“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are not untrue, but that they are incomplete,” warns Chimamanda Adichie, in her well-known TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.”
With the leading question of: “How might we promote a more comprehensive narrative of Africa so that we are more responsible global citizens,” Grade 10 Humanities students were challenged to design projects that would intentionally confront the stereotypes of Africa as they constructed a more comprehensive and empathetic appreciation for and understanding of the country. As responsible global citizens, our students have an obligation to analyze and evaluate global issues and policy decisions from multiple perspectives and take informed actions to design a better world.
In the study introduction, Humanities teachers Dr. Michael Griffin and Dr. Audrey Schewe shared that the narratives of Africa held by Americans are based on stereotypes, which offer incomplete, often inaccurate images of Africa. The portrayal of Africa in the Western media, in textbooks and children’s books as one country, one people, one history, or one culture, masks Africa’s incredible diversity and rich history. Associations of Africa with animals, poverty, disease, tribal behaviors, and conquest inevitably shape foreign policy decisions about economic, political and military policies, and can contribute directly to racism. Such an incomplete understanding of and appreciation for Africa’s diversity, history, culture, and global connections and contributions feed beliefs in Western superiority and can perpetuate the notion that the people of Africa need to be “saved.”
Expert in Residence Elizabeth Small shares, “It was fun to be able to share my knowledge of Africa with Upper School students. As a member of Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church, we have partnered with Lusaka, Africa’s Garden Presbyterian Church and School and Alliance for Children Everywhere for almost 20 years, including a lot of work with faith-based schools there. I’ve been twice for a total of seven weeks and am hoping to take my 3rd trip in the summer of 2018.”
By seeking to understand the stereotypes and challenge their assumptions about Africa, our Upper School students shared the well with their counterparts in fifth grade, who recently finished a unit on Africa. They presented their final PBL products to students in grades 5 and 8, by sharing their games, VR maps, published books, attire, travel packages and more.