Teaching Africa in interdisciplinary context: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES Babafemi Akinrinade Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies Western Washington University Bellingham, WA 98225 USA
INTERDISCIPLINARITY & MULTIDISCIPLINARITY • Interdisciplinary: • “Studies that use the tools, arguments, and approaches of more than one discipline at once.” • Multidisciplinary: • “Studies that use tools, arguments, and approaches of more than one discipline seriatim to analyze different features an aspects of a work for different purposes.” Judith Rényi, Hunting the Quark: Interdisciplinary Curricula in Public Schools, inInterdisciplinary Curriculum: Challenges To Implementation (Sam Wineburg, & Pam Grossman, eds., 2000, p. 43)
interdisciplinarity • Better appreciation of the liberal arts tradition • “Educational outcomes” seemingly a “product of the interdisciplinary process itself.” • “[a}n appreciation for perspectives other than one’s own; an ability to evaluate the testimony of experts; tolerance of ambiguity; increased sensitivity to ethical issues; an ability to synthesize or integrate; enlarged perspectives or horizons; more creative, original, or unconventional thinking; increased humility or listening skills; and sensitivity to disciplinary, political or religious bias.” (William H. Newell, Designing Interdisciplinary Courses, in Interdisciplinary Studies Today (Julie Thompson Klein, William G. Doty, eds., 1994, p. 35)
setting • Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington, USA • College Mission defined by five Attributes: • (1) Interdisciplinary study • (2) Student-designed studies and evaluation of learning • (3) Examination of issues arising from a diverse society • (4) Development of leadership and a sense of social responsibility • (5) Curricular, instructional and evaluative innovation • http://www.wwu.edu/fairhaven/about/mission.shtml
Fairhaven college • Preference for interdisciplinary approach: • Encourages students to “[t]hink using strategies from various disciplines and areas of study, and application of these thinking and problem solving skills to larger issues and questions.” • Core of mission; thus related to other four attributes • Allows flexibility and innovativeness in curriculum and instructional design • Allows students to develop a sense of ownership in their education • http://www.wwu.edu/fairhaven/about/mission.shtml
Teaching Africa • Internationalize curriculum • Study abroad programs • Creating “global citizens” • Increasing knowledge and awareness of Africa
Teaching Africa: options • African studies – major/minor • Self-designed concentrations • Variety of subjects in concentrations: focus on specific issues, including human rights, development, poverty alleviation strategies, conflict resolution and transformation etc.
Studying Africa: concerns • College education’s focus on outcomes, employability post-graduation, competitiveness in the (global) marketplace • Employability an asset; college major/minor useful for this purpose • How competitive is studying Africa? Just “do-gooders”?
Teaching Africa: courses • International Law • International Human Rights • State Failure, State Collapse and State Reconstruction • Transitional Justice • Genocide • Philosophy of Human Rights • Human Rights in Africa
Human rights in africa • Understand Africa’s place in the international human rights system • Context of colonialism, neo-colonialism and the authoritarianism of the post-colonial African State • Wide coverage of issues, not limited to legal issues • Specific subjects: civil and political rights (democracy, expression, protection of minorities and vulnerable groups); economic, social and cultural rights; public health and impact on human rights; armed conflict, humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect doctrine (R2P); refugees and internally displaced persons; women’s and children’s rights, challenges to human rights promotion and protection; human rights NGOs and national human rights institutions; role of African institutions and relevant mechanisms (AU, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, African Court of Justice and Human Rights, the African Peer Review Mechanism, New Partnership for Africa’s Development etc.)
Teaching Africa: interdisciplinary • Law (International) background • Translate law to non-law and pre-law students • Fairhaven College’s Law, Diversity and Justice Program • Contextual understanding of African politics, history, economics, social and religious life, among others • Locate Africa in the international regime of international law and human rights • Provide understanding of subject without a narrow disciplinary focus on law • Collaborative cross-disciplinary teaching – guest lecturing in other departments; inviting guest lecturers from other departments • But, is interdisciplinary teaching of Africa possible or desirable?
Teaching Africa: interdisciplinary • Fairhaven: seminars, no lectures – small class sizes • Conducive to a rigorous debate on African issues • Use of interdisciplinary texts • Use of videos, films and documentaries (see appendix) • Use of texts by African authors • Try not be complicit in denying African voices a say in their own affairs • Engage students where they are in their understanding of Africa
Opportunities and challenges • College mission conducive to a better engagement with issues affecting Africa • Students with little background on Africa – tabula rasa? – openness to challenge ideas • Willingness to engage with Africa post-graduation – various forms: activism; policy work; graduate study; Peace Corps, Teaching in Elementary/High Schools across Africa • Doing something directly relevant to studies; giving meaning to their education • Appreciation of a multi-dimensional approach of studying Africa • Drawing inspiration and working with students in American Cultural Studies, and Center for Law, Diversity, and Justice, all located in Fairhaven College
Opportunities and Challenges • Challenges: • Retaining disciplinary focus, while engaged in interdisciplinary teaching • Constantly challenging the assumption that interdisciplinarity is a better way for students to learn • While a source of strength, the “hybridity” interdisciplinarity is a “strength and a continuing source of difficulty. Part of the difficulty is the impossibility of doing everything.” (Julie Thompson Klein, Crossing Boundaries: Knowledge, Disciplinarities, and Interdisciplinarities, p. 58, 1996) • Privileging a particular disciplinary approach to thinking about the issues; Avoiding disciplinary ethnocentrism (Julie Thompson Klein, Crossing Boundaries: p. 59-60) • Avoiding “interdisciplinary imperialism” – “appropriation of [particular subject] skills in the service of [other] projects and purposes” Leslie Santee Siskin, Restructuring Knowledge: Mapping (Inter)Disciplinary Change, inInterdisciplinary Curriculum: Challenges To Implementation (Sam Wineburg, & Pam Grossman, eds., 2000, p. 183) • Is interdisciplinary learning the best way to prepare for the “real world.” (Leslie Santee Siskin, Restructuring Knowledge: p. 185)
Opportunities and Challenges • Challenges: • Translating law to non-law students still a challenge • Vigorous class debates and college focus on discussions of “White Privilege” unwittingly reinforces stereotypes of “others” (including Africans) as unprivileged • Unprivileged translates to patronization and recommendation for intervention • Challenging assumptions that intervention is always a necessary option • Getting students to understand that a cooperative approach to problem-solving is better than a prescriptive approach that emphasizes American solutions to African problems • Challenge of privileging “African” voices in class – not conferring “authority” on African voices and placing onerous task on the individual (potentially seen as a person with the correct view/perspective on the subject)
Teaching africa • Rewarding experience • Warm embrace by students of Africa, overwhelming enthusiasm • Translates to a better class for students and for instructor • Study of Africa enriched by this experience with students bringing varying understanding and disciplinary interest to class • Not difficult exercise providing an “African” perspective in class and engaging stereotypes students may have been exposed to • Opportunity to complicate students’ thinking on Africa.
Teaching Africa: films/documentaries in class • Ghosts of Rwanda • Sometimes in April • Shake Hands with the devil • A Republic Gone Mad: Rwanda 1894-1994 • Chronicle of a Genocide Foretold • Lumumba • The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Democratic of Congo • Algeria’s Bloody Years • Liberia: An UnCivilWar • The SoriousSamura Collection (Cry Freetown ,2000; Exodus from Africa, 2001) • State of Denial • Long Night’s Journey into Day • T-Shirt Travels • Darwin’s Nightmare