ERIC Identifier: ED393790
Publication Date: 1996-04-00
Author: Hume, Susan E.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Teaching about Africa. ERIC Digest.
People from African countries who visit the United States often are stunned
by how little Americans know about African cultures. Africa is a large continent
more than three times the size of the continental United States, and it contains
over 50 independent countries. One out of every three member states in the
United Nations is an African country. One out of every ten people in the world
lives on the African continent. Increasingly, the United States has trading and
corporate ties to African countries. Now, more than ever, our students need a
basic understanding of Africa.
SUGGESTIONS FOR TEACHING ABOUT AFRICA
Four key suggestions
CONFRONT MYTHS AND STEREOTYPES
It seems that no other part
of the world conjures up so many myths in the minds of Americans as Africa. A
good way to begin a study of the continent is to identify and dispel some of the
myths and stereotypes commonly held by Americans. To aid in the discussion, it
is useful to compare these American misconceptions of Africa with the myths and
stereotypes people in African countries have about the United States. For
instance, many Americans believe that all Africans are poor, while many Africans
think that all Americans are rich. Americans commonly perceive Africa as a
violent, dangerous place. People in African countries often believe the same
thing about America. To assist in the discussion of this topic, LESSONS FROM
AFRICA (Merryfield 1989) includes a lesson entitled "Stereotypes Kenyan and
Liberian Youth Have about Americans."
AVOID FAULTY GENERALIZATIONS
The African continent has many
different climatic zones and landscape features that vary from deserts and
savannas to tropical rainforests and snow-capped mountains. It is home to people
of every size, shape, and skin color with hundreds of distinctive languages and
cultures. The characteristics of neighboring countries can be very different.
Teachers must be careful not to take a single example and present it as the norm
for all of Africa.
PRESENT A BALANCED VIEW
Most of the attention that Africa
receives in the American media is negative. It is easy to dwell on the negative
when teaching about Africa. Teachers should not deny the existence of problems
in African countries, such as poverty, disease, famine, and war. Students should
be encouraged to go beyond the headlines and explore the root causes of these
problems. They also should learn about the many complex cultures that diverse
African peoples have created. To focus only on Africa's problems is a disservice
to its people and our students.
LIMIT THE SCOPE OF STUDY
Due to its enormous size and
diversity, it is impossible to teach all of Africa in a unit or semester of
study. Depending on the time available, a class might focus on a single country
or choose a country from each region for an expanded study. Nigeria is often a
popular choice of study because of the extraordinary cultural and physical
diversity within the country. Similarly, Cameroon has been referred to as "Africa in miniature." A teacher may select a country of focus based on
available resources or because of a connection to the local community.
AFRICA'S PLACE IN THE CURRICULUM
The study of Africa can be
woven into many parts of the elementary and secondary school curriculum.
The study of Africa is usually associated
with world history and geography courses. Yet, Africa can be integrated into
many of the other social studies as well. For instance, in an American history
class, students may examine how the Cold War shaped United States foreign policy
toward Africa. In their study of sociology, students can see how the roles of
women are changing in many African societies or how urbanization in Africa is
affecting family relationships. Economics students might consider how exchange
rates and changes in world market prices affect the internal economies of
African countries and influence their relationships with other nations.
Young students enjoy reading African
folktales. They often discover plots and morals parallel to those found in
European folktales. One activity for students is to pick out the human qualities
given to certain animals such as the spider, hare, and hyena and compare these
with folk characters from other parts of the world. By reading African
folktales, students gain insight into the attributes most valued by African
societies, such as cleverness, wisdom, and bravery. Many anthologies of African
folktales are now available.
A wealth of literature by contemporary African writers can meet the interests
of high school students. Teachers may choose to sample a specific genre from
several countries, focus on the literature of a single country, or concentrate
on the writings of one author. A novel, THINGS FALL APART, by Nigerian author
Chinua Achebe has become a favorite in many English departments. Literature by
African writers is increasingly available in bookstores and libraries.
FRENCH LANGUAGE CLASSES
More French speakers live in
African countries than in France. Yet, most French language textbooks devote
very little attention to these countries. Lessons on Francophone Africa give
students the opportunity to see the ways in which French language and culture
have influenced these countries, as well as how the countries have retained
their unique characteristics. African-American students also may find new
relevancy in the language. LA DIVERSITE EN AFRIQUE FRANCOPHONE (Dern 1991) is
one of several curriculum guides that have been developed to supplement French
language textbooks in this area.
Textiles, jewelry, woodcarvings, metal work, pottery,
and stone sculpture are some of the common types of art found in various African
countries. Many art museums in the United States have at least modest
collections of African art and curators willing to share information with
students and teachers. Washington, DC is home to the Smithsonian Institution's
National Museum of African Art. For information about tours and the loan
program, teachers can contact the museum's Department of Education on weekdays
at (202) 357-4860. If the objective is to create the art rather than just
appreciate it, teachers can help students to create African textile designs such
as tie-dye, wax-resist, brush batik, and stencil resist. The directions for each
of these are included in a curriculum guide, DAILY LIFE IN AFRICA: VARIETY IN
AFRICAN DRESS (Leoni and Yoder 1982).
American students enjoy listening to music from
Africa. Both traditional and popular music vary tremendously from one country to
another. As all kinds of international music become more popular, African music
is readily available in local music stores. Also, many public radio stations
across the United States carry a weekly program entitled AFROPOP WORLDWIDE,
which features the music of Africa and the African diaspora. Students are
fascinated by the wide variety of musical instruments played in Africa.
