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Henry Louis Gates Jr.: 'I'm Trying to Bridge the Gap Between Harvard and Harlem'

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I've joined Twitter (@mazehr), and I'm picking up some interesting content through that media tool. Larry Ferlazzo (@Larryferlazzo) just tweeted about an interview with Henry Louis Gates Jr. by Public School Insights about a curricular idea that Gates thinks could help African-Americans to become more engaged in school.

Henry%20Louis%20Gates_AP.jpg

The interview with Gates (yes, the Harvard professor now famous for being arrested at his own house in Cambridge, Mass.) took place last summer and was republished today. Gates is working on a public school curriculum that builds on his PBS series in which he traces the ancestry of famous African-Americans. He's already finished a documentary on Oprah Winfrey's ancestry, which I watched one evening. I remember she was very moved to learn more about one of her ancestor's efforts to create a school for African-Americans in the United States.

Gates' idea is to have students examine the science behind their own DNA and reconstruct their own genealogy.

In the interview, Gates expresses his concern that 50 percent of African-American children aren't graduating from high school.

"So my idea is to use the fascination with one's collective self, one's familial self, to seduce people back into learning," Gates says in the interview. He adds: "I'm trying to bridge the gap between Harvard and Harlem."

Gates' assistant in Harvard's Department of African and African-American Studies told me today that the professor is still developing the ancestry-based curriculum; she didn't have a projected time for release.

Photo credit: Stephan Savoia/AP

1 Comment

As a Biology teacher, I like the idea of tracing one's roots, and interest in DNA, and thus science, however, there is so much hostility to studying science that must be combatted in the community. I get these forms of resistance responses 1) no white teacher can teach my black child, & 2) my church forbids me to learn science.

When I try to engage students in botany, working with plants, I am told 'slavery ended.' When I try to get students to write/speak coherantly, I am told I am being a racist.

The other 'devil' is NCLB, which has reduced low performing schools to spend 100% of the time focusing on high stress tests, and no teacher would have the luxury of adopting a unit that allowed this level of inquiry.

Students must go beyond merely learning the names of great scientists. Like GW Carver, they must adopt a rigorous work ethic, and natural inquiry, and desire to better their community by developing their scientific knowledge.

Kudos to Mr. Gates, and his efforts to make science relevant. But like many of the textbooks written in the 60's and 70's that we written specifically for the urban child, the achievements will be piecemeal at best.

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