Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives

King Creativity at Southwestern

Braids, Fades & Razor Blades: The Educational Function of the African-American Barbershop

by Jason Hayes, Manjah Fernandez, Aaron Bowser

Culturally diverse children who live in urban and high-poverty environments are believed to be at particularly high risk for educational failure and poor school outcomes (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). Intercultural communication theorists believe many African Americans are not academically successful because their culture is different from the culture of the school. This theory is called “cultural disconnection.”

This idea led researchers Jason Hayes, Manjah Fernandez, and Aaron Bowser to apply for the King Creativity Fund to investigate the cultural disconnections between traditional curriculum (e.g. standards, textbooks, etc.) and societal curriculum (e.g. things learned in communities). An important but often overlooked aspect of curriculum design is the impact of societal curriculum on students’ “ways of knowing,” that students build on prior knowledge to understand new concepts. Hayes, Fernandez, and Bowser decided to compare and contrast knowledge learned in African American barbershops to traditional curriculum. This classroom that does not have a chalkboard is a place where African American males speak openly about issues, and where elders instill youngsters with cultural and community values.

The researchers conducted an ethnographic qualitative study. Using a systematic interview format, they interviewed patrons of African American barbershops in cities such as Austin, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Memphis, and Los Angeles to compare and contrast knowledge learned in African American barbershops to traditional curriculum.

The research findings that include five hours of video footage and select movie clips translate into a short documentary. This information hopes to contribute to the overall body of curriculum design literature. In addition, the results hope to be used to impact teachers’ socio-cultural awareness that can improve teacher efficacy.