Proud of other people's achievements

Philadelphia schools will require all students to pass a yearlong African-American and African history class in order to graduate. In theory, studying “their” history will lead black students, who make up 65 percent of enrollment, to feel pride and will boost achievement and reduce violence in schools.

Amritas begs to differ. Well, actually, he’s not begging. He questions the credentials of the African history course designer and his use of linguistics, as well as the idea that 21st century people should feel proud of what people who looked sort of like them did centuries ago, maybe.

About Joanne


  1. My family came from Germany originally.

    I take no blame for Hitler
    I take no credit Einstein, Handel, Mozart, etc.

    That they and my great grandparents were born in the same part of the world does not automatically bring me disgrace in the case of one or pride in the case of the others. Their work to the detriment or betterment of mankind stands on its own as does my work. While I may not ever be as famous as those I have mentioned, I can take pride in the work I do whether it was as an engineer or now as a teacher.

    Young people need to be shown that they need to accomplish something in their own lives and be proud of that, not to be proud by dubious association with a group hundreds of years and thousands of miles removed from them

  2. Thanks, Joanne.

    I should have said in my post that I am not opposed to the teaching of African history.

    As this Education Gadfly article said,

    “It’s a fine thing to get students to study history, the more of it the better, and African/African-American history, properly conceived and taught, is a legitimate elective course.”

    The issue is not the *topic* but the *content*. Why not have an African history curriculum designed by real specialists in African history?

    The quote might mislead one into thinking the Gadfly piece is for the Philly proposal. Quite the contrary. I recommend it. (I don’t see why Asante’s stance on the Iraq war is directly relevant, though I can guess.)

    Mandatory areal history courses can work. I speak from personal experience.

    I had mandatory Asian history courses in junior and senior high school in Hawaii. The difference, however, was that these courses were not about self-esteem. They did not deny the excesses (to put it mildly) of China’s “First Emperor” or pretend Japanese colonialism didn’t exist. They taught *history*, not feel-good propaganda meant to elevate the egos of the students (who were about 50% Asian – this was a private school with a lot of white students which is unusual in Hawaii where whites are a minority).

    None of the white students complained, because the course wasn’t about or for “us Asians.” It was about Asia, just as European history was about Europe and *not* about or for white students. None of the Asian students complained about European history. And nobody of any background complained about the required course on the Middle East.

    And at my school, Asian history was not at all conflated with Asian-American history, which was not taught at all. There was no African-American history course either – that topic was treated as part of American history.


    I wish everyone felt like you did. I am not responsible for Japanese colonialism or war atrocities. Nor do I feel proud about Japan’s modernization or growth into a world power. Why should I? I wasn’t there and had nothing to do with it.

  3. A while back I proposed mandatory Italian-American studies for South Philly. Sly Stallone can be a guest lecturer.

  4. A while back I proposed mandatory Italian-American studies for South Philly. Sly Stallone can be a guest lecturer.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Amritas –

    Did you go to Punahou too?

  6. Yes. My description pretty much gave away the school’s identity.

  7. Foobarista says:

    How about just having a decent world history curriculum? Or would it kill Philly students to cover Chinese and Thai dynasties as well as Central African ones?

  8. Jennifer says:

    Small world. I was class of ’94. I didn’t end up graduating from Punahou though – moved to the mainland with my Dad during my junior year.

    I took the year long Asian Studies option and thought it was quite interesting. Then, when I went to the University of Oregon, was shocked to discover that European history did NOT qualify for my required multi-cultural credit.

    So, I took Intro to Japanese Culture in protest and sneered at the irony all by myself. Learned about Japanese Culture from a white guy so that my little Japanese self could be exposed to other cultures.

  9. Foobarista,

    Love the name.

    World history? Not enough pride in that, I’m afraid.


    Was Asian studies an “option” at Punahou in the 90s? It was required in the 80s.

    BTW, I also used to be a professor at the University of Oregon.

  10. Jennifer says:

    Amritas –

    Asian Studies was required for us too. But, we had the option of taking a semester course in Asian Studies and a semester in something else (what, I don’t remember). Or, we could take the course for a full year.

    There were a lot of buffanblu’s at UO. I was there from 94 to 98, but I wouldn’t imagine we crossed paths. Your specialty is Linguistics, right? I was in the LCB.

