Teaching African Culture

Two essential questions:

  1. What is culture?
  2. What are some ways to teach it?

DEFINE: patterns of values and behaviors that are commonly held

  • Learned
  • Dynamic not static
  • Not everyone agrees: dominant within a cultural group and dominant within a country
  • Iceberg: we see the tip, which represents the whole but is not the whole

WAYS to teach: something I continue to wrestle with and redo

  • Important: start with ourselves and US
    • Why: BOTH because we’re inherently interesting!! AND because it helps avoid “othering”
  • PROBLEM: it’s ABSTRACT, thus hard to teach so. . .
    • Go for CONCRETE, especially with younger grades
    • IDENTITY MAPPING: asking what does the class have in common
    • CULTURAL OBJECTS: asking what does the class have in common
    • PROVERBS (see attached list) and METAPHORS

Foreign Cultures

Remind students of or introduce here the concept of “othering.”

Possible Readings:

  • “Body Ritual among the Nacirema”
  • “The Sacred Rac”

These first two are funny, short articles spoofing American cultural habits. They can be found online bygoogling their titles.

  • Gila Monsters Greet You at the Airport by Byron Barton
  • “I Am Not Just an African Woman,” by Bunmi Matory, published in the Christian Science Monitor. A fine article by a Nigerian woman on how people in the U.S. don’t see who she is. (available through BU African Studies)

Going for the concrete:

Proverbs: A short selection by country can be found at http://www.bu.edu/africa/outreach/tips/six.htm
Material objects from various African cultures. (Available from BU African Studies Center)
Literature: e.g., Achebe’s Things Fall Apart; picture books about families such as Fatuma’s New Cloth.
For a detailed database, by age, go to www.africaaccessreview.org
Film: e.g., do identity map of the captain of the soccer team in “The Leopards of Zanzibar” from National Geographic as one hour in their series “Africa”

Barbara B. Brown
Director, Outreach Program
Prepared 5/06