Criteria for Pan-African Pedagogy
Pan-African pedagogy is the principles and approaches to teaching and learning characteristic of people of African culture and heritage in Africa and around the world in a diaspora of more or less culturally-linked communities, such as the African American community, brought about through migration (forced or voluntary). A Pan-African pedagogical approach strives to incorporate a broad and inclusive sampling of African history, context, and culture, including unearthing and making visible and clear the link of much of contemporary knowledge to roots in Africa. It is the method and practice of teaching any and all subjects, or areas of knowledge, based on the full history of people and Africa, which we share as branches of a common root. This allows learners, and Africa identifying learners in particular, to connect to the roots of their asili, or generative cultural core themes that are supportive of a positive growth mindset, to prepare to solve problems, and act creatively today while confronting multiple challenges. Pan-African pedagogy grounds learning in commonly held values establishing solidarity, social justice, and collective self-reliance, and does not require the exclusion of the spiritual in order to comprehend the scientific.
The Pan-African teaching approach includes the formation and maintenance of nurturing environments by living examples (reference groups and emulation), lessons, rituals, and daily events and practices, including scientific practices, that support the moral development of the person (the self) within the context of dimensions of the divine, community, and family. Virtues and values establishment is paramount. The culture – the ordered behavior – of the collective and its continuum is thereby assured. When these dimensions (the Divine, Community, Family, and the Self) operate to establish an equilibrium, potent and effective teaching (and learning) result. It is an on-going practice of conscientization that makes explicit the links between these concepts and the experiences and practice of preparing new members with life supporting skills for incorporation into society. Pan-African Pedagogy may be understood as using ten principles to motivate, increase mutual understanding, and enrich learning.
Ten Principles for Pan-African Approaches
1. Family. A pan-African outlook involves the radical decision to identify as a family, which is an organic concept of identity with persons, regardless of their shortcoming, and in total regard to what strengths each brings. All members of a family are due mutual support, and the efforts and gifts of all collectively bring full enrichment. The concept of Ubuntu – "I Am Because We Are," also captures this.
2. One-ness. This flows from the fundamental African belief that what exists is the evolution/fissure/elaboration of what was at its start One, and the conception that the point of start of the emergence and differentiation of all that we know from the "one" is a point of perfection. The Kemetic (Egyptian) concept of the primordial unknown – nwn – or the West African Dogon peoples' conception of the po, the explosion of which (the "big bang") created the universe and its order, that through subsequent detailing and elaboration became reality as we know it, are examples.
3. Soul. African people are culturally bound as 'soul people' because concepts of 'soul,' in various forms, embody the preeminence given to, and reliance upon, this ultimate interconnection that cannot be seen on the material plane. It is invoked to express the meaningful linking of the individual with the past and future. This also includes an emphasis on the "word," a 'mentalism', as the domain of reflection of the truth in existence. Soul is a fundamental concept of spirituality that infuses Black (Southern hemispheric) culture everywhere communities exist that migrated from Africa over tens of thousands of years. It is also the preeminent characteristic of what it means to have human strength among Africans. Spoken word and rap are practices along this plane, too. As James Brown said, "I've got soul, and I'm super bad!"
4. Balance. This principle is often referenced as an understanding of Ma'at, the Kemetic Goddess of balance: there is positive and negative in everything and the divine lies in proper balance. The 42 negative injunctions of Ma'at suggest what behaviors one should not do and only those who through their good acts have a heart as light as a feather shall proceed closer in divinity upon death. The Ten Commandments emanate from a subset of these.
5. Rhythm. In everyday life and all things that we do, rhythm is a component of vibration (or the cycling of energy – give and take of energy, time/space) and the alignment of both are fundamental to well-being of individuals, groups and societies. Rhythm exists as a force of unity but its impact is not visible or materially approachable/measureable, for it is a link that allows forces to be "more than the sum of their parts" to use sociologist Emile Durkheim's expression. Everything flows out and in; all things rise and fall. Mathematics is a fundamental expression of reality, particularly fractal mathematics, which reflects the Kemetic concept: "As it is above, so it is below." Rhythm, in its dimensions as music and beats, reflects a human group-life force experienced as pleasurable, as are all functions essential to humanity's reproduction.
