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When stories teach: Conference focuses on multicultural curriculum


February 21, 2011

On the surface, the summer Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad program may have appeared to be a unique opportunity for Arizona State University faculty and graduate students, accompanied by a handful of Valley teachers, to travel to Ghana to experience for themselves the history and culture of the West African republic. Upon the group’s return, the real value of the scholarship study was revealed; it will be shared at a multicultural curriculum conference on Feb. 26 that is part of the ASU West campus Black History Month calendar of events.

“Sharing Stories: A Multicultural Curriculum Conference” takes place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the Kiva Lecture Hall and is free to the community. Phoenix Union School District and Cave Creek Unified District teachers will receive recertification credit for attending.

The conference brings together faculty and graduate students from ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College who experienced a monthlong exposure to Ghanaian history, culture and social justice while travelling with Valley K-12 educators who teach a range of subjects, including English, journalism, home economics, reading and special education.

“This is a significant event we are proud to host,” says Duku Anokye, an associate professor of Africana language, literature and culture in the New College Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies (HArCS). “It brings together a diverse group of educators and students and allows them the chance to share their experiences, as well as the curriculum they created from those experiences.

“The mix of participants in the Fulbright-Hays program was diverse in ethnicity, gender, age and experience, which allowed them to tackle important issues using a variety of perspectives,” adds Anokye, who travelled with the group and has studied Ghanaian culture during the course of nearly a dozen trips to the country on the Gulf of Guinea. Also on the 28-day study were New College faculty member Charles St. Clair and Teachers College Professor Les Irwin; three students from the college’s social justice and human rights graduate degree program, Vinita Quinones, Paul Bork and Ted Novak; and pair of HArCS graduates, Rosie Huf and Kevin Watson.

The group landed in Ghana’s capital city of Accra, a metropolis of nearly two million people located on the Gulf of Guinea. For the next four weeks they travelled into and through Accra, Kumasi, Cape Coast and Takoradi; from these locations they ventured into neighboring sites, towns and villages. The focus of the project – “Stories from the Other Side” – was to collect interviews that would shed light on the impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade that marked centuries of injustice on a global scale. Additionally, four teachers from Betty H. Fairfax High School and another from Starlight Park Elementary School were on board and brought their own special talents to the trip. The teachers and the Ghana participants have developed K-12 curriculum materials  and a documentary video based on their research. The curriculum materials have been compiled in a single study guide edited by Irwin.

The conference will feature the results of the group’s work. Included in the half-day event will be the premier of their documentary, “Stories from the Other Side,” that uses the lectures, demonstrations, tours, workshops and interviews from the summer travel. Breakout sessions with individual members of the Fulbright-Hays group are scheduled, and the study guide will be available for sale.

“Travel is one of the best teachers I know,” says Anokye, who has taught at the West campus since 1999. “You learn firsthand about the people, places and culture. You interact with new and intriguing ideas, values and perspectives that aren’t always communicated in the written accounts of life in those places. These are the experiences we will be sharing. The lessons and the documentary are engaging and will give folks a good dose of what it was like as Americans to travel to Ghana; anyone can benefit from this kind of dialogue.”

Anokye says the conference will be of particular interest to Valley educators.

“As educators, attendees will have opportunities to explore various lessons and interview faculty and students who participated in the Fulbright-Hays program,” she says. “They will gain a clear understanding of how the trip affected the participants as teachers and as students. Teachers will return to their home sites with a study guide that connects lessons to Academic Standards and helps them associate what they have been teaching with new and fresh resources.”

She also believes there is no better time for Valley teachers to wrap multicultural lessons into their classroom curriculum.

“Our state is diverse and growing,” says Anokye. “Arizona has a rich history and culture that is rapidly changing. The Phoenix metropolitan area is rarely seen as the culturally diverse region it has become. We have seen growth increases in the number of African Americans, American Indians, Asians and Hispanics/Latinos. This explosion of population has turned the dusty myth of Arizona into an oasis of multicultural experiences, which brings with it its own set of new necessities.

“Culture creates a powerful lens through which issues of social justice and human rights may be observed. Culture is also essential to learning. Teaching that acknowledges, that responds to, and celebrates fundamental cultures offers full, equitable access for education for students from all cultures.”

For more information, contact Anokye at 602-543-6020 or via email at aanokye@asu.edu.