2000’s, pedagogy was broadening its reach to include more and more identities as they were being noticed and accepted. My understanding of pedagogy was getting deeper, and I was shaping my professional identity into that of a master pedagogue. I followed the district’s curriculum as described and prescribed, and I provided consistent intervention and remediation to those identified as needing it. Still, many of my students were not faring well on state and district tests and my belief in them and my teaching capacity started to wane. I began to question my educational philosophy that I believed in wholeheartedly for years and I questioned the underlying aims of pedagogy. As I learned more about being an educator and eventually becoming a teacher educator, I realized that pedagogy is a device used by Euro-Americans and Europeans to miseducate the masses while maintaining the status quo of white supremacy and academic inequities.

We cannot wait for a more human form of pedagogy.

Asa Hilliard, 1998

Personally, critical bifocality revealed my role within the large engine of the State’s educational system, thus illustrating how I functioned as a cog within it. Defined as a “provisional design strategy to re-place in history and context and to theorize,” critical bifocality emphasizes the importance of comprehensively examining structures, discourses, and practices (Fine, p. 27). Critical bifocality necessitates that the inquirer uses a dual-lens approach to effectively compare the structural elements and the individuals’ agency within that structure. Critical bifocality and comparative analysis share similarities in terms of their focus on multiple perspectives, complexity, enhanced understanding, methodological considerations, and theoretical frameworks. While they are distinct approaches, critical bifocality and comparative analysis can complement each other and be used in combination to provide a rich and nuanced analysis of research topics. Critical bifocality in research inquiry refers to the practice of looking at a research topic or issue from two distinct perspectives simultaneously. This approach involves integrating both an insider’s perspective and an outsider’s perspective to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon being studied. While critical bifocality is a valuable approach for gaining a more nuanced understanding of complex social phenomena, it requires careful navigation of multiple perspectives, ethical considerations, and analytical challenges. Critical bifocality acknowledges the multifaceted nature of social issues and the need to consider diverse viewpoints. It helps researchers develop a more holistic understanding of a topic by integrating subjective and objective viewpoints, and it may involve qualitative methods such as interviews, observations, or participant observation to capture diverse perspectives.

With critical bifocality, I explored the interplay between the district’s structural constraints and my individual actions within them. The structural constraints specifically being the policies and procedures of the district’s pedagogic device and my individual actions being the use of unsanctioned resources and materials. In a manner, the policies and procedures of the district’s structure were plentiful while the resources were lacking. Hence, I seized the moment to use materials that reflected the values and identities of my culturally and linguistically diverse students while empowering them to develop their own voices.

The pedagogic device is a theoretical framework that explains how the language and communication patterns used in educational settings can either facilitate or hinder students’ academic success based on their social background. According to the late Basil Bernstein, the pedagogic device refers to the ways in which educational institution’s pedagogize knowledge and transmit knowledge through language. Basil Bernstein was a British sociologist and linguist renowned for his exploration into the sociology of education and the interplay between language and social organization. He focused on social structures, underlying systems, and relationships within society. His work defines how social organization and communication patterns shape educational experiences and outcomes, particularly in relation to social class and cultural factors.

Bernstein argued that the way pedagogized knowledge is transmitted in educational settings is influenced by the social structure of society. In the context of pedagogic discourse, Bernstein argued that the type of language used in education can either facilitate or hinder the transmission of pedagogized knowledge and the development of students’ academic skills. He suggested that students from different social backgrounds may struggle to navigate the educational system if their home language and communication style do not align with the pedagogic discourse used in schools. Bernstein defined pedagogic discourse as the style of language and communication used within educational settings, influenced by social and cultural factors. According to Bernstein, there are two main types of discourse prevalent in educational institutions, a) restricted code and b) elaborated code. Restricted code is associated with working-class or lower-class communities and tends to be more context-bound, with implicit meanings and assumptions whereas elaborated code is more common in middle-class or upper-class communities and is characterized by explicit and detailed language use.

The curriculum I was bound to teach directed me to use a restricted code. The teacher’s guide provided the pedagogic script for the type of classroom discourse that I was supposed to facilitate. The pedagogic script felt more like a script for a circus performance than a guide for nurturing independent thinkers. Packed with dense, restrictive language, it seemed to strip my students of their individuality and their humanity, reducing them to performing circus seals. Each day, they were tasked with jumping through various task hoops, memorizing key points from lessons and regurgitating them upon command. Success was measured by their ability to perform these tricks flawlessly, earning them nothing more than momentary applause, stickers, and a metaphorical fish for their efforts. They sat, trained and compliant, always ready for the next command, while their intellectual curiosity was gently tamed and their natural enthusiasm for learning replaced with a rehearsed routine. Given that the district’s curriculum provided a pseudo progressive colonial script as well as detailed plans on what to say and when to say it, I surmised that this was the structure’s way of directing teaching practices which were very didactic. When knowledge transmission failed within the larger group, students were assigned to smaller groups for further instruction. Within those smaller groups, the code became more restricted as the intensity of the remediation required absolute fidelity on my part. It was within the smaller group setting where I dared to use resources and materials that were not sanctioned by the district. I taught the standards and objectives off-script and deviated from the predetermined curricular plan, abandoning the circus performance.

