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From Primary Source to the Classroom: Teaching about Colonial and Postcolonial Africa

19 March 2013

In light of our upcoming 2013 summer institutes, we thought we would share with you how one past participant has applied the knowledge and resources he's gained to his teaching.

In 2011, 42 teachers attended Primary Source's Africa in the 19th and 20th Centuries: Colonialism, Independence, and Legacies institute. Throughout the past year, we have had the opportunity to visit a few of their classrooms to see how they are using what they learned. Meet Todd Whitten, a teacher who is working to bring global education into the classroom and broaden his students' perspectives about Africa and the world.

Todd WhittenTodd teaches social studies and A.P. World History at Burlington High School in Burlington, Massachusetts. Students in Todd's classroom benefit from his ongoing efforts to incorporate global views and attitudes into his lessons. As a social studies teacher for the past fifteen years, he has spent countless hours working to expand his students’ opportunities to learn more about the world and enable their critical thinking about global issues.

We visited Todd's A.P. World History class to see how he has incorporated what he learned from the Primary Source institute on Africa into his classroom. The day's lesson focused on the African Nationalist movement, and was part of a larger unit examining nationalist movements around the world. As part of the lesson, Todd asked his students to read two parables illustrating different African responses to colonialism: "The Man and the Elephant" by Kenyan writer Jomo Kenyatta, and "The Parable of the Eagle" by Ghanaian writer James Aggrey. Todd found both of these stories in a packet of African literature provided during the Primary Source summer institute on Africa. Students read the parables on iPads, then divided into small groups to discuss how they illustrate themes of nationalism and debate whether they offer compatible viewpoints. Through this engaging activity, students participated in lively discussions and practiced interpreting the complex allegorical ideas represented in the texts.

Todd realizes that American students often have a limited world-view, and that the need for exposure to other cultures is sorely needed. Primary Source, he says, has allowed the opportunity for this ideal to be obtainable. His participation in Primary Source's professional development programs has been critical in providing resources, professional contacts, and new knowledge. To Todd, "professional development doesn't ever stop," and he feels that what Primary Source has been able to provide in this regard "is phenomenal." He feels that it is essential "to have an organization with a view about the world that matches" his own in order to further professional growth and enable students' critical thinking about global issues.

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