Collaborating to Increase Anthropology’s
Visibility and Relevance in Schools:
AAA’s New Anthropology Education Commission

By Rosemary C. Henze

One of the goals of the AAA, as defined in the Long-Range Plan, is to develop greater visibility and relevance to the wider public.One way to do this is through outreach and collaboration with PreK - 12 education and community colleges.Last year, the Long-Range Planning Committee established a new group to develop plans for how AAA can increase its visibility and relevance in public education.This group, now called the Anthropology Education Commission (AEC), had its first full meeting April 7-8 in Philadelphia.

As Chair of the AEC, one of my new duties is to let AAA members know who we are, what we hope to accomplish, and how AAA members can help.

Who we are

The Commission is composed of seven voting members drawn from sections of the AAA which have been actively working in pre-college settings, including the General Anthropology Division, Council on Anthropology and Education, Council of Museum Anthropologists, and Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges. Commission members are Rosemary Henze, ARC Associates; Ruth Selig, Smithsonian Institution; Paul Erickson, St. Mary’s University; Meg Conkey, University of California at Berkeley; Mari Lyn Salvador, University of New Mexico at Albuquerque; Elsa Statzner, National Louis University; and Margy McClain, University of Wisconsin at Whitewater. Ann Kaupp, Smithsonian Institution, is serving as an alternate. Jane Hill appointed the first four members in November 1999, and existing Commission elected the last three members in March 2000. Members will serve for three years, at which point they will make recommendations to the AAA Executive Board about further steps the AAA should take.

What we hope to accomplish

At the April meeting in Philadelphia, one of our first tasks was to review the history of AAA’s efforts to improve the teaching of anthropology in K-12 and community college education. Paul Erickson has written a summary of many such efforts, which appears in this issue of the AN. This history provided valuable grounding and awareness of past efforts so that we don’t "reinvent the wheel" as well as insights into what has not been well covered.

Our next task was to define our purpose and to plan some attainable activities for the coming year. The Commission’s objective, which will be incorporated in the Long-Range Plan, now reads as follows:

The Anthropology Education Commission will help achieve significant progress toward the integration of anthropological concepts, methods, and issues into Pre-K through community college and adult education as one means of increasing public understanding of anthropology.

To inform our discussion of next steps, we invited Shereen Lerner to talk with us about the experiences of the Society of American Archaeology (SAA) in promoting public education. Shereen is the chair of SAA’s Public Education Committee, which has an eleven-year history of working on public outreach. The Commission members learned a great deal from her about what strategies have been particularly effective. After much discussion, we decided on several concrete activities to implement in the upcoming year:

1. Develop a Web site for school practitioners (teachers, principals, etc.) who teach and/or use anthropology. The Web site, which will be accessed through AAA’s Web site, will increase awareness of programs and activities that integrate anthropology in schools (see criteria below).

2. Develop an annual "Anthropology Educators for the 21st Century" award program to highlight and recognize preK-12 or community college educators who integrate anthropology in their public education contexts.

3. Propose an annual small grant program that will provide seed money of $2500 each to fund the development of new efforts to integrate anthropology in PreK-12 education and community colleges.

In addition to these new activities, the AAA meeting in 2000 will feature a session initiated by the Commission. An Executive Policy Forum will be held on Saturday titled "Anthropology in Schools, about Schools, for Schools," which will include local teachers and a principal as well as anthropologists who have done various kinds of outreach with public schools. In addition, Ruth Selig has written a paper, "The Behavioral Sciences in Schools: History, Current Status, and Future Potential," comparing the last 40 years of psychology, sociology and anthropology in schools, and the efforts on behalf of three major professional associations (American Psychological Association, American Sociological Association, and the American Anthropological Association) to encourage the teaching of their disciplines in K-12.

How AAA members can help: Nominating programs and educators

We are now seeking nominations for the Web site and the educators’ award. If you know of existing programs or activities that integrate anthropology in Pre-K to community college and are suitable for inclusion in the Web site, we would like to hear from you. Similarly, if you know of a school practitioner of any role group (e.g., teacher, principal, counselor, etc.) whom you would like to nominate for the first award, please let us know. Web site nominations will be accepted on an ongoing basis. The deadline for the award nominations is January 15th, 2001. For nomination and application forms, please refer to the Web site ( All nominations and applications should use the following criteria to show how the program or activity is:

Collaborating across subfields

I have been reflecting on how this collaboration with anthropologists in other subfields to achieve a common goal is enriching my views of anthropology and its underlying holism. It seems that integrative structures like this Commission offer opportunities we rarely have because of the tendency to form communities of practice along section lines. In my view, it is important to have both – communities organized by subfields or interest areas, and also communities that intentionally cross these boundaries to achieve shared purposes.

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