Sunday, July 12, 2009

Teaching and Learning with American Elders

There is a continuing education program called the Cannon Valley Elder Collegium here in Northfield, a little town in south eastern Minnesota. Teaching at St. Olaf College, one of the two colleges in town, I knew something about the Collegium, but not much. Things changed three years ago, when the directors of the Collegium invited me to design and teach a course for them.

I gladly accepted the invitation and designed a course titled "The African Experience." I wanted this to be a study of the historical and contemporary experience of the African people through a close look Chinua Achebe's novel, Things Fall Apart. Studying this novel, I felt, would enable us to look at the life and values of the Africans before the coming of Europeans and the consequences of the coming of Europeans, which continue to the present day. It would also help us appreciate how the art of storytelling, both oral and written, influences African life.

I taught the course for the first time in the Fall, 2006 and taught it again in the Fall of 2007 and 2008. The course is scheduled for the Fall of this year as well.

The experience of teaching these elders has been most rewarding to me. It has been a wonderful opportunity to highlight the perspectives of Africans and people of African descent across the ages and around the world. It has been a dialectical process of learning from the wisdom of these elders and sharing my own knowledge of the African experience. Having taught Things Fall Apart from my earliest days as a teacher, I have much to say about it. In my teaching, I generally follow my Notes on Achebe's Things Fall Apart. I also use other sources, including my Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences.

The Cannon Valley Elder Collegium is a perfect way to realize the dream of continuing education. I wish my own country had programs like it.

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