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IMGALTTAG Volume VIII: The Essentials of African Culture


Sankofa - Searching the Past to Connect to the Future
Lorena Amos
Westinghouse High School

This curriculum unit will explore the retention and loss of African cultural values in the novels, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. The setting in the former is in the United States. The narrative in Things Fall Apart takes place in Africa. In comparison, both books told of experiences that caused African cultural values to be degraded and shunned. Their diluted African history and culture have also adversely affected African American students.  African Enslavement and Colonialization have prefaced a European worldview, dominating the standards for behavior and reality. Collective African survival is based on maintaining, protecting and advancing an African worldview. (Kabon 2003:29)

Literature is culture. According to Achebe, “Literature, whether handed down by word or mouth or in print, gives us a second handle on reality.” He says literature has social and political significance to critically analyze our experiences, actions and relationships.

For nine weeks twelfth grade Literature and Language African American students will read Song of Solomon and Things Fall Apart. In this curriculum unit the students will analyze the use of literary elements (characterizations, setting, plot, theme, point of view, tone and style). They will identify, describe, evaluate and apply the African cultural values of the past, the present. The class will synthesize and evaluate the African cultural values for the future, taking the route of Sankofa (Go back and fetch it). This curriculum unit, “Sankofa - The Path to Connect the Past to the Present to the Future,” will require students to reach the Pittsburgh Public School Communications Standards and master the Portfolio Pennsylvania State Assessment Requirements: Literary Analysis, Literary Interpretation, Informational Report, Literary Genre (short story, poem or play), Listening and Oral Presentation.


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Folktales and Proverbs of Africa
Lea Blumenfeld
Clayton and Grandview Elementary Schools 

The purpose of this unit is to explore with the children the topic of “Folktales and Proverbs of Africa” as an interdisciplinary unit in the library classroom with the language arts, social studies, science, music, and art classes. As background, a broad and selective history of early African contributions to world civilization will be presented.  This will include the realms of governance, architecture, medicine, mathematics, and science.  Timelines will help to put the past into perspective, a particular difficulty for young children. Large political maps will enable the children to see where the many ethnic peoples live, and large physical maps will show the diversity of landforms with their attendant impact on the cultural development of the African peoples. The diverse regions of the African continent will be represented in the folktales and proverbs. Different types of folktales will be shared with the classes. Particular attention will be devoted to the dilemma tale. Telling this type of story will encourage discussion. The use of the stories and proverbs in African culture as vehicles for transmitting cultural values and wisdom from one generation to the next will be emphasized.  The pupils will explore parallel and derivative stories. They will try to puzzle out the meanings of proverbs, explore the figurative and symbolic language, and compare them to others that they may know. The students will also study various kinds of African wildlife.  The targeted audience for this unit will be grades three, four, and five. For some of the activities, such as stories and songs, grades kindergarten, first, and second will also be included.


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Colonial and Neocolonial Effects on Francophone African Culture
An Exploratory Course for All Levels of French in High School
By David Ghogomu
Taylor Allderdice High School 

It is indisputable that colonialism had an indelible impact on the African continent and its people. The pristine culture, social structure, political processes and other traditional values and norms that characterized African societies the eve of colonization were scarred, destroyed or distorted after the experience. Languages not belonging to African nations before colonization became national and official languages of newly created states with too many local languages for one of them to be favored as the national or official language of the new nations. The traditional education system became overshadowed by the colonial European educational practices. Reading, writing, radio and television all first came as the colonialists’ means of communication and later on as a “modernization” and technological improvement approach.

With all the colonial activities came the elimination of a lot of what was purely African and the decline of a lot of many, a priori, superior cultural aspects. With this trend came the decline of the “oral tradition”, the once formidable—and, at one time the only—tool with which to pass on knowledge from one generation to the other. Once, this had been the only means to preserve historical facts and legends for other generations. This was the experience of Anglophone Africa; it happened to Lisophone African countries, and it happened to Francophone African countries. So it happened to all formerly autonomous African nations, some of which had been empires, some kingdoms and some of which had been fiefdoms.

This curriculum unit not only brings these historical facts and activities to the attention of students of  French in middle school, high school and even the college student, but also provides a means for the systematic analysis of the effects of these historical accidents on pristine African cultural traits, social institutions, political governance, economic structure and bases, and the linguistic and literary practices in especially Francophone African countries of today.

A combination of pedagogical approaches, including the basic French literary analysis approach of “analyse du texte”, “reading and reaction”, etc., have been used in daily lessons which usually start with the establishment of the content material, and then proceeds to the analysis. In addition to the presentation and analysis of the effects of colonialism on Francophone African countries, the Pittsburgh Board of Education’s Standards prescribing and defining achievement level in world languages have also been used as a benchmark to determine student achievement in their various class levels.