  11. Elizabeth says:

    I think part of the problem with our country today is we have hyphenated who we are. We all are immigrants unless we are Native Americans. Yet, once we come here, don’t we all become Americans. Yes, we may have come from another country, but are we not all Americans first? I good World History course should be enough. Then if someone wants to study African history or Asisan history, etc. let them take those classes as electives.

    The country is much to divided as is. We need to celebrate why we are Americans, recognize and appreciate the things we hold in common, not those that force us to see each other as separate.

    Just my two cents worth —

  12. SuperSub says:

    In line with Amritas’ comments, I wonder if the course will cover the pre-white man slave trade in Africa and the willing participation of Afircans in the slave trade with Europe and the Americas.

  13. Walter E. Wallis says:

    The course will also cover the theft of essentially all foreign aid money and the Mugabe holocaust currently going on in Zimbabwe while th rest of Africa stands idle.
    There will be extra credit for coverage of the quaint folkway that prescribes raping a baby to cure AIDS.
    Final exam will be selecting one student for necklassing and circumsizing all the females in attendance whether they want to be or not.
    Anyone who mentions The Sullivan Principles will be dropped from the course.

  14. Elizabeth,

    Some of my distant ancestors were immigrants, but *I* am native born. I’m not a white-American, European-American, or British-American. I’m American.

  15. I think that the scoffers at Philadelphia’s move here are missing the point. I haven’t seen the curriculum of this course exactly, but I’m guessing that it is a legitimate history course accompanied by a real history text, and not just “feel-good propaganda.” Besides, haven’t we until recently been fed a “feel-good” version of U.S. History which largely brushes over the darker side of the colonization of this continent?

    I think the point is that U.S. history has largely been taught from one perspective to the detriment of other perspectives. To require that other perspectives be presented not only gives the learner a more complete and accurate understanding of history, it in fact does foster understanding and unity, and not-to-mention, is a fine exercise in critical thinking skills–essential to the existence of free, open, democratic society.

    I welcome anyone who is interested to read my further comments on this topic on my blog.

  16. Greg:

    The current Philly African History course was designed by Molefi Kete Asante, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence for a balanced (not to mention historically accurate) mandatory course.

    The Philly Inquirer notes about the African-American History course: The course will use the textbook _The African American Odyssey_ by Darline Hine, and will start with origins of humanity, classical African civilizations, and early African leadership before moving into African Americans in colonial America, and African Americans and the Constitution. Eventually, students will learn about African Americans from the Civil War through civil rights and black nationalism.

    But the book’s companion website has for the book’s last chapter, “Modern Black America,” a “recommended” website to Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam website.

  17. Oops, hit “post” too soon.

    At any rate, I don’t know, nor have read, much about Hine’s book or the AA History course as a whole. It may indeed be well-structured and balanced. But Asante is fringe, and the course should be an elective, not mandatory IMO.

  18. SuperSub says:

    What concerns me about the course is not that it focuses on African history, or even will probably gloss over some of the “Darker” aspects of African history, but the purpose of the course. The course was not designed simply to increase awareness of African history, but to forcibly alter the viewpoints of those taking the course. It’s social engineering, not education.

  19. Jennifer,

    I had no idea what the LCB was at Oregon until a few seconds ago. Campuses are big places …


    I think motives are the biggest issue. Trouble is that I didn’t feel I had enough evidence to judge motives – the “pride” motivation was in an editorial by a third party, not in an official statement.

    Asante’s presence alone is enough reason to doubt the course. Again, there are legitimate historians of Africa out there. Get them to design the African part of the course. African history (or any subject) cannot be left to what Hube called the “fringe.”

    I reserve judgment on the AA part of the course, though the links are telling. Hube mentioned Farrakhan, but that’s not all:

    Of course, the “answer” to your concerns is that all “education” until now is really the “social engineering” by the Man (you know his color) so why not counter it with more “social engineering” by “us” (you know our color)? Aaaargh.

  20. Matthew Tabor says:


    Although I agree with nearly all of what you’ve said, the constant sarcasm, scare quotes and trademarks aren’t helping the cause [this is in your comments here, your blog posts, etc].

    If you want to be taken seriously, leave it out. In even fewer words: grow up. At this point you’re just a whiner who preaches to the choir.