Born to win. Programed to fail.

Dr. Leonard Jeffries, n.d.

Many of my students grappled with the pre-selected content, mandated learning objectives, and the explicit curriculum that was designed for an implicit middle-class Euro-American pupil. The narrow pedagogical experience curated for my culturally and linguistically diverse students by the pedagogic device formulated a restricted microstructure within the racialized macrostructure of the Euro-American social universe we all find ourselves living in today. What I had not recognized at the time was that my students were being setup to be future members of what Dr. Joyce King called the “bureaucratic paradigm.” In other words, non-white students were being dumbed down by the sanctioned educational system to find success in alternative spaces that grant useless certificates and degrees. Spaces such as prisons, adult basic education programs, and other alternative educational pathways.

Michael Lawrence and Llyod Wright, two Grade 5 African American males, were amongst the first set of students that I was assigned to teach and prepare for the bureaucratic paradigm. These Fifth Graders were being setup by the system to fail, with my help. Llyod, the son of Caribbean immigrants, struggled significantly with reading and writing and Michael, the son of African American parents, struggled with accepting the sanctioned lessons that I was offering. Michael found no relevance in what I was teaching and so he was a constant “behavior problem.” Three years later, both boys joined gangs and ultimately lost their lives in insignificant battles of the street. As I reflect on these students, I ask myself, what could I have done differently that could have possibly diverted their paths? Nothing. I was too attached to the colonial script, and I blamed their loss of life on their parents. Now, however, I continuously work to atone for my contribution to their deaths and I lament over my part in helping the macrostructure maintain Llyod and Michael’s subjugation to white supremacy outside of the public school system.

Eurocentric education guarantees the preservation of western civilization and white supremacy. It is no wonder that non-white students fall victim to the bureaucratic paradigm as much of what is taught in public schools serves to reinforce the Euro-American myth that “white is might; might is right and right is white” (Tshabalala, n.d., p. 2). In my unconsciousness, I was helping to support the continued oppression of non-white people as I was not teaching my students how to neutralize white domination and how to handle power. Part of my unconsciousness was a direct result in my limited knowledge of my African self. Tshabalala (n.d.) listed several factors in why many people of African descent have been compromised:

  • Misinformed collective identity, education, epistemology, and perspective
  • Lost history and historical consciousness
  • Marginalization of African discourse within the narratives of the academy
  • Assimilation and the reigning of a single narrative
  • Misrepresentation of Africa by both the colonizer and the colonized
  • People of African descent with low self-esteem and self-hate
  • Self-colonization by people of African descent
  • Perpetuated white privilege in epistemology and education in general

Mental bondage is invisible violence.

Asa Hilliard as quoted by Wade Nobles, 2008

The deliberate removal of African contributions to the world’s advancement has caused what Carruthers (1999) called, intellectual warfare. The structured European and Euro-American campaign to commit historicide against African people and “the organized, systematic, and effective repression of a people’s culture [allows] … foreign or alien power [to] dominate …. Conquerors are fully aware of the power of history and culture. As such, much is being invested in conserving the bureaucratic paradigm. For the bureaucratic paradigm to work, there must be what Amos Wilson called racial complementarity, where the dominate race has to have a subjective race to complement its power. Hence, the psychology and education of the race that is to be dominated must be formatted in a way that permits the dominate race to establish, maintain, expand, and refine power over them.

I believe the pedagogic device serves to maintain control over the construction of knowledge and the dissemination of pedagogized knowledge, and it plays a crucial role in the perpetuation and evolution of Eurocentric cultural meanings across generations. Much of the knowledge passed down within the Western educational framework is rooted in the deliberate suppression of certain beliefs, ideas, images, symbols, and knowledge that did not serve the purposes of worldwide colonial control, as noted by Quijano in 2007. Singh asserted that the pedagogic device shapes school knowledge through three interconnected hierarchical rules: a) distributive, b) re-contextualizing, and c) evaluative (2002). The distributive rules manage how various types of knowledge are spread and the power dynamics among social groups, thus perpetuating social disparities. The re-contextualization rules govern the creation of specific educational discourses, while the evaluative rules focus on specific educational methods that are used in classrooms, such as the curriculum, assessments, as well as students’ social behavior, character, and manners, all of which are transmitted and assessed through educational practices.