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Introduction to African Culture: Identifying Groups by the Way They Adorn Their Bodies
Patricia Gordon
Rogers Performing Arts School

Costumes are history. To involve yourself in the study of what people wore exposes you to their past, lets you walk in their present and allows you to speculate on what their future might look like. This unit will address the multiple issues that define why the people of Africa adorn themselves the way they do. You notice I didn’t relegate this unit only to the history of African clothing, but to the present way of dressing as well.

Although this unit is written with the Costume Majors of Rogers Creative and Performing Arts in mind it will be useful to anyone interested in historical clothing. Teachers of social studies and language arts could use this model to teach about the continent of Africa with the teacher of Home Economics and fine arts. If the students come away with a hands on project so much the better because this creates a livelier interest in the subject.


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From Little Came A Lot: Africa’s Greatness
Harold Michie
Lincoln Elementary Technology Academy

The focus of this unit plan is on the place of Africans in world history. The unit plan is intended to bring together the origin of humanity and transformation of African people from being hunters and gatherers to developing complex systems of learning (which led to the foundation for world civilization). Africa’s contribution to world civilization reaches beyond her coast, and continues to be utilized in today’s modern societies.

The goal of this unit is to allow 5th grade students to explore the rich and long reaching history found in Africa. African students here in America have not been given a true account of their ancestors’ accomplishments and how they have had a positive effect on the world.


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Interconnection of Hip-Hop and Rap to African and American Pop Culture
By Dr. Robert R. Redmond
Schenley High School

This curriculum unit is designed to explore the interconnection between African American pop culture and African youth culture. Students will learn American pop culture has a lot in common with its African counterpart. The hip-hop generation is under siege by a multitude of unfathomable changes that place tremendous demands upon its members to successfully compete in the global arena.

Students will realize that hip-hop, rap, and black youth culture cuts across class and race lines. The world’s is influence by it. Hip-hop culture as helped to define this generation’s worldview. Hip-hoppers have taken an extraordinary turn away from the ethics of their parents’ generation. Hip-hoppers parent’s values maintain a strong presence. Hip-hoppers view many of their elders’ beliefs as hypocritical and not relevant to new globalize capitalism. The hip-hop culture has superseded the old by the new.

Young black Americans and African youths are endangered by similar crises. These crises threaten to engulf their very future hopes and aspirations. The socio-political and economic issues they face are related and interconnected, bound by the cross-section of both local and international racial politics. There is now more than ever greater economic and political disparity between African people and their European counter parts. They see disparities in housing, healthcare employment opportunities, wages, and civil, and human rights. Collectively, these disparities have profoundly impacted the hip-hop generation. They recognized that the promises of the civil rights movement in American and de-colonization in Africa had not been satisfied.

This study will encourage world culture students to learn the basis of hip-hop culture to examine issues and problems that are presented in rap lyrics in order to understand the depths of social changes.


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The Reality of the Golden Age of West African Civilization
By Sandra Turner
Taylor Allderdice High School

This curriculum unit is to enhance the knowledge of the students concerning the development and achievements of the early African civilizations of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay. Also, it is to dispel the myths, distortions, and stereotypes of people representing African ancestry. The time period for the unit will cover between the fifth and sixteenth centuries.  The students will examine the political, economic, and social institutions of all three empires. The unit will also be a comparative study by analyzing the rise and fall of entities and identifying their similarities, as well as their differences observing the rise.

The academic approach will be interdisciplinary by incorporating the humanities. The emphasis on cultural development, which occurred in the three empires, will include the disciplines of art, poetry, philosophy, religion, etc. It is important for the students to discern that these disciplines existed in an early time period in Africa. An observation of humanity, the early West African empires, will engender respect for their African culture.

The curriculum structure and approach of the unit can be used in any cultural study, especially as it pertains to other developing nations in Africa, Asia, and South America. The fall of the western African empire and their cultural development will provide the students with a more global perspective of the similarities and differences of the territorial entities.  Following this approach will also help to dispel many of the myths and distortions representing the cultures of non-Europeans.

This curriculum unit is especially relevant to the ninth grade African American history course. The course also begins with the study of the early African kingdoms, such as Ancient Egypt, Nubia and Meroe. This curriculum unit will incorporate some very important cultural themes. The cultural themes to be focused are spirituality, resilience, humanism, oral and verbal expressiveness. These themes will further illuminate the commonality of human cultural traits.


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Chatham University
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IMGALTTAG Pittsburgh Teachers Institute
Jointly sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
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