In an effort to transport academic resources from the ivory tower to urban neighborhoods, Harvard University has announced the opening of an after-school program in Dorchester, Mass., that will use the internet to teach poor black youth about African-American history.
The W.E.B. DusBois Institute for Afro-American Research, run by Harvard Professor Henry “Skip” Louis Gates Jr., has joined the Ella J. Baker House in Dorchester to provide 15 weeks of free computer classes in black history to 40 of the city’s most at-risk youth.
“I’ve been thinking about this idea for a long time,” said Gates, who is also chairman of Harvard’s Department of Afro-American Studies.
Based on the model of Hebrew school, where Jewish children learn the language, history, and traditions of their culture, Gates hopes to create a similar program. Named in honor of slain civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., the program aims to “supplement public education” for black youngsters.
Using the Encarta Africana 2000, a CD-ROM encyclopedia of Africa and the African Diaspora, middle- and high-school students will go to the Baker House for weekly afternoon and evening classes.
“This is the first time that a lot of these young people will engage computers and technologyhardware, software, keyboards, and mouses,” said Marc Germaine, a case manager at the Baker House and one of the instructors in the new program, which will use 13 newly purchased computers. “For me, teaching is a natural extension to what I do every dayworking with youth who get in trouble with the law, who get kicked out of school.”
Some of the youngsters, who will all be referred by the Baker House, will be required to attend the computer program as part of their court-ordered probation.
Using the CD-ROM, students will be able to take “virtual tours” of historical settings in black life, such as Harlem and Zimbabwe, as they listen to the sounds of black music, ranging from the Fisk Jubilee Singers to rhythm and blues artist Lauryn Hill.
Amy Wolfcale, a representative for the Markle Foundation, said the program was funded because it “provides valuable training and exposure to deep, meaningful content.”