6. (African) Humanism. Everyone has something to add; everyone is of value. African societies perfected a caste social order where the division of labor led to skilled groups distinguished by their own cultural and spiritual expression, and all interwoven and with representation in the ruling council, to which the leaders were responsible. It was not the hierarchical arrangement of Indian caste, or Indo-European class society. It can also be termed African democracy, where each status group characterized by both ascriptive traits, such as age and gender, as well as caste traits, is purposively represented in decision-making.
7. Sankofa. The need to look back, in order to go forward, often expressed in the symbolism of the benu bird. One must look to the past, where society or one has come from, in order to know the trajectory and determine where we should go for the future. This concept survives intact from the walls of the catacombs of ancient Kemet, to the Adrinkra clothe of the Akan in Ghana today.
8. Matrism. A matrist society is a 'woman friendly' society where women are incorporated equitably with men into all facets of society, including the presence of a queen mother structure and a male chief structure, in interaction in governance. Generally, the queen mother is accorded predominance ontologically, in relation to the use of land, and in all things related to reproduction of society. Equalitarian decision-making between the sexes is not left to random chance election or competition for positions: these are allocated with designated responsibilities divided between both.
9. Maroon. The term derives from the term, cimmarones in Spanish, "mountaineers," and was used to refer to the Africans who escaped slavery, often 'running away with the Indians (indigenous) and traveling to inaccessible mountains or swamps to recreate societies with cultural integrity in freedom. Pan-African is maroon because it acknowledges the possible need to live physically in hardship, to accept sacrifice, in order to be free in spirit and community. A quote by Christopher Emdin perhaps illustrates this:
"The way that a teacher teaches can be traced directly back to the way that the teacher has been taught. The time will always come when teachers must ask themselves if they will follow the mold or blaze a new trail. There are serious risks that come with this decision. It essentially boils down to whether one chooses to do damage to the system or to the student." (:206)
Pan-African is rebellious in spirit, and to submerge this aspect in the interest of politics of respectability is to lose its essence, its soul.
10. Know Thyself. This injunction is connected with the origins of ancient Nile Valley Civilization in Africa, KMT (Egypt) and Ta' Seti (Sudan). It appeared above the entrance of each temple Mystery School, which served as spiritual, academic, and scientific learning centers, and has come down to us via the Greeks to today. It centers the individual in learning because only by building awareness of one's life mission and one's strengths and weaknesses, can one be prepared to excel and accomplish. This also involves setting the historical record straight with respect to Africa's contributions to the world whenever and wherever possible when teaching, speaking, and writing, so that the African youth may know him/her-self.
Pan-African Pedagogy in Practice
John Warford writes: "Black people are at their essence – spiritual! Therefore, moral development is paramount in any valid educational process... As irrelevant as it may seem to some, epistemologies (learning systems) and cosmologies that avoid these dimensions will have no potency or efficacy in teaching and learning in these days and times" (See John Warford's essay: Principles & Concepts for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy).
Pan-African pedagogy for geosciences relies upon an integration of science, public policy, and advocacy within a framework of Pan-African holism, principles and time frame. The topics should include a balance of both the positive contexts of African social gifts to the world and a problem-solving focus on identifying the negative trends running counter to social reproduction and well-being, especially those related to environmental equity and justice.
Good pan-African pedagogy for geoscience instruction relies on instructors who strive to be culturally relevant. "Culturally relevant teachers do not teach all students the same way in the name of equality. Instead, they create lessons that begin with students' experiences, which are discussed and infused in the learning, so that students have the opportunity to learn by building on their personal background and academic strengths. Using strategies that allow students to draw on their cultural frames of reference brings personal relevance to a lesson. Since the brain needs emotion and meaning to pay attention, making learning personal and emotional for students can bring about the most lasting lessons." (See Richard Schulterbrandt Gragg's essay: Culturally Relevant Approaches to Geosciences Pedagogy).
