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About the Author
Brandon D. Lundy is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Kennesaw State University.
Solomon Negash is an Associate Professor of Information Systems at Kennesaw State University.
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A Guide for the 21st-Century Classroom
By Brandon D. Lundy, Solomon Negash
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2013 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
Jennifer E. Coffman
How do we introduce our students to "Africa"? Learning and teaching about "Africa" may seem to be an impossible enterprise, but once we acknowledge the limitations of what is practicable in a single semester or less, we can convey useful material in engaging ways. This chapter includes examples of exercises used to introduce students to studying Africa as a concept, a locale, and a set of dynamic social and ecological systems. These exercises can be easily adapted and incorporated into introductory-level college courses specifically focusing on Africa or courses in which only a portion of the semester is dedicated to studying some aspect or aspects of the continent, and they can work in nearly any type of course, particularly within the social sciences and humanities.
It is not an academic crime to be unaware of the details of a region or topic not yet studied—who among us is expert in everything? Most students want to learn more about "Africa," and overall they demonstrate sincere interest in and concern regarding African peoples, places, and events. Through well-contextualized assignments, they can also practice speaking deliberately and specifically about this newly acquired knowledge.
Some of the exercises below use incorrect statements and blatant generalizations with the initial goal of getting students to react—perhaps even to invoke some righteous indignation. This first-order level of investment is meant to spur students toward productive post-indignation practices (Hattam and Zembylas 2010) that lead to correction and substantiated judgment. The larger goals of these exercises are to motivate students to think more deeply about the information they are presented, to inquire further, to make connections throughout the semester to assigned materials and additional research they conduct, and to care enough to keep learning about Africa while sharing their knowledge with others.
One good way to launch introductory Africa-specific courses is to have students complete an information sheet about the continent and its residents; this exercise could include a brief quiz. An important point before viewing the quiz: the students initially assume that there is only one part to it. The quiz section begins with a series of short-answer questions related to Africa, greatly and obviously influenced by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner's manifesto Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1969:68–69).
Please answer the following questions:
1. How many countries are there in Africa?
2. Are the children of educated urban Africans more creative than the children of parents who did not go to school?
3. Who discovered Africa?
4. What is the longest river in Africa?
5. Is West Africa more developed than East Africa?
6. How are you feeling about being in this class?
7. Will it rain in Gabon tomorrow?
8. What is the most beautiful animal in Africa?
9. Is "text" a noun or a verb?
10. Why are some government officials in Africa corrupt?
11. Will you do well on the Africa map quiz in a couple of weeks?
12. Why is Africa called "the motherland"?
After the students complete this quiz, they receive a second set of questions to consider without altering their responses to the first set. The second set of questions, modified slightly from those put forth by Postman and Weingartner (1969:69), are key to setting the tone for the rest of the semester; these questions push students to reanalyze not just their responses to the first set of questions, but the questions themselves, as well as their ontological and epistemological premises.
SECOND QUESTION SET
1. Which of the questions can you answer with absolute certainty? How can you be certain of your answer?
2. What information would enable you to answer other questions with certainty? Where would you find that information?
3. Which questions restrict you to providing "factual information"? Which do not? Which require no facts at all?
4. Which questions may be based on false assumptions?
5. Which questions require expert testimony? What makes one an expert?
6. Which questions require the greatest amount of definition or qualification before you attempt to answer them?
7. Which questions require predictions as answers? Which kinds of information may improve the quality of a prediction?
Students reflect on the quality and precision of their original answers and discuss how they should proceed in pursuing information and analyzing arguments throughout the remainder of the course. The information sheets and quizzes should be collected while the second set of questions is held by the students as a frame of reference for additional assignments.
Readings and lectures help students with specific information (e.g., number of states, longest river) requested in some of the questions, as well as the contexts in which they should start to make sense of them (e.g., conditions of becoming states, politics of managing a river that passes through many states and human population centers). Readings, lectures, discussions, and other course materials, including films and music, help students gather information to deal with the quiz questions that include biases and false assumptions. Students get to grapple with concepts like ethnocentrism, formal schooling as a component of the broader concept of education (which also occurs outside of classrooms), and modernization theory. On the last day of the semester, the sheets are returned in order to reconsider the questions with the students' new analytical tool kit.
Encouraging Questions: Quick and Easy Introductions to Films
While other chapters in this volume describe specific films and their potential contributions to courses about Africa, this section offers a simple way to introduce films while linking back to the first-day exercise. It works by making a declarative statement, full of words or claims with which most students would be unfamiliar and that link to the film, and the request to write the statement verbatim. For example, prior to watching the film Milking the Rhino (Simpson 2008), students might be prompted with this statement: "As demonstrated in Il Ngwesi, group ranch members have embraced CBNRM—also known as CBC or CBWM—to protect charismatic megafauna in a non-fortress conservation setting." Students are then asked, "Any questions about that statement?" or even, "Why would I ask you to write that down?" followed by the prompt, "What questions would you ask to make sense of it?" Channeling the inquiry method as promoted by Postman and Weingartner (1969), students are then permitted to ask specific questions about the statement. These questions then frame the viewing of the film. After the film, they answer their initial questions and then build on what they learned with more questions to pursue and connect to other exercises.
