First-Year Studies: Child and Adolescent Development in North American and African Contexts: Opportunities and Inequalities

This is a course from a previous year. View the current courses

Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu [Isizulu: A person is only a person through other persons]

How do the contexts in which we live influence our development? And how do these contexts influence the questions we ask about development and the ways in which we interpret our observations? How do local, national, and international policies impact the contexts in which children live? Should we play a role in changing some of these contexts? What are the complications of doing this? In this course, we will discuss these and other key questions about child and adolescent development in varying cultural contexts, with a specific focus on the United States and sub-Saharan Africa. As we do so, we will discuss factors contributing to both opportunities and inequalities within and between those contexts. In particular, we will discuss how physical and psychosocial environments differ for poor and nonpoor children and their families in rural upstate New York, urban Yonkers, and rural and urban Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania. We will also discuss individual and environmental protective factors that buffer some children from the adverse effects of poverty, as well as the impacts of public policy on poor children and their families. Topics will include health and educational disparities; environmental inequalities linked to race, class, ethnicity, gender, language, and nationality; environmental chaos; children's play and access to green space; cumulative risk and its relationship to chronic stress; and the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the growing orphan problem in sub-Saharan Africa. Readings will be drawn from both classic and contemporary research in psychology, human development, anthropology, sociology, and public health; memoirs and other first-hand accounts; and classic and contemporary African literature and film. This course will also serve as an introduction to the methodologies of community-based and participatory action research within the context of a service-learning course. As a class, we will collaborate with local high-school students in developing, implementing, and evaluating effective community-based work in partnership with organizations in urban Yonkers and rural Tanzania. As part of this work, all students will spend an afternoon per week working in a local after-school program. In addition, we will have monthly seminars with local high-school students during our regular class time.