Americans usually associate percussion instruments with Africa, but stringed
instruments are very common, too. Teachers can combine music and art to help
their students create and play simple versions of some musical instruments.
Directions are contained in a curriculum guide, DAILY LIFE IN AFRICA:
CELEBRATIONS OF AFRICAN LIFE (Leoni and Yoder 1982).
RESOURCES FOR TEACHING ABOUT AFRICA
Five types of resources
The amount of information about Africa
on the Internet is growing rapidly. Internet resources include basic statistics,
maps, photographs, travel information, recipes, and addresses for sources of
further information. Searching by country name is a good way to begin.
To find appropriate reading materials for
students, at least two very helpful bibliographies are available. OUR FAMILY,
OUR FRIENDS, OUR WORLD (Miller-Lachmann 1992) contains a chapter of
bibliographic entries devoted to Africa. AFROPHILE: RECOMMENDED TITLES ON AFRICA
FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE (Randolph 1994) lists over 450 titles by interest
level. In both books, all of the titles listed have received positive reviews
from African scholars and educators.
Art museums, children's museums, and natural
history museums often feature permanent or special exhibits related to Africa.
These institutions usually offer special tours for school groups and educational
materials to accompany the exhibits. Many museums maintain lending collections
of books, audio-visual materials, and artifact kits. Some also host
Africa-related guest lectures, artistic performances, and film series.
World Wise Schools was created in 1989 to help
educate American children about the countries the Peace Corps serves. The
organization links American students in grades 3-12 with Peace Corps volunteers
serving in countries around the world. Students and volunteers can exchange
letters, pictures, audio cassettes, and small artifacts. Teachers may also
contact the World Wise Schools office (1990 K Street, Suite 9500, Washington, DC
20526; telephone number (800) 424-8580, ext. 2283) for the names of returned
Peace Corps volunteers living in or near their community. Many returned
volunteers are eager to visit classrooms and share their overseas experiences.
World Wise Schools produces country-specific educational videos and study
guides. The current collection on African countries includes Senegal, Lesotho,
TEACHERS' TRAVEL EXPERIENCES
Each summer, a select group of
teachers go to Africa through the Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad Program. The
participants spend five or six weeks traveling and studying in one or more
African countries. Many of the curriculum units they develop upon returning home
are available to all teachers.
History of Africa - Offers a history of every nation in Africa.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list includes
references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by an ED number are
available in microfiche and/or paper copies from the ERIC Document Reproduction
Service (EDRS). For information about prices, contact EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road,
Suite 110, Springfield, Virginia, 22153-2852; telephone numbers are (703)
440-1400 and (800) 443-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number, announced monthly
in the CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE), are not available through
EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal section of most larger
libraries by using the bibliographic information provided, requested through
Interlibrary Loan, or ordered from the UMI reprint service.
Brook, Diane L., and others. "No Easy Road to Freedom: The New South Africa.
Classroom Focus." SOCIAL EDUCATION 59 (February 1995): 1-8. EJ 500 344.
Davis, Bonnie M. "A Cultural Safari: Dispelling Myths and Creating
Connections." ENGLISH JOURNAL 83 (February 1994): 24-26. EJ 479 160.
Dern, Mary, ed. LA DIVERSITE EN AFRIQUE FRANCOPHONE. Stanford, CA: Stanford
Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education, 1991. ED 355 128.
Fulbright-Hays Summer Seminars Abroad Program. EGYPT: TRANSITION TO THE MODERN WORLD: CURRICULUM PROJECTS. Washington, DC: Center for International Education, 1989. ED 374 021.
Fulbright-Hays Summer Seminars Abroad Program. SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CHANGE IN SOUTHERN AFRICA: CURRICULUM PROJECTS AND PAPERS. Washington, DC: Center for InternationalEducation, 1991. ED 362 430.
Fulbright-Hays Summer Seminars Abroad Program. HISTORY AND CULTURE IN TANZANIA AND ZAMBIA: CURRICULUM PROJECTS. Washington, DC: Center for International Education, 1992. ED 353 205.
Hamilton, Robert E., ed. LESSON PLANS ON AFRICAN HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY.
Gainesville, FL: Center for African Studies, University of Florida, 1992. ED 370
Leoni, Diana, and Rachel Fretz Yoder. DAILY LIFE IN AFRICA: CELEBRATIONS OF
AFRICAN LIFE. Los Angeles, CA: African Outreach Program, UCLA, 1982.
Leoni, Diana, and Rachel Fretz Yoder. DAILY LIFE IN AFRICA: VARIETY IN
AFRICAN DRESS. Los Angeles, CA: African Outreach Program, UCLA, 1982.
Merryfield, Merry M., ed. LESSONS FROM AFRICA: A SUPPLEMENT TO MIDDLE SCHOOL COURSES IN WORLD CULTURES, GLOBAL STUDIES, AND WORLD GEOGRAPHY. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education,1989. ED 304 395.
Miller-Lachmann, Lyn, ed. OUR FAMILY, OUR FRIENDS, OUR WORLD. New Providence,
NJ: R.R. Bowker, 1992.
Randolph, Brenda. AFROPHILE: RECOMMENDED TITLES ON AFRICA FOR CHILDREN AND
YOUNG PEOPLE. Silver Spring, MD: Africa Access, 1994.