Bernstein’s theory of the pedagogic device offers important perspectives on how class, power, and educational dynamics interact, yet it is critiqued for lacking theoretical completeness, being overly dualistic, complex, and requiring empirical support and a more dialectical method to fully grasp educational changes. It is important to emphasize that Bernstein’s theory remains theoretical, highlighting the necessity for further empirical research to confirm the theory and explore the connections between schools, their specific educational practices, and the impacts of social class advantages and disadvantages (Sadovnik, 1991). Still, I think there is some merit to Bernstein’s concept of the pedagogic device, especially considering Singh’s observation of the “surprising and consistent uniformity in teaching methods worldwide, which remains constant regardless of the prevailing ideology of individual nations” (2002). Additionally, as Hunter noted, “Western European societies and their derivatives have created only a limited number of mechanisms for educating entire populations in knowledge acquisition” (Hunter, 1994, as cited in Singh, 2002). This suggests that much effort on the part of the Euro-American and European is being placed on refinement of their power over other people worldwide.

Grasping and understanding the workings of the pedagogic device enables me to seek ways of mitigating its control over knowledge and individual perspectives. Nsamenang’s description of how the West “distances Africans from their cultural roots and indigenous knowledge, [thus] pushing them into reliance on external sources whose values and insights are rooted in very different cultural, historical, and environmental contexts” is the outcome of the pedagogic device (2006). Beyond just understanding its rules, it is crucial to also comprehend the fields and agents that enforce the principles of organization and disruption within the pedagogic device. Bernstein referred to these fields as “a social space of conflict and competition, an arena in which participants vie to establish monopoly over the species of capital effective in it…and the power to decree the hierarchy and conversion rates between all forms of authority in the field of power” (see Signh, 2002, 573).

These fields—production, re-contextualization, and reproduction of knowledge—are hierarchically connected. Hence, knowledge is created, adapted for educational programs, and then imparted in classrooms by key agents. Key agents like higher education institutions, think tanks, and industries play roles in knowledge production. Newly created knowledge is then adapted and pedagogized by state educational agencies, curriculum authorities, policy-makers, and teacher training institutions. Ultimately, teachers in primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions disseminate this pedagogized knowledge, culminating the pedagogic indoctrination process. Hence, I was helping to distill knowledge that had been pedagogized to fit the Euro-American and Europeans scheme for sustaining the bureaucratic paradigm.

Subpersons are humanoid entities who, because of racial phenotype/genealogy/culture, are not fully human and therefore have a different and inferior schedule of rights and liberties applying to them.

Charles Mills, 1997

Teacher education “seasoned” me to operate in an “officially sanctioned reality [which was] divergent from actual reality” (Mills, p. 18). “Seasoning” for my African ancestors was a brutal process of forced acclimatization, dehumanization, and subjugation, fundamentally rooted in the violence of slavery and the denial of basic human rights. The concept of a “seasoning process” broadly encompasses the cruel and inhumane practices designed to prepare enslaved Africans for a life of bondage. This process varied significantly across different regions and was influenced by local conditions, the type of labor expected, and the practices of individual enslavers. Although my training as an educator was a consensual process, it has some interesting similarities to the “seasoning process” my enslaved ancestors endured. Specifically, the main objective of my teacher training was to equip me to become an effective agent of the pedagogic device. This involved a significant focus on honing my teaching skills to effectively teach the mandated Eurocentric curriculum. Just as “seasoning” involved acclimatizing enslaved people to a new climate and setting, my training sought to adjust me to the organizational culture of the district and the school building where I was assigned. This included understanding the expected social and professional norms of the community, district, school and the classroom. I was provided the specific skills and knowledge needed to perform the job tasks effectively. This included both hard skills like classroom management and operating software, and soft skills like teamwork and communication. While my ancestors endured the brutal “seasoning process” marked by violence and coercion to enforce compliance, my own “seasoning” involved thorough instruction on district and state policies, legal regulations, and safety procedures. This ensured my ability to work safely and effectively within the prescribed guidelines of the school district. Moreover, the threat of licensure termination and job loss was wielded as a means of reinforcement, should adherence to these standards falter. My teacher training program also aimed to optimize my ability to effectively teach the mandated curriculum, albeit in a way that benefits both myself (through wages and continuous professional development) and the district (through productivity and student achievement). My enslaved ancestors were forcibly integrated into a new and oppressive social hierarchy, and although I was not forced, I was oriented into the district’s organizational structure and given my place within it. Naturally, as a classroom teacher, I was placed at the bottom.

