Teaching Africa

Kennesaw State professors’ book provides fresh perspectives on teaching about the continent…

Georgia (Feb 21, 2014)

Kennesaw State professors’ book provides fresh perspectives on teaching about the continent in college classes

Professors Brandon Lundyand Solomon Negash were the willing instruments to transform what started as sharing and discussions among seven Kennesaw State faculty members participating in a Center for Teaching and Learning (CETL) learning community into a comprehensive book that introduces game-changing strategies for teaching about Africa. 

The book they edited, “Teaching Africa: A Guide for the 21st-Century Classroom,”presents 24 perspectives by scholars from around the world, including seven from Kennesaw State, who are engaged in college- and university-level teaching and scholarly pursuits tied to Africa and its diaspora. It was released in spring 2013 by Indiana University Press.

With an introduction by Lundy, the three-part book addresses persistent misconceptions and stereotypes about Africa; provides alternative interpretations of African arts and culture; and offers experientially based, multidisciplinary approaches to rethinking and teaching about the continent. A major premise centers on the superficial level of knowledge most Western people, especially college students, have about Africa compared to other regions of the world – a situation Lundy and Negash find unacceptable in an increasingly globalized world. 

“Part of the problem – and one reason we did this book – was that we realized that there were not very many interdisciplinary resources available for teaching about Africa at the college level,” said Lundy, assistant professor of anthropology and interim associate director of Kennesaw State’s Ph.D. program in international conflict management. “When I came here five years ago, I learned there were a number of faculty who were interested in Africa, teaching about Africa or doing scholarly work related to Africa.” 

Lundy reached out to colleagues and started a Listserv so they could begin sharing and collecting information and resources. Within a short time, the Listserv grew to about 50 faculty members from across all the University’s colleges.

A core group of seven faculty members banded together in the learning community for one semester to build the Listserv and generate ideas for a book. They put out a call to KSU Listserv members for submissions to a book, and expanded that call to other Africa-related Listservs.

“We drummed up a lot of interest right off the bat because there were so many faculty members here focused on Africa and we got quite a number of essays, eight from Kennesaw State faculty alone,” Lundy said. 

Negash, a professor of information systems with extensive credits as an editor and a native of Ethiopia, played a major role in sorting through dozens of submissions. 

“Our goal in making selections was to be as multidisciplinary as possible, to represent as many different countries as possible and to include quality papers from each of the disciplines represented,” he said.

“You can’t say what Africa is; It’s too big,” Lundy added.  “We didn’t want to get bogged down in discussions about what Africa is and isn’t, and we didn’t want to perpetuate any of that older dialogue.”

The intent was not to produce a textbook with lesson plans, although that may be a good next step, conceded Lundy, whose anthropological scholarship has focused extensively on Guinea-Bissau. “The point was to make the book more experiential and readable – something that contains a lot of good ideas that teachers could pick up and use in their classrooms.”

Disciplines represented among the essays include art, music, literature, dance, history, political science, geography, anthropology, education, health, biology and technology. 

An essay by Negash and co-author Julian M. Bass, for example, examines the creation of an information technology Ph.D. program in Ethiopia based on Negash’s actual experience. Other essays contributed by Kennesaw State faculty include:

·      “Teaching About Africa: Violence and Conflict Management” by Linda Johnston, executive director of the Siegel Institute for Leadership, Ethics & Character and professor of conflict management; and Oumar Cherif Diop, associate professor of postcolonial African literature, is based on the professors’ actual collaboration that applied conflict analysis tools to understanding violence in African literature.

·      “Contextualizing the Teaching of Africa in the 21st Century: A Student-Centered Pedagocical Approach to Demystify Africa as the ‘Heart of Darkness’” by Lucie Viakinnou-Brinson, associate professor of French presents a step-by-step guide through a global simulation used in foreign language classes but adapted to challenge students’ stereotypical ideas about Africa.

·      “The Kalamazoo/Fourah Bay College Partnership: A Context for Understanding Study Abroad with Africa” by Dan Paracka, director of academic initiatives and professor of education, demonstrates how lessons learned from this successful two-year partnership can make the study of Africa more appealing to students. 

·      “The Importance of the Regional Concept …” by Matthew Waller, lecturer of geography, makes the case for an undergraduate regional geography course of Sub-Saharan Africa.

·      “Treating the Exotic and the Familiar in the African History Classroom” by Ryan Ronnenberg, associate professor of history, shares an approach to conveying a substantial body of historical information in the context of an African history class.

Another by-product of the learning community that spawned the book is an annual Teaching Africa Workshop at Kennesaw State for middle and high school teachers from North Georgia. The workshop is conducted by the Center for African and African Diaspora Studies(CAADS), a unit of the University’s Institute for Global Initiatives.  More than 120 teachers from eight school districts have participated in the workshops.

Nurudeen Akinyemi, CAADS’ interim director and associate professor of political science, was one of the seven original members of the faculty learning community that conceptualized the “Teaching Africa” book.  At its second workshop for teachers in October 2013, CAADS presented participants a copy of the book, and Lundy has served as a workshop facilitator each year.

The editors say it’s too soon to know how the book has been received and how much of an impact it has made. “Indiana University Press is a great press with a great reputation for publishing on Africa, so we feel certain that a lot of people will see it,” Lundy said.

One recent review of the book in a bulletin of the Centre for African Studies at the United Kingdom’s University of Leeds concluded: “One factor that sets all the contributors apart from the majority of other educators is their detailed knowledge of Africa and their personal experience of living in one or more of its countries … they are able to speak with authority and credibility that would be difficult for ‘non-Africanist’ educators.”

Lundy and Negash are confident that the book is a positive contribution to the resources available to help teachers motivate students to learn about Africa and to help them incorporate learning about the continent into multiple disciplines. They hope the book helps dispel misconceptions and enhance understanding of Africa as a geographically vast, complex and diverse continent that is the birthplace of human history and a vital player in today’s global society.

“Just the ability to go through 24 chapters about the continent of Africa without one stereotype is refreshing,” Negash said. 

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-- Sabbaye McGriff

 



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 38,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.

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