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
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