In this example, the film focuses on the Il Ngwesi Group Ranch in Kenya and the Marienfluss Valley in Namibia to illustrate the complexities of designing and managing conservation and related tourism schemes. It shows how some rural people, specifically self-identifying Maasai in Kenya and Himba in Namibia, are trying to come to terms with increasing demands on land and animals (wild and domestic) and their own ideas of culture and acceptable employment. Students learn through this film how people working in conjunction with two different ecotourism camps view their duties as practical jobs that enable livelihoods, as well as how these types of work affect both cultural continuities and changes. The film also tackles the controversial topic of conservation with regard to the forms it takes, how benefits accrue, and who owns what. Further, it is a beautiful film to watch. Other multimedia tools employed in the classroom to aid in the pedagogical process include music.
Music: An Any and Every Day Introductory Exercise
Music can help introduce particular regions of Africa, as well as musical and narrative genres, diffusion and fusion, and other cultural concepts. Playing music as students filter into the classroom is a great way to establish a learning context. Well-chosen songs can set the tone for significant themes to be covered in class and can help students recall those points later. Music often accompanies a wide variety of activities worth studying in a course on Africa, such as religious ceremonies or other rituals (e.g., weddings, funerals, and healing), storytelling, political rallies, and social critique (Masquelier 1999; Zukas 1996).
Music works especially well in general survey courses such as an introductory course on sub-Saharan Africa. The box set Africa: Never Stand Still (Ellipsis Arts 1994) remains an excellent introduction to some of Africa's major recording stars and the richness of their music. As for pedagogical benefit, practically every song in this collection demonstrates diffusion and fusion of styles, language, and concepts (Coffman 2009).
For example, one semester a student—upon hearing the song "Heygana" by internationally renowned musician Ali Farka Toure—declared, "Wow! The blues actually started in Africa!" As it turns out, the music of bluesman Ali Farka Toure (1939–2006), born into a noble Songhai family, is a great example of global flows and borrowing. His music is a fusion of American blues and reworked, older African melodies (Ellipsis Arts 1994). Key influences in his music include Otis Redding, Albert King, and John Lee Hooker, but he attributed the roots of his sound to the music of the Tamashek, part of the larger Tuareg population. He composed many of his early songs on a Western-style guitar he received as a gift in 1957 and often sang in Tamashek and Songhai languages. Students greatly enjoy this music, as well as learning a bit more about the artist, his musical inspirations, and the subjects about which he sang. Such an introduction to topics of culture change and diffusion makes the points of the lecture stick.
From the CD Nairobi Beat (Rounder Select 1992), students respond to the Luo song "Jamoko Wange Tek" ("A Rich Man Is Arrogant") by Daniel Owino Misiani and D.O. 7 Shirati, which introduces concepts like interpersonal disease theory, social dis ease (à la Nancy Scheper-Hughes 2001), and interpretive drift. This song, and the story it tells of a rich man perilously ignoring "traditional ways," usually initiates an engaging conversation about belief systems and the concepts noted above. Interpersonal disease theory describes illness as a result or symptom of conflicts or tensions in social relations (dis-ease), in some cases involving witchcraft (Luhrmann 1989). By extension, and as many may have learned from E. E. Evans-Pritchard (1976-), serious illness cannot easily be dismissed. Rather, it should prompt the ill person, as well as family and friends, to evaluate the larger social context to seek to amend whatever social norms may have been broken or to figure out who may have malevolently caused the illness. This course of action, in turn, sets in motion a series of rituals to find the source of conflict and heal the individual and larger community.
Interpretive drift occurs when one considers as perhaps reasonable, or begins to adopt, another's beliefs or explanations for phenomena (Luhrmann 1989). Evans-Pritchard (1976) explores how he had little to offer in terms of alternative explanations to witchcraft when one night he saw a light fly past and land on a hut, only to learn the next day that the man inside fell gravely ill during the night. With the wealthy man in "Jamoko Wange Tek," students see how he also interpretively drifted back to his ancestors' beliefs about how social relations should work. And, by the end of the semester, students should at least open up to the possibilities that worldviews different from their own may indeed have merit.
Music about Africa by non-Africans is also a great teaching tool. When teaching about South Africa, for example, the song "Biko" by Peter Gabriel (1980) never fails to have a profound, emotive impact on students. Just starting college in the late 1980s, I was moved by this song, and the movie Cry Freedom (Attenborough 1987), to learn more about Steve Biko. I realized that being appalled but not very knowledgeable was not good enough; the song and movie acted as a call for me to enroll in a political science course focused on South Africa; I subsequently began to work at Africa News in Durham, North Carolina, in large part to have access to current wire reports.
