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Pilot course aims to ‘demystify’ Africa

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

One of the chief aims of the African history course that the School District of Philadelphia is piloting in three high schools this term is to “demystify the myths of Africa.”

According to Dana King, lead academic coach in the District’s African and African American Studies Department, the course focuses on classical African civilizations, including the origin of human existence in Africa, the Nile Valley civilizations of Egypt and Ethiopia, and modern African history.

Said Cecilia Cannon, associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction, “When we look at African history in world history, which all students take, the history of Africa has not been treated fairly.” The District is therefore seeking ways to instruct students on the history, in a manner that “stimulates interest in these topics,” she said.

The pilot course debuted at Strawberry Mansion, William Penn and Bartram (main campus) high schools this spring. In some form, it will be put in place in all high schools in the fall, a decision voted on unanimously as part of a resolution by the School Reform Commission in February.

But whether the course will be mandatory for all students, be allowed as a substitute for a mandated class, or be integrated into another mandated course, remains undecided by SRC members.

Also undecided is whether the mandated course will be an African history course, an African-American history course, or some incorporation of the two.

The course is not yet using textbooks, but rather modules, with which King had worked on with Molefi K. Asante, professor of African-American Studies at Temple University, author and renowned pioneer of the theory of Afrocentricity.

“For the African history course, I believe there isn’t a textbook below a college level developed to date,” Cannon said. “That’s why the modules are so key, so that we can assure they are appropriate and user-friendly and teacher-driven.”

However, she said King had been examining possible textbooks that could be used, and had thus far narrowed selections down to about three texts, which would be given further internal and external consideration.

From the pilot program, Cannon said, the District will examine the effectiveness of the modules on high school teachers and students, and determine in what type of course offering they might best be used.