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Created: 2000-03-05
Last Modified: 2000-03-05
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Academic Standards

J. Bradford DeLong
http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/
delong@econ.berkeley.edu

 


Context:

>Well, in a nut shell here is why Congress opposes National Standards:
>
>Which of the following individuals is/are included in the National American
>History Standards?
>
>A) Robert E. Lee
>B) Paul Revere
>C) The Wright Brothers
>D) Thomas Edison
>E) Kind Mansa Musa 14th century African King
>
>*
>*
>*
>*
>*
>*
>If you gueesed "E" you are correct. None of the others are included. Need
>I say more?


My Comment:

I was not aware that the legislation Clinton proposed had Mansa Musa hardwired into it. In fact Gene Sperling assures me that it does not: that the bill would set up a *process* to develop standards. And in fact Paul Revere, Robert E. Lee, the Wright Brothes, and Thomas A. Edison *are* in the history standards...

That being said, is there anything wrong with Mansa Musa (call him Musa--Mansa is a title)? The Encyclopedia Britannica says:

"... Mansa Musa... came to the throne in 1307. In the 17th year of his reign, he set out on his famous pilgrimage to Mecca. It was this pilgrimage that awakened the world to the stupendous wealth of Mali. Cairo and Mecca received this royal personage, whose glittering procession, in the superlatives employed by Arab chroniclers, almost put Africa's sun to shame.... Mansa Musa was accompanied by an impressive caravan consisting of 60,000 men including a personal retinue of 12,000 salves, all clad in brocade and Persian silk. The Emperor himself rode on horseback and was directly preceded by 500 slaves, each carrying a gold-adorned staff. In addition, Mansa Musa had a baggage train of 80 camels, each carrying 300 pounds of gold.

"Mansa Musa's prodigious generosity and piety... did not fail to create a most favorable impression.... The historian al-Umari, who visited Cairo 12 years after the Emperor's visit, found the inhabitants of this city with a population estimated at 1,000,000 still singing the praises of Mansa Musa...

"Under Mansa Musa, Timbuktu grew to be a very important commercial city having caravan connections with Egypt and with all the other important trade centers in North Africa. Side by side with the encouragement of trade and commerce, learning and the arts received royal patronage. Scholars who were mainly interested in history, Quaranic theology, and law were to make the mosque of Sankore in Timbuktu a teaching centre and to lay the foundations of the University of Sankore..."

At this time Cairo was perhaps ten times as large as the biggest cities in western Europe--Florence or Milan. At this time the British King Edward III was mortgaging his crown jewels to pull together a force of 15,000 to cross the English channel and win the battle of Crecy. Yet Mansa Musa manages to transport a supposed 60,000 *across*the*Sahara*, and when he gets to the other side put on a display of royal wealth and power the like of which the inhabitants of Cairo had never seen in their lives.

Isn't this interesting? Isn't this worth knowing?

We have a lot of citizens of this country whose ancestors come from places reasonably close on a world-geographic scale to Timbuktu.

We do a lot of linking back to the old country when we teach history in this country. WASPs like me think the Pilgrims are kind of cool, and as a a kid (and a descendant of William Bradford) I always got a real kick out of Thanksgiving.

Funny how I never hear complaints when school board members with names like Brzestowicz insist that we need to teach kids more about Nicholas Copernicus the Polish astronomer. And (outside of Berkeley, where it has been changed to "Indigenous People's Day") I never hear complaints about Columbus Day parades through Italian-American neigborhoods.

But there is this persistent--am I allowed to call it a drumbeat?--of criticism from places like the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the American Spectator, the National Review, and the Washington Times: criticism about how the bankruptcy of the American educational system is shown by the desire of some to include in the curriculum a guy named Musa...

 

Brad De Long


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Professor of Economics J. Bradford DeLong, 601 Evans Hall, #3880
University of California at Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
(510) 643-4027 phone (510) 642-6615 fax
delong@econ.berkeley.edu
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