Henry Gates’ Next Big Thing: Take It to the Classroom

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the sort of fellow who wakes up in the middle of the night with grandiose ideas but not necessarily unique ideas.  The difference is that when Gates has a nocturnal brainstorm, it’s likely to turn into great happenings in the daylight.  So, one can hope, will it be with his next big thing: taking genealogy and DNA research into inner city public schools as a way to “revolutionize” the learning process, especially for African-American students.

If anyone can make that happen, it would be Professor Gates.

Long a public intellectual with eclectic interests, Gates has brought his ideas to life in books, on film, and on television; the most recent example being the PBS series African American Lives. Now in conjunction with other educators, Gates is working on what he calls an “ancestry-based curriculum” in K-12 schools.  Late last year, this idea attracted the attention of the editors of Wired. who conferred upon Gates their 2007 Rave Award for Education.

It appears that Gates’s idea has some traction in education circles. On Tuesday, a group called Learning First Alliance published in its online site, Public School Insights an interview with Gates in which he expounds upon the idea.

Learning First Alliance is a coalition of the leading organizations of the public school establishment.  The interview with Gates is short, but clearly favorable to the idea of the “ancestry-based curriculum.”

Although Gates has focused on African-American students initially, his background and previous writings suggest that he would be among the first to recognize that his genealogy/DNA curriculum would benefit all students.

Genealogists can play a constructive role when such a program comes before their local school authorities for review by letting the public know just what an educational experience genealogy is.  I have learned far more about geography, history, sociology, politics, and other subjects through genealogy than I ever did in the traditional classroom. And there can be little doubt that the value of science to many kids will be enhanced when they see it in action to help fill out the family history!

Given the emphasis on “the fundamentals” in many school districts today, is this a garndiose idea.  Certainly.  Can it become a reality?

I wouldn’t bet against Henry Louis Gates, Jr.


2 Responses to “Henry Gates’ Next Big Thing: Take It to the Classroom”

  • Mechie says:

    I too am looking forward to seeing what becomes of this. As a parent I have never been particularly pleased with the “history” lessons transferred to African-American students in general – be they living within the inner-city or suburbs.

    It’s not difficult to feel disconnected from a curriculum where you’re portrayed as the lesser, oppressed, societal oddity.

    Maybe this is an opportunity for students to connect to what we’ve culturally been disconnected from – our Genealogy.


  • RootsReading says:

    Great post! I look forward to seeing what comes of this “grandiose idea” of Gates’. And I have to agree with you, I have learned tons in my short time conducting genealogy research. It’s definitely a interdisciplinary field.


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