In the beginning of the school year, fifth and sixth graders listed all that they knew about the continent of Africa. There was a range of responses, however, many listed ideas and images that are stereotypical: poverty, exotic animals, disease, and war. Later in the year, their studies turned to the effects of colonialism in Africa and how the United States’ own colonial roots continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes of Africa.
Currently, fifth and sixth graders are researching African countries. To begin the project, students viewed and discussed Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozo Adichie’s famous TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” where Adichie explains, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they aren’t true, but they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” With this lens, students uncovered a variety of stories from the countries selected for their study: Ghana, Nigeria, Morocco, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. Using a website created by 5-6 teachers to help guide their research, students read about famous people, current events, historical moments, important places, and other categories.
6th graders have completed the project and created slideshows to share their findings with each other. The following are student responses to the question, “What did you learn that goes beyond “the single story” of Africa?”
Groups of people in Tanzania are working to stop climate change.
Similar to the United States, Tanzania is a country with many languages and religions.
Similar to the United States, in South Africa there are gender “norms” but some people don’t fit in these categories. All over the world people are being discriminated against for their gender. We need to change that.
Rap is a popular style of music in Ghana and Sarkodie is a famous rapper.
There is an Oscar winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o, from Kenya who said, “. . .No matter where you come from, your dreams are valid.”
Wangari Maathai is a Nobel Peace Prize winner from Kenya who inspired the planting of over 51 million trees to improve the environment.
Africa is advanced in technology, and Morocco has replaced schools with an online schooling program to stay safe from Covid-19.