John Benson uses personal experience to bring an understanding of diversity as he teaches in MSUM’s early education department.
Although he was born in America, much of professor Benson’s childhood was spent in Arusha, Tanzania. His parents were American Lutheran missionaries, and when Benson was 1 year old, they moved their family to Tanzania to work there. Throughout Benson’s childhood, his family moved back to the United States for one year every five years.
Benson integrates his childhood experiences into his teaching and scholarly research. In 2005, while on sabbatical from MSUM, Benson traveled back to Tanzania to study their primary schools, which is the equivalent of grades one through seven in the United States.
“Some of the schools I was studying only had seven percent of people in that school able to go on to secondary school. Sometimes it would get up to 50 percent, but mainly about 20 percent,” Benson said.
Primary school isn’t enough education for many of the people to do what they want, Benson said.
“Most people, they had all their dreams of being all sorts of things, but mainly they grew up on a farm and they just had to go back to farming (after primary school),” he said.
More secondary schools have been built in Tanzania since Benson’s study in 2005, he said, but there aren’t enough teachers for all of them.
“Sometimes as you go around, you see a brand new secondary school, but it’s not open because they can’t get teachers for it,” Benson said.
Benson also uses what he’s learned in Tanzania while teaching at MSUM.
“I would try to bring in video tapes from different parts of the world (to class) so (students) always knew that the American way isn’t the only way. I don’t necessarily always bring African examples, but I try to make things more international,” Benson said.
Benson travels to Tanzania fairly often, sometimes for research and other times with his wife and children.
“I have friends still there. I’ve got to know a few Tanzanians who work at different schools and things,” he said. “I have strong ties there.”