Henry Louis Gates Jr.: ‘I’m Trying to Bridge the Gap Between Harvard and Harlem’

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 10, 2009 1 min read
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I’ve joined Twitter (@mazehr), and I’m picking up some interesting content through that media tool. Larry Ferlazzo (@Larryferlazzo) just tweeted about an interview with Henry Louis Gates Jr. by Public School Insights about a curricular idea that Gates thinks could help African-Americans to become more engaged in school.

The interview with Gates (yes, the Harvard professor now famous for being arrested at his own house in Cambridge, Mass.) took place last summer and was republished today. Gates is working on a public school curriculum that builds on his PBS series in which he traces the ancestry of famous African-Americans. He’s already finished a documentary on Oprah Winfrey’s ancestry, which I watched one evening. I remember she was very moved to learn more about one of her ancestor’s efforts to create a school for African-Americans in the United States.

Gates’ idea is to have students examine the science behind their own DNA and reconstruct their own genealogy.

In the interview, Gates expresses his concern that 50 percent of African-American children aren’t graduating from high school.

“So my idea is to use the fascination with one’s collective self, one’s familial self, to seduce people back into learning,” Gates says in the interview. He adds: “I’m trying to bridge the gap between Harvard and Harlem.”

Gates’ assistant in Harvard’s Department of African and African-American Studies told me today that the professor is still developing the ancestry-based curriculum; she didn’t have a projected time for release.

Photo credit: Stephan Savoia/AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.