Boston University Helps Teach America About Africa

in BU In the Community, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, News Releases
July 14th, 2004

Contact: Richard Taffe, 617-353-4626 | rtaffe@bu.edu

(Boston) — At a time when it is important for Americans to understand more about Islam, Barbara Brown of Boston University’s African Studies Center likes to point out that Islam spread into East Africa more than 1,200 years ago, yet Americans generally associate Islam with Arab countries, not African. In fact, the five countries with the largest Muslim populations are not Arab, and two of them are in Africa. While most Americans learn American and European history, she notes, they learn little about Africa in general and its Islamic history in particular.

Continuing a mission to improve America’s understanding of Africa, Brown and her colleague Kelly O’Brien of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst are guiding a dozen Massachusetts secondary school teachers to Africa this month under a Fulbright grant. It is the latest initiative of the BU African Center’s Outreach Program. Boasting the largest African educational resource library in America, the program has helped shape curricula nationwide and given thousands of teachers direct support for educating students about Africa’s history and its people.

“Africa long has been stereotyped or ignored, not only in the public eye but also in our schools,” says Brown, who has directed the BU Outreach Program for 15 of its 25 years. “We work both for the appropriate inclusion of Africa into the curriculum and for the development of knowledgeable, confident teachers.”

The teachers, most from Greater Boston schools, are visiting Kenya and Tanzania from July 11 to August 14, funded by a Fulbright Group Project Abroad grant awarded jointly to BU and the University of Massachusetts. Each teacher has a project that they will incorporate into lessons for their classes. The topics range from history, politics, economics, language, and religion, to art, gender roles, and a day in the life of a child.

All will contribute to the Outreach Program’s resources for use by other teachers under a short-term program involving afternoon workshops with presentations to their colleagues, the center’s lending library, and an interactive Web site: www.bu.edu/africa/outreach.

Three of the teachers will address a Northeast regional conference of social studies and history teachers next spring as part of BU’s long-term professional development program to create a cadre of educational leaders on Africa. Another is writing a children’s book about a giraffe — told from the giraffe’s viewpoint — given by an African leader to the Chinese Emperor in the 15th century.

“Teachers who don’t know African history generally have to stick more to textbooks, which tend to be limited,” Brown explains. “This trip is an opportunity for the teaching to come alive. It’s the ripple effect from intensive, intimate programs like this that has a powerful impact.”

The Fulbright grants are part of the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program, which is administered through the Department of Education. More than 98,000 academics have benefited from the “Fulbright experience” since the program was launched in 1946 as a post-World War II effort by Senator J. William Fulbright to promote “mutual understanding between people of the United States and people of other countries of the world.”

The African Studies Center at Boston University, established in 1953, was one of the first graduate programs in the United States to offer a multidisciplinary African Studies curriculum. With an enrollment of more than 29,000 in its 17 schools and colleges, Boston University is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States. The university offers an exceptional grounding in the liberal arts, a broad range of programs in the arts, sciences, engineering, and professional areas, and state-of-the-art facilities for teaching and research.

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