ERIC Identifier: ED278602 Publication Date: 1986-11-00
Author: Merryfield, Merry M. Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
for Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Teaching about Africa. ERIC Digest No. 36.
There is growing recognition of the need to strengthen education about
Africa in American schools. Although teachers and textbooks have improved their
treatments of African topics over the last twenty years, serious biases and
omissions remain (Beyer, 1968; Crofts, 1986). Most classroom teachers today have
had little or no formal education on Africa. Yet they are asked to teach complex
issues about apartheid, political stability, and cultural conflict. The old
myths of the so-called "Dark Continent" are often replaced with new media
stereotypes that focus on hunger, poverty, disease, and violence. How can
educators improve their teaching about Africa? This digest examines (1) the
importance of teaching about Africa, (2) the place of Africa in the curriculum,
and (3) strategies for teaching about Africa.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO TEACH ABOUT AFRICA?
--Africa's size in land and population makes it a significant area of the
world. This second largest continent has over three times the land area of the
United States. One of every three countries in the United Nations is African.
One of every ten persons on the world today lives in Africa. Africa has the
highest population growth of any world region.
--Africa is a treasure chest of natural resources. The United States looks to
this continent for such strategic metals and minerals as gold, platinum,
chromium, titanium, uranium, and petroleum as well as agriculture products such
as cocoa, rubber, and vegetable oils. African markets are increasingly important
for expanding American agriculture and technology exports.
--Africa is the root culture for Black Americans. Unlike the immigration
experiences of other Americans, the slave trade tore Africans from their home
countries. Myths and stereotypes continue to deny Black Americans accurate
knowledge, pride, and linkages with their ethnic homeland.
--Although Africa may be of special interest to Black Americans, it is
important to all Americans. There are many Africanisms in American culture. Jazz
has its roots in the polyrhythmic music of Africa. Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit
are examples of African influence on our literature. A study of African
societies provides valuable lessons on governance by consensus, on the primacy
of social relationships, respect for elders, and strong family ties. African
art, music, and aesthetics can enrich American education as they demonstrate the
union of man, God, and nature in African thought.
WHERE DOES AFRICA BELONG IN THE CURRICULUM?
African content belongs at every level of the social studies curriculum as
part of a global perspective in education. Children will develop more interest
and appreciation of other cultures if they are exposed to such content from an
early age. Even before they can read, young children can enjoy playing African
games and singing African songs. Along with their study of American families,
communities, and holidays, early elementary pupils can learn about Bocharie's
family in Sierra Leone, Ali's community near Mombasa, and Sammani's and
Maryama's celebration of Ramadan in Kano, Nigeria.
At the upper elementary and middle school grades, children should learn about
several African countries in detail. Global studies courses are well-suited for
teaching African issues and concerns. African content is especially appropriate
for such social studies themes and concepts as interaction between man and his
environment, the role of women, cultural diffusion, and human rights.
In American history courses, it is important to provide African background
and viewpoints on the slave trade. The uniqueness of this special "immigrant"
group and enduring Africanisms in American culture should be integrated into the
study of the colonial period and contemporary America. Africa provides a
laboratory for examining the decisions and effects of United States foreign
policy. Why do we give foreign aid to countries such as Egypt and Kenya? What
have been the results of the policy of "constructive engagement" towards South
Geography and world history courses are core subjects for African content at
the secondary level. Africa should be studied as "the Cradle of Mankind."
Ancient Egypt, trans-Saharan trade, and African kingdoms of the last 2000 years
demonstrate the sophistication of African societies. African and western
perspectives toward the colonial era will contribute to a better understanding
of contemporary Africa. Again, Africa should not be taught separately, but woven
into the mosaic of world history and geography.
African content is also appropriate for sociology, economics, and current
events courses. Zimbabwe can be used as a case study of self-determination and
nation-building. Educational materials from South Africa can be used to
demonstrate the power of propaganda. Statistics on African imports and exports
can clarify the concept of dependency. Students should be encouraged to evaluate
current African events through African perspectives and within a global context.
WHAT STRATEGIES CAN BE USED TO TEACH ABOUT AFRICA?
--Counteract stereotypes about Africa by teaching historical and contemporary
realities of both rural and urban life. Instead of using words that elicit
Tarzan-like images, speak of ethnic groups (not tribes), homes (not huts), and
tropical rain forest (not jungles). The larger, more typical African societies
(such as the Hausa, Yoruba, Kikuyu) should receive more attention than the
smaller societies (such as the San or Mputi) who often are portrayed wrongly as
untouched by the twentieth century.
--Make valid comparisons. Do not compare Africa with China and Japan. Africa
is a continent with over fifty countries and incredible diversity in culture,
geography, political structures, and economies. Choose specific African
countries for comparison. Nigeria, as a large and very diverse African nation,
would be an appropriate country to compare with China. When comparing across
nations, always examine similarities and explain differences. In what ways is
urbanization around Nairobi similar to urbanization near your own community? Why
do Kenyans prefer larger families than do Americans? Africa can be compared as a
continent to Asia or Latin America.
--Teach African content through a global perspective by examining universal
themes and concepts. Nigeria could be compared with Sri Lanka and Peru to
demonstrate ways countries deal with cultural diversity. The effect of
governmental policies on food production can be examined by case studies of
Zimbabwe, India, and Tanzania.
--Use content on Africa to teach social studies skills. An examination of
colonial documents and letters could be a lesson in detecting bias and unstated
assumptions. Case studies of mineworkers in South Africa, cocoa farmers in
Ghana, or unemployed secondary school graduates in Lagos could be used to
practice decision-making skills in real-life situations.
--Teach respect and understanding for Africans. When teaching about problems,
focus on how they evolved. Why does Ethiopia have a refugee problem? What can we
learn from that situation to help us understand refugee problems elsewhere? Do
not let your study of Africa be overwhelmed by negative aspects. Teach about the
success of black-white cooperation in independent Kenya. Students can come to
enjoy Africa through its rich contemporary cultures. Lessons on Yoruba
hairstyles, Lingala music, and Swahili cuisine can stimulate student interest
and appreciation of Africa.
--Involve students in seeing and feeling African life. Current films and
other audio-visual materials are essential. Do not use 1960s media to teach
about Africa today. Simulations and primary sources (African literature,
newspapers, photographs, tapes of speeches) can build empathy and understanding.
--Bring African resources in your community into your classroom. African
students at a nearby college, organizations that do business with African
nations, or anti-apartheid/human rights groups can be rich sources of
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