Questions of identity, which are implicit in a pan-African approach, involve complexity display complexity and the need to understand core solutions. As expressed by one earth science organizer: "Americans of African descent do not truthfully identify as African nor American. We share a collective challenge that emanates from a lack of unity and a pervasive negative group identity. Insufficient direction, infrastructure and resources are dedicated to uplifting the whole, especially when compared with all other groups. The arbitrary individual anecdotal success story celebrates the path to assimilation and in many respects cultural annihilation, whether conscious or subconscious, and as a result we sink lower than all other groups, [and] we are then defined by deficiency or lack.... A Pan-African Pedagogy should create a third choice, a mental or intellectual construct that ensures that students survive and thrive with an identity connected to a beautiful African tapestry. The curriculum needs to place the wilderness (slave/Jim Crow) era in perspective. It needs to articulate lessons from this epoch that define our group with a broader more complete narrative that places us powerfully upon the global landscape, not defeated by tragedy but strengthen by survival.... If we want the collective identity to be both African and positive, travel to Africa is essential (or really, really beneficial)." (Felicia Davis, see full statement in Participant Contributions)
In summary, a geoscience-based lesson, class, or curriculum, that exhibits a pan-African approach, will in addition to incorporating the principles above, also likely reflect experiential pedagogy best-practices, such as:
a. Develop a practice to engage the 'Know Thyself' principle by the instructor and with the students so that instruction can begin from experiences and cultural heritage, and supports students in identifying their mission, with social reference groups, models, and mentors, from the past and present.
b. Ubuntu requires collaborative learning experiences and teaching so that students are responsible to the collective whole. This is also captured in the concepts of "emulation" in the Cuban education system.
c. Capitalizes upon place-based learning in sites around the Pan-African world. In this, it takes account of the geo-realities around the classroom location, and incorporates experiential field-based learning to the degree possible.
d. Respect learned within the family is translated into the school setting.
e. In the classroom, even the most rebellious or isolated, have their right of inclusion in decision-making, and where questions do not have one right answer their answers must carry implicit merit if they support them, even if others don't fully understand their criteria.
f. Importance of "Return to the Source," another expression of Sankofa (popularized by Amilcar Cabral in the struggle for liberation from Portuguese colonialism). When introducing information, such as geometry principles and equations, be more mindful in checking for origins in Africa, often excised, rather than using only the latest peer-reviewed references.
g. The Pan-African approach relies upon providing students with an experience in Africa.
Why Geosciences as a Focus of Pan-African Approaches?
Geosciences provide a framework for the comprehension of humanity's evolution and interaction with the material world of earth, an important counterpart to the African consciousness of one-ness. Equally, the Pan-African approach includes a narrative of humans from their beginnings as homo sapiens in Africa, providing a spiritual, intellectual, and social meaningfulness and relevance upon which to ground study of sustainable ecological one-ness.
"The geosciences encompass a study of Earth processes and products.... Geoscientists focus on the processes and products of the solid earth, its hydrosphere, and its atmosphere, along with how and why these evolve over time in an enormous and highly complex natural system. ... What is so important about geoscience?? Geoscience is, in fact, hugely relevant to every person on this planet. The grand challenges that face the human race in this century all have significant geoscience components. The future quality of human life depends on decisions made at personal, community, national, and international levels that require a deep understanding of how the Earth works." (See full statement by Barbara Tewksbury, Organizer: Why geoscience? Why geoscience in the context of societally and culturally relevant questions?).
The history of earth and human beings must be the starting point for dealing with the long term future and tackling complex questions where "solutions cannot be based solely on one factor such as economics, politics or science" (Tewksbury op. cit.)
We ask the question: Who is our audience? To complete a rubric for assessing whether a comprehensive Pan-Africa approach to a geoscience knowledge is provided in an instructional plan, there is a need for more interaction with Pan-African youths, because they are, in total, products of a neoindigenous reality that they are shaping as they go. Christopher Emdin writes: "Identifying urban youth of color as neoindigenous allows us to understand the oppression these youth experience, the spaces they inhabit ... It seeks to position these youth in a larger context of marginalization, displacement and diaspora." (p. 9). This statement calls attention to identification of people as "indigenous," as people with an ecological fit and genius of culture developed in a particular place/space on earth, who must be respected and whose social order has an internal beauty that needs to be comprehended, supported and reproduced, not only the deficits perceived and the evolved community destroyed in the name of 'development'. Inclusion of the youth cohort is part of the African humanism principles of democracy. It is important because they heavily represent the future directions which must also be part of any deliberations, if a Sankofa approach is to be effective.