Conclusion

To make amends for Michael Lawrence, Llyod Wright, and all the other students that I educationally robbed, I have dedicated the rest of my life to training teachers in an African paradigm that will ultimately liberate African epistemology and neutralize structural racism. Specifically, I’m adopting Bangura’s African educational paradigm of Ubuntugogy. “After almost three centuries of employing Western educational approaches, many African societies are still characterized by low Western literacy rates, civil conflicts and underdevelopment” (Bangura, 2005, 13). For my own liberation as a teacher educator, I will employ Afrocentric instructional design models and Afrocentric instructional resources and materials. I will launch an online platform that will re-educate and re-afrikanize professors of African descent, teachers of African descent and teacher educators of African descent. My aim is to replace pedagogy with Ubuntugogy, an Afrocentric paradigm and teaching philosophy that is culturally specific and culturally relevant for learners of African descent.

Ubuntugogy is rooted in African humanism (Bangura, 2005), containing three key tenets of religio-spirituality, consensus building, and dialogue. Religio-spirituality binds all people of African descent together through our Africanity and our morality. Consensus building allows individuals of African descent to acknowledge our coexistence and work cohesively with a cooperative spirit and dialogue places a valuing on deliberations, while promoting trust and understanding. As I attempted to demonstrate in this autoethnography, pedagogy has failed me and millions of learners of African descent as its outcome is the “exact opposite of human perfectibility” (Hilliard, 1998, 109), which is the main driver of Afrocentric education. The Eurocentric pedagogical device replaces morality with materialism, thereby keeping individuals in a state of wantonness consumption. The pedagogic device replaces consensus building with democracy and oligarchy rooted in Aryan values and ideology, thereby disenfranchising a large portion of melanated humanity, and placing them under oppression. And finally, the pedagogical device replaces dialogue with diatribe, thereby keeping individuals in a state of reliance and confusion. Alternatively, the paradigm of Ubuntugogy offers essential methods to Africanize curricula, materials, and resources (instructional items currently being used by the pedagogic device to traduce individuals of African descent).  I believe Ubuntugogy will pave the way for people of African descent to reconnect with and utilize our distinct ways of thinking and knowing, the first step towards our liberation.

References

Bangura, A. K. (2005). Ubuntugogy: An African educational paradigm that transcends pedagogy, andragogy, ergonagy and heutagogy. Journal of Third World Studies, 22(2), 13-53.

Bernstein, B. (2001). From pedagogies to knowledges. In: Morais, A., Neves, I., Davies, B. & Daniels, H. (eds.). Towards a Sociology of Pedagogy. The Contribution of Basil Bernstein to Research: New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Carruthers, J. H. (1999). Intellectual warfare. Chicago, IL: Third World Press.

Fine, M. (2018). Just research in contentious times: Widening the methodological imagination. New York, NY: Teachers College Press

Hilliard, A. G. (1998). SBA: The reawakening of the African mind. Gainesville, FL: Makare Publishers.

Mills, C.W. (1997). The Racial Contract. Cornell University Press.

Nsamenang, A. B. (2006). Human ontogenesis: an indigenous African view on development and intelligence. International Journal of Psychology, 41(4), 293-297.

Nobles, W. W. (2008). Per Âa Asa Hilliard: The Great House of Black Light for Educational Excellence. Review of Educational Research, 78(3), 727–747. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40071142

Quijano, A. (2007). Coloniality and modernity/rationality. Cultural Studies, 21(2-3), 168–178.

Sadovnik, A. R. (1991). Basil Bernstein’s theory of pedagogic practice: A structuralist approach. Sociology of Education, (64,1), 48-63.

Singh, P. (2002). Pedagogizing knowledge: Bernstein’s theory of the pedagogic device. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 23(4), 571-582.

Sizer, T. R. (1984). Horace’s compromise: the dilemma of the American high school : the first report from a study of high schools, co-sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Commission on Educational Issues of the National Association of Independent Schools. Houghton Mifflin. Tshabalala, K. L. (n.d.) Decolonizing Afrikan Education, iMTraDev Solutions

Blog Posts

Once a month, I share what is happening in the Afroedhub. Stay updated for the latest information on Ubuntugogy and Afrikan-centered lessons.

Go to blog

Services

I teach teachers how to design Afrocentric instruction

Learn More

Meet the Ubuntugogist

Anitra Butler-Ngugi joined the Department of Early Childhood and Teacher Education at Prince George’s Community College as an Associate Professor of Reading Instruction in August 2001. With a rich background in education, her research focuses on curriculum and instruction, language and literacy development, and ubuntugogy. Prior to her tenure at Prince George’s Community College, Mrs. Butler-Ngugi served as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, and special educator across various educational settings including Prince George’s County Public Schools, Calvert County Public Schools, Montgomery County Public Schools, and the District of Columbia Public Schools. She holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Reading Instruction from Bowie State University, a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction with a specialization in Bilingual Special Education from The George Washington University, and a Master’s in Instructional Design for Online Learning from Capella University. Most recently, she earned a graduate certificate in Assistive Technology from George Mason University.

en_USEnglish