Gates Honored for Scholarship

Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. has won three awards, one honoring his pioneering idea to engage middle and high school students in history and science by encouraging them to trace their own ancestry.

For his scholarship, Gates has been recognized by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Wired magazine, and the National Arts Club.

“I’m developing a new way to teach African-American history and science for middle and high school kids,” said Gates, the Fletcher University professor. “History will involve people learning how to do their own family tree and the DNA component will be testing all the kids to see where they’re from in Africa and then teaching them the science of DNA.”

Many schools have already contacted Gates in the hopes that they can be the first to try out the curriculum, which is intended to spark a thirst for knowledge particularly among students in inner city schools, he said.

Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism awarded him a Special Lifetime Achievement Award at its ninth annual competition and workshop on journalism, race, and ethnicity.

The school’s associate dean of prizes and programs, Arlene N. Morgan, said that the committee chose to honor Gates for his body of work, including the documentary “Finding Oprah’s Roots,” about the genealogical and genetic heritage of Oprah Winfrey. The documentary examines some of the same issues his curriculum will explore.

Morgan and her colleagues also said Gates embodies many qualities they seek, such as “reporting in a culturally competent way.”

She said the school was looking for “journalism that reaches for untold stories and that is courageous and steps out there despite negative feedback from the public that is still trying to understand the role race plays in America.”

Two other recent awards honor Gates’ work.

On May 24, Gates will be presented with the National Arts Club’s Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement in African and African American Scholarship, according to Dell M. Hamilton, the manager of events and publications at the Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.

And on Tuesday, Wired magazine announced that he has won one of its 22 Rave Awards for 2007 for his ancestry curriculum.

Explaining the technology magazine’s choice, Michael Horowitz, who wrote Gates’ profile for the issue, called Gates’ curriculum “an amazing way to teach kids and get them interested in American history by tying it into their own heritage and history.”

Gates himself is optimistic about the program.

“It might be able to generate interest in African-American school children in learning. Too many of our children have lost the love of learning,” he said.

The magazine’s other recipients this year include J.K. Rowling and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“I think it will be really fantastic,” he said of the award. “It’s a great honor.”