Wednesday, August 4, 2010

East Africa and the News

African history, politics and economics has had a long, slow introduction into the core curriculum of American education, and it couldn't be too soon. As our world increasingly globalizes, the significance of Africa's problems and successes will have ever closer links to our lives, and the next generation will need to be prepared to face the realities coming out of Africa head on.

But herein lies the problem: too often all we do is talk about "Africa," as if everything there is the same. Our modern understanding of Africa is a mosaic of images and headlines, from famine in Ethiopia, genocide in Rwanda, and the the World Cup in South Africa, yet somehow Americans still confuse Africa for a single country. Therefore, when the headline "The threat from East Africa" crop ups in the Washington Post last week, the reader needs to have some prior knowledge to digest the treatment of terrorist threats in Uganda and Somalia. How do we insure that that young people in middle school or high school today are getting the education necessary to fend off threats in the coming decades? 

To understand foreign cultures, polities, and economies that shape our world, students need a rigorous education at the secondary level. When it comes to Africa, for instance, students need to know the regional differences between East, West, Sub-saharan and North Africa. They would need to know about the distribution of natural resources, about the patterns of religion and language, about the formations of collective security and pockets of anarchy. Currently, students will only get exposure to these ideas as a unit or part of a unit in a world history class, and maybe will read a book like Things Fall Apart. I think few people would argue that these treatments of Africa are sufficient; the same could be said of our average urban school's current curriculum offerings regarding the Middle East, China, and India; finance; linguistics; health; hands on skills and the arts. 

As we open the "paper" each day, let us run a test in our minds to see what skills and knowledge someone would need to understand a headline article, and more importantly, respond to it. Then, let us reflect on how effectively we build our school curriculums to guarantee that students gain these skills.

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