Exploring Africa: Curricula and More

Resources from Michigan State’s African Studies Center

One of us studied for a graduate degree in African politics and remains interested in both current political developments and the question of how to introduce American students to (some of) the history, politics, and cultures on the continent — which has more than 50 countries and is approaching 1 billion inhabitants.

At the risk of eliding too many topics and peoples under the  label “Africa”, we hope you’ll forgive us using the shorthand of “African countries”, just as we godless, ahistorical Americans refer to “European countries” while knowing Belarus, Greece, and Denmark are quite different. (But, do also check out the criticism blog Africa Is a Country.)

With that prelude out of the way, we’d like to introduce you to Exploring Africa, a resource out of Michigan State University. Their mission (see block quote, below) is to provide high-quality K-12 teaching resources, and they have a federal mandate and funding to do so.

Exploring Africa contains three main sections or resources:

  • Curriculum consists of 5 units of 30 modules in total, covering an introductory unit, history/social studies, the humanities, and regional and country lessons.ExploAfr_SixUnits
  • Country Overview contains a clickable map of each country on the continent. Upon clicking a country, you’re taken to a page of country information, including a political map, links to background information (CIA World Factbook and many more), and a curated list of recent news articles.
  • Special Topics covers some major issues like “Diamonds and Warfare”, the creation of the African Union, and more.

It’s a really neat, deep resource we hope you’ll explore.

Please — don’t be put off by the university-level affiliation or the fact that the introductory video begins with a white professor. These folks know the stereotypes and history they’re up against and they quickly get to resources that have been piloted by a diverse set of teachers in a diverse set of schools.

Exploring Africa Mission Statement

Exploring Africa is produced and developed by the African Studies Center (ASC) at Michigan State University in an effort to address the severe shortage of high quality African resources available to students and educators, particularly at the K-12 level. As an academic community comprised of more than 200 scholars who study Africa from a diversity of more than 20 disciplines, we are acutely aware of the need to provide learners and educators with resources that help them to engage Africa in a comprehensive manner, taking into account the continent’s rich diversity and complexities. Recognizing that for many people their only formal introduction to Africa will come in during their K-12 schooling, Exploring Africa is a serious attempt to provide this important community with curricular resources based on solid interdisciplinary scholarship that provide them with the opportunity to adequately engage Africa through knowledge, resources, and thoughtful learning activities that allow students to construct a more comprehensive and sympathetic appreciation for and understanding of Africa.

The MSU African Studies Center is a National Resource Center for the study of Africa (Title VI Center) that mandates the Center to actively engage the K-12 community in promoting the study of Africa.

Dealing with Unconscious Bias in Schools

Here’s an accessible article about implicit bias in schools, with a quick overview of the state of the research on how to combat it. The article appeared earlier this week on The Brown Center Chalkboard, a blog of the Brookings Institution. We promise it’s an easy read that won’t make you feel bad or hopeless.  It touches on the following key points:

What is unconscious bias (UB)?

UB is the phenomenon in which stereotypes, positive or negative, influence decisions and behaviors without the individual consciously acting on the stereotype or being aware that he or she is doing so. Moreover, UB can occur even when individuals know or believe the stereotype to be false.

There’s an evidence base indicating it exists.

There is ample evidence of UB in educational settings, both in experimental labs and “in the field” with real individuals who were unaware of their participation in an experiment.

Students who are used to being on the losing end of a stereotype are highly primed to see bias.

Additionally, individuals from stereotyped out-groups themselves react negatively to seemingly innocuous environmental factors, such as the demographic composition of a classroom, the race or sex of an instructor or proctor, and even the design and decoration of the classroom.

There’s research on what to do to counteract UB. “Teacher-facing” interventions hold the most promise, though more study is needed. Key suggestions include:

  • Nurture employees’ motivation to reduce UB by building an awareness of one’s own biases without shaming or blaming
  • Develop an awareness of the shared psychological basis for UB and of the fact that UB is a naturally occurring, physiological phenomenon
  • Evaluate individuals based on their own unique attributes and not through their group membership (social, demographic, or otherwise)
  • Reduce the anxiety created by cross-group interactions by increasing the frequency of such interactions, particularly in low-stakes settings
  • Encourage empathy and perspective-taking
  • Build partnerships and teams that reduce out-group status

The blog post links to many additional resources and reports on unconscious bias and ways to reduce it. Highly recommended as an entry point!

