Educational Wisdom of African Oral Literature: African Proverbs as Vehicles for Enhancing Critical Thinking Skills in Social Studies Education

Article excerpt

Abstract

Preparing children to function effectively as global citizens in today's complex and ethnically polarized nations and the world, will require students who think critically about the knowledge of the histories, experiences, and the cultural practices of other parts of the world. This paper offers African cultural heritage through proverbs as a frame for developing critical thinking skills among American students in the United States

Xhosa (South Africa) Proverb: Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu

'A person is a person through persons'

Introduction

Throughout history, philosophers, politicians, educators and other stakeholders have been concerned with the art and science of shrewd thinking. Some classify the spirit of inquiry and dialogue that exemplified the golden age of ancient Greece as the foundation of this type of thinking. Others point to the age of enlightenment, with its prominence on rationality and progress (Presseisen, 1986). In the 21st century, the ability to engage in careful, reflective thought has been viewed in various ways; as a fundamental characteristic of an educated person, as a requirement for responsible citizenship in a democratic society, and more recently, as an employment skill for an increasingly interconnected, interdependent - nations working across geo-political borders to promote shared socio-cultural, economic, technological, and military interests. It is against this background that my paper calls for a paradigm shift in the education to promote the critical thinking skills of school-age children to enable them function effectively in today's world of complex and ethnically polarized nations.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the use of African proverbs in promoting critical thinking skills of African American minority students in particular, and students in general in the United States. First, I will conceptualize the link between a social studies position on global cultural connection and critical thinking as a concept, and from there, discuss Critical Race Theory (CRT) as one of the critical pedagogies that anchors the theoretical framework supporting the use of proverbs (narratives) as teaching tools for critical thinking skills. Next, I examine what scholars have said about African proverbs. I then provide an overview of some salient features of the framework and justification for infusing African proverbs into the concepts of critical thinking skills. Finally, I offer suggestions in the form of culturally conscientious instructional activities that teachers may adopt to infuse African proverbs into their critical discussions with diverse students.

Conceptualizing Critical thinking Skills and global cultural connection

The 21st century is witnessing the global village concept where global citizens are witnessing the amalgamation of cultures. Students cannot attain a global outlook without developing critical thinking skills and vice versa (Dorman, 1992). With the end of the Cold War, the quest has become for teachers to put away their bipolar suppositions and get students equipped for a multi-polar society.

The importance of critical thinking skills and global cultural connection in the training and development of effective citizenry in a social studies education cannot be over-emphasized. The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Task Force on Early Childhood/Elementary Social Studies (1989), for example, takes a strong position on the role of critical thinking to promote effective citizenry in social studies education:

For children to develop citizenship skills appropriate to a democracy, they must be capable of thinking critically about complex societal problems and global problems-children need to be equipped with the skills to cope with change (p. 16).

Further, the usefulness of global cultural connection in social studies education has been well documented in the ten themes of social studies education. …