As a graduate student in the mid-1990s, I discovered the documentary Biko: Breaking the Silence (Kaplan, Wicksteed, and Maruma 1988), prepared in conjunction with the filming of Cry Freedom, which was based on the novel Asking for Trouble by journalist Donald Woods (1981). Gabriel's song in conjunction with excerpts from these films serves as an excellent point of entry to discussions about apartheid in South Africa. The story of Biko, his advocacy of "black consciousness" as a philosophy of self-expression and self-reliance, his controversial death in 1977, and his emergence as an internationally recognized icon of what had gone wrong in South Africa provide a focused, tangible introduction to the complicated history of South Africa. These popular culture aspects of the Biko image encourage students to consider the political and economic effects of "selling" Biko's story or making it public (internationally) via film and music.
Songs, films, and personal stories can humanize teachers, personalize historical events, and also sometimes serve as a call to action for other students, as they learn to move beyond righteous indignation. Class time then can include examples of "action," such as comparisons or moral questionings; creation and analysis of uncertainty, certainty, and critique; evocation of feelings; prompting of judgment; and, it is hoped, fomenting understanding. Of course, any musical selection incorporated into a class should be contextualized; any song, as Alex Zukas (1996) notes, comes from a specific time and place, and students must be cognizant of what those times and places mean in order to better evaluate the instrumentation and lyrics. Further, students must be made aware that no song represents all African people in all times and places, while the borrowing and fusing that has occurred within some African genres and musical styles should also be pointed out.
Music thus can be a highly effective means by which to capture students' attention, promote cultural understanding, practice analytical skills, and learn more about current and older historical events (Masquelier 1999; Zukas 1996). Every semester, a few students bring some relevant part of their own music collection to share and integrate it into the course. Therefore, this approach is collaborative, expanding my own knowledge about African music as well.
The preceding examples demonstrate ways to introduce students to different aspects of Africa. Teaching should convey certain information but also help cultivate the skills of students to question, analyze, make connections, and support their own arguments with that information, while still wanting to learn more. Educators can further emphasize these goals by modeling best practices through enthusiasm for the subject and caring for students by listening to them and making it clear why what is taught about Africa is worth knowing (Postman and Weingartner 1969). In sum, these exercises work well in a variety of courses, and they work best when educators personalize them by tying lessons to topics that invoke excitement and engagement on the part of both the teacher and the learner.
Excerpted from Teaching Africa by Brandon D. Lundy, Solomon Negash. Copyright © 2013 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents
Introduction Brandon D. Lundy
Part I. Situating Africa: Concurrent-Divergent Rubrics of Meaning1. Introducing "Africa" Jennifer E. Coffman2. Africa: Which Way Forward?: An Interdisciplinary Approach Todd Cleveland3. Why We Need African History Kathleen Smythe4. Answering the "So What" Question: Making African History Relevant in the Provincial College Classroom Gary Marquardt5. From African History to African Histories: Teaching Interdisciplinary Method, Philosophy, and Ethics through the African History Survey Trevor R. Getz6. Treating the Exotic and the Familiar in the African History Classroom Ryan Ronnenberg7. Postcolonial Perspectives on Teaching African Politics in Wales and Ireland Carl Death8. Pan-Africanism: The Ties that Bind Ghana and the United States Harry Nii Koney Odamtten9. The Importance of the Regional Concept: The Case for an Undergraduate Regional Geography Course of Sub-Saharan Africa Matthew Waller10. Teach Me About Africa: Facilitating and Training Educators Toward a Socially Just Curriculum Durene I. Wheeler and Jeanine Ntihirageza
Part II. African Arts: Interpreting the African "Text"11. Inversion Rituals: The African Novel in the Global North Catherine Kroll12. Teaching Africa through a Comparative Pedagogy: South Africa and the United StatesRenée Schatteman13. Stereotypes, Myths, and Realities Regarding African Music in the African and American Academy Jean Ngoya Kidula14. What Paltry Learning in Dumb Books!: Teaching the Power of Oral Narrative Caleb Corkery15. Teaching about Africa: Violence and Conflict Management Linda M. Johnston and Oumar Chérif Diop16. Contextualizing the Teaching of Africa in the 21st Century: A Student-centered Pedagogical Approach to Demystify Africa as The Heart of Darkness Lucie Viakinnou-Brinson
Part III. Application of Approaches: Experiencing African Particulars17. Shaping U.S.-Based Activism Towards Africa: The Role of a Mix of Critical PedagogiesAmy C. Finnegan18. The Model AU as Pedagogical Method of Teaching American Students about AfricaBabacar M'Baye19. The Kalamazoo/Fourah Bay College Partnership: A Context for Understanding Study Abroad with Africa Daniel J. Paracka, Jr.20. Teaching Culture, Health, and Political Economy in the Field: Ground-level Perspectives on Africa in the 21st Century James Ellison21. Beyond the Biologic Basis of Disease: Collaborative Study of the Social and Economic Causation of Disease in Africa Amy C. Finnegan, Julian Jane Atim, and Michael Westerhaus22. Educating the Educators: Ethiopian IT PhD Program Solomon Negash and Julian M. Bass
Conclusion: Knowledge Circulation and Diasporic Interfacing Toyin Falola
What People are Saying About This
A valuable resource for any teacher of African topics, stimulating new ways of thinking about the study of Africa and providing useful ideas about how to improve one's teaching, enhance student engagement with the continent, and expand Africa's presence within the curriculum.