Using Western African cultural texts to present diverse views in the classroom

Schools are increasingly charged with creating global citizens and engaging the pluralism in Canadian society. In this climate, teachers are turning to ways that honour the many cultural knowledges and student identities that exist in diverse classrooms. By presenting different forms and ways of knowing, educators can introduce students to broader perspectives that can help promote inclusion, respect, fairness, and equity – for their classroom, and beyond.

Understanding how educators can provide opportunities for students to foster their identity in these multicultural contexts, and how empowerment is approached in schools more generally, is an essential element of this vision. However, developing this approach, and finding teaching materials to support it, is not always easy for educators looking to engage with alternative perspectives.

Lessons for diversity

Dr. Mairi McDermott and Dr. George Dei of the University of Toronto used a graduate course on anti-racism education to address this gap. For the course’s final project, Drs. McDermott and Dei invited the students, mainly classroom teachers and other educators, to design lesson plans and units based on the course readings, as well as on Dr. Dei’s SSHRC-funded work documenting African oral literature.

Using Western African proverbs, folktales, and cultural stories, the teachers present their lessons using slightly modified common templates for teachers. They also document their own journeys and experiences in designing the work, making relatable narratives for other teachers, connecting the theory to their teaching practice.

With principles based on anti-oppressive pedagogies, the book aims to consider diversity, difference, and inclusion, in ways that go beyond surface celebrations and experiences of ‘others.’ These different forms represent ways of knowing, morals, lessons, and shared understandings grounded in African worldviews.

The work is intended to contribute to conversations surrounding the development of student identity and empowerment, social justice, as well as collective responsibilities and understandings. The book and its resources also allow teachers to go beyond the specifics of African literature to promote discussions on broader and more diverse cultural experiences, and to engage with ideas of oppression, racism, and other – often difficult – conversations. Rather than being finite examples, these lessons are meant to provoke other designs and ideas that expand beyond them.

Beyond standard curriculum

The book can help teachers critically think about their practice, as well as to serve as a resource for their classroom. By engaging with these texts, teachers can gain a sense of the both the approach and the materials for meeting curricular demands while presenting alternative views.

Dr. McDermott hopes the project will create space to engage students with diverse knowledges, and improve the responsiveness of educational practices in schools. By engaging with these examples, and the ideas underpinning similar approaches, teachers can engage with alternative views of the curriculum, moving towards antiracist and other emancipatory pedagogies.

See more from Dr. Mairi McDermott on her profile

Connected Citations

Sefa Dei, G. J., & McDermott, M. (in-press). Centering African Proverbs, Indigenous Folktales and Cultural Stories in Curriculum. Toronto, ON: Canadian Scholars Press.