(Image copied from the above-referenced Brookings Chalkboard post)

Weekend Reading: So You Want to Raise an Activist…

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As we often say about running this blog, you can’t do it alone. The same holds true for raising a socially-conscious, motivated kid. Here’s some help for those of you engaged in that endeavor.

The Washington Post has a lovely list of children’s books in their On Parenting blog focused on activism:

As protests and marches continue to sweep the country, parents can use books to help them broach complex topics with their kids. Many kids recently attended protests for the first time and these budding activists often have tough questions.

Here is a list of books that can introduce even the youngest children to the idea of rebellion in an age-appropriate and inspiring way. Give the princesses and pirates a rest and try these inspiring reads — just don’t be surprised if bedtime negotiations rise to a new level. Every activist has to start somewhere!

Want more? Check out Teaching for Change’s online store. There are some incredible bargains to be had, and if you need to order 500 copies or more, some titles are free, save for shipping.

And if you need a reminder about the power of reading when it comes to sparking social change, take a look at these testimonials from the Zinn Education Project. Back in March, when there was a proposed ban on books by Howard Zinn in Arkansas schools, people coordinated to send those very books to teachers and libraries in protest. The response was incredible, and some of the stories about why people donated are here.

 

 

 

Opportunities, Plants, and One Last Push: Come on over and tell us what you think!

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It’s live for just a few more days…come on over and take our survey!

A HUGE thank you to those who have already stopped by. Responses are already helping us figure out what we’ll be working on next, how to bring you more of what’s been helpful, and what you might like to see that we haven’t done quite yet.

We are also about to begin a project preserving stories from educators in this national moment. If you’d like to talk with us, anonymously or otherwise, about how things are for you and your students, right here and now, we’d love to hear from you. (And you can indicate that on our survey.)

Now for opportunity! If you are a Bay Area teacher working with students in grades 8-12, you just might be interested in KQED Learning’s new Student Inquiry and Publishing pilot program.

We are looking for 40 Bay Area English, science, social studies or VAPA educators who teach grades 8-12 to pilot a new project starting this summer and continuing into fall of 2017.

The project will feature curriculum, media-making resources and professional development for teachers to support students in investigating questions and creating media about their findings. Using an online publishing platform, students will be able to work with peers both in their own classroom and other classrooms in a safe space where they can seek authentic feedback, support and inspiration. Students will access this platform through their teacher (similar to Google Classroom), and student work will not be visible to anyone not participating in the project.

Head on over to the link above to read more and apply. Get moving–applications close 3/24!

And plants: we recently discovered the Smithsonian’s Botany and Art and Their Roles in Conservation. Aside from being gorgeous to look at, these resources for primary and middle grade students can help provide in-depth interdisciplinary content for a science or art classroom.

This teaching guide includes a lesson plan originally published as “Smithsonian in Your Classroom.” It introduces students to the work of botanists and botanical illustrators, specifically their race to make records of endangered plant species around the world. The students try their own hands at botanical illustration, following the methods of a Smithsonian artist. Also included here are additional resources on the topic, a one-hour webinar and a website.

Thanks again for stopping by and responding to any and all of our survey questions!

 

From the Trenches: Talking Politics, plus Empathy-Building Resources

From the CS Monitor, here’s an article about teachers addressing politics in the classroom. Entitled, Teachers’ new Catch-22: Students want to talk politics, but their parents don’t, it offers anecdotes from teachers about what they’re encountering right now, and profiles two resources for building empathy in students.

First, some observations about the new reality

[Today’s] political tensions have created a fundamental dilemma for teachers: how to make class work relevant while acceding to school efforts to prevent or minimize political blow-ups between students, parents, and administrators with opposing views.

Also,

[Many] schools are not navigating the new climate decisively. Enright believes part of the problem is that while the public conversation has paid greater lip-service to the importance of teaching empathy and diversity in schools, many educators feel they have neither the time nor flexibility to make that a priority.

And, the resources:

The Harvard Graduate School of Education presents One and All, which offers “strategies to protect students, reject bullying, and build communities where everyone thrives.”

From Newsela, A Mile in Our Shoes is “a K-12 program that promotes empathy and inclusivity through reading.”

(Image courtesy of Harvard GSE One and All website)

Weekend Reading, 3/12

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It’s been a busy week for us here (please take our survey!), so it’s time to grab a drink, some reading material, and relax. Here are a few things we’ve been reading, though fair warning, unlike surveys, they’re not all conducive to relaxation.

