Studying our favorite subject — Ourselves

The Public School Insights blog has just posted a very interesting conversation with historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., in which Gates talks about the potential of engaging students in genealogy and DNA research as a way to increase their enthusiasm for history and science. Gates is the co-creator of the PBS series African-American Lives, which has so far used these same tools to trace the history of 19 famous Black Americans, including Oprah Winfrey, Chris Rock, Tina Turner, and Gates himself.

The documentary series, says the PSI introduction, sparked Gates to consider how schools might use genealogy and DNA research to revolutionize the way we teach history and science to African American Students. Now, Gates is working with other educators to create an “ancestry-based curriculum” in K-12 schools. Given the chance to examine their own DNA and family histories, Gates argues, African American students–many of whom know little about their ancestors–are likely to become more engaged in their history and science classes. As they rescue their forebears from the anonymity imposed by slavery, students begin to understand their own place in the American story.

Gates says the series has attracted 25 million viewers because “your favorite subject is yourself.”

So why don’t we use these same techniques to transform the way we teach history to inner-city black and brown kids–and science?  We will incorporate a unit, probably a six-week unit, in tracing our own ancestry in the history class.

Be sure to check out the PSI interview for many more details — and leave your own thoughts on their blog. Could this really work? What barriers might need to be overcome?