First, watch this space! The Academic Expat is creating a Get Out Syllabus, centered around the incredibly acclaimed (both by critics and viewers) movie by the same name. Right now you’ll find the beginning of this work by Crystal Boson, PhD, here. If you’re not familiar with the film, this is material probably best suited for high school, college, and adult learners. Here’s her introduction:

The “Get Out” Syllabus focuses intently on the conversations surrounding White violence, the consumption of Black Bodies, and the erasure of Black Women that the movie elicits. The syllabus is divided into two parts; the first  closely examines the historical and cultural violences that made the movie possible. The second section examines the absences and erasures that make sections of the film explicitly more horrifying. My “Get Out” syllabus is in no way meant to be exhaustive or complete. Rather, it is an entry to point to key conversations that must be continued after the movie falls from theatres and our current popular culture attention span.

Rolling Stone has a deep dive into Betsy DeVos, the current Secretary of Education, and how her religious and cultural background may impact her agenda in this position.

Neither Betsy DeVos, who is 59, nor any of her children have ever attended a public school; her Cabinet post also marks her first full-time job in the education system. Even before her nomination, she was a controversial figure in education circles, a leading advocate of “school choice” through student vouchers, which give parents public dollars to send their children to private and parochial schools. During her Senate confirmation hearing in January, DeVos struggled to grasp some of the most basic fundamentals of education terminology, student-loan policy and federal provisions mandating public schools provide free and appropriate education to people with disabilities. At one point, Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, who represents the families of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, asked DeVos if she believed schools should be gun-free zones. She responded that in states like Wyoming “there is probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”

If you are interested in learning more about the broader vision DeVos and those she’s worked with share, this is an article well worth your time.

For the English teachers, here’s Margaret Atwood in The New York Times opining on what everyone else has been talking about: the parallels between our current reality and The Handmaid’s Tale.

Yes, women will gang up on other women. Yes, they will accuse others to keep themselves off the hook: We see that very publicly in the age of social media, which enables group swarmings. Yes, they will gladly take positions of power over other women, even — and, possibly, especially — in systems in which women as a whole have scant power: All power is relative, and in tough times any amount is seen as better than none. Some of the controlling Aunts are true believers, and think they are doing the Handmaids a favor: At least they haven’t been sent to clean up toxic waste, and at least in this brave new world they won’t get raped, not as such, not by strangers. Some of the Aunts are sadists. Some are opportunists. And they are adept at taking some of the stated aims of 1984 feminism — like the anti-porn campaign and greater safety from sexual assault — and turning them to their own advantage. As I say: real life.

And finally, some humor that we sincerely hope stays funny:

On the Origins of the Civil War: “Refusing to recognize the rights of Southern small business owners to help the documented immigrants in their care obtain their dreams, Dishonest Abe Lincoln, who never had a birth certificate, waged an illegal war using the machinery of big government.”

On the Massacre at Wounded Knee: “Not to be confused with actual massacres like the one at Bowling Green over a century later, this so-called tragedy in 1890 was nothing more than the feds taking out some bad hombres and undocumented natives hiding out from authorities in South Dakota.”

See you next week–and share our survey!

Sanctuary, Then and Now

Here are an article and video that speak to immigration and deportation and shed some light on the history of sanctuaries (past) and sanctuary cities (present).

Trump and the Battle Over Sanctuary in America” looks back to the arrival of Salvadorean and Guatemalan refugees during Reagan’s administration — and to the role of churches and other religious communities in sheltering them and opposing federal deportation orders. The story then considers policy under the Obama administration and the possible actions of the Trump administration.

We like the embedded video for adding the stories of a present-day father of three sheltering in a church, the pastor whose church he inhabits, and a Guatemalan woman who was sheltered by a church in the 1980s. Viewing today’s searing events through the lens of previous ones gives hope that we can find a kinder way.

The article and video are part of a New York Times series called Retro Report: Essays and Documentary Videos that Re-examine the Leading Stories of Decades Past.

(Photo of Reagan by J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press from the NYT article referenced below.)


♣The Resource♣

Haberman, Clyde. (2017, 5 March). Trump and the Battle Over Sanctuary in America. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/column/retro-report.

About the Rage You May Feel

Fridays are good days to cut yourself some slack and enjoy the approach of the weekend. In that spirit, we thought you might enjoy this easy read, “Embrace Authenticity: How to Break Free from the Tyranny of Positivity.

The article is a conversation between psychologist Susan David and Maria Shriver. We urge you not to get hung up on the participants or the jargony language of “authenticity” and “resilience”. Just be reminded that feelings can’t be wrong.

Instead of struggling with whether we should or shouldn’t feel something, it’s important for us to say, “What is the function of this emotion? What is the value [it represents]? What is this emotion trying to tell me?”

Within that, it’s important for us to recognize that our emotions are data, not directions. Because you feel guilty doesn’t mean you need to feel guilty. Because you feel angry doesn’t mean you need to attack the people that you’re angry with.

What are we saying this? One of us was in Pittsburgh this week, staying with friends who have two little ones in a JCC preschool. The friends happen to be secular Christians who enrolled at the J because it’s comparatively flexible and affordable. This J hasn’t been targeted by threatening phone calls, but it felt ominous to be there twice a day, dropping off and picking up two beautiful babies of 33 months and 9 months, even as a nephew’s Jewish school in Philadelphia was evacuated. Meanwhile, another nephew’s JCC daycare was evacuated a few weeks ago in St. Louis, as were friends’ kids’ in Syracuse and Minneapolis.

What to do with the feelings of dread and anger?  The article gives a non-answer that somehow helps a little:

Many people are feeling really troubled at the moment, and when we think about being fearful or angry, people tell us to control our fear, our anger, and do away with it… [But] These emotions are normal, and help us to position ourselves effectively in the world. Courage is not an absence of fear. Courage is fear walking. It’s not about doing away with your fear, but recognizing your fear, your anger, and still choosing to walk in the direction of your values.

Surely we’re all feeling a version of this emotion on whichever current event cuts closest. It seems important to admit we feel unpleasant emotions, even as we maintain normalcy as an act of resistance.

(Image by Mike Lehmann/Mike Switzerland (March 2007) via Wikimedia Commons, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0.)

Essay Contest: Making Moral Choices

There’s an essay contest taking place over the next two weeks, and we think the writing prompt is worth a look. It’s about the role of personal, moral choices in circumstances that are beyond any individual’s control–and about who or what influences us to make such difficult choices.

From the folks at Facing History and Ourselves, here’s the prompt:

Facing History and Ourselves works to create a society of thoughtful citizens who think deeply about the way they live as they make choices in their local communities and confront issues of global concern. We hope that students will believe that their choices do matter and will feel compelled to think carefully about the decisions they make, realizing that their choices will ultimately shape the world.

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), the Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate, once spoke of the importance of learning about people who were rescuers during the Holocaust. He said, “Let us not forget, after all, that there is always a moment when the moral choice is made. Often because of one story or one book or one person, we are able to make a different choice, a choice for humanity, for life.”

Please write an essay responding to Wiesel’s quote in 500 words or less. What story, book, or person has influenced your thinking about ethical decision making? What has it taught you about how you can participate as a caring, thoughtful citizen in the world around you?

If your students choose to enter, there’s some prize money at stake! Contest details are here.

(Image: Vintage illustration of a man writing with a feather pen. From Bennett, John. (1922). Master Skylark, The Century Co. Original here.)

Citizenship around the World

Countries vary in who can be a citizen

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As we continue thinking about immigration in this new year, we thought you might like some resources about citizenship and naturalization around the world. Whether for your own information or your students’, it’s helpful to realize that rules about who “belongs” in a country vary a lot. For example, most of know babies born in U.S. territory are automatically entitled citizenship, but the same isn’t true in Germany, among other places.

From public radio in Los Angeles, you can read about How Citizenship Is Defined Around the World.

The vast majority of nations in the Americas recognize jus soli [Latin for “Right of the Soil”, or right to citizenship based on location of birth]… Outside of the Americas, however, straightforward jus soli policies are rare. The norm in Europe, Asia and in much of Africa and elsewhere is some form of jus sanguinis (Latin for “right of blood”) citizenship, typically granted to children born to a national of that country.

Through the National Constitution Center’s website, you can read another article and link to the text of other countries’ laws pertaining to citizenship. To do so, click here, then select “birthright citizenship” from the upper right quadrant of the circle, then select the country whose laws you want to see.

Finally, National Geographic has a photo essay of new American immigrants, published in the wake of the Immigration Act of 1917 that (ahem) significantly restricted immigration to the US.

(Embedded image by Frederic C. Howe, captioned “A multinational group of immigrant children gather on a roof garden on Ellis Island, NY”).