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Opinion: Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus? - A case for a more globalized curriculum

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Saul Bellow once asked, “Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus?”

Leo Tolstoy, a Russian author considered one of the greatest writers of all time. He is important. He is studied.

Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher that is a central figure in modern philosophy. He is important. He is studied. He is taught.

Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis. He is important. He is studied. He is followed.

In grade school and university all these western white intellectuals are taught to students, but knowledge is not from only the West. So why is it that we only know of western white thought? Why is there no color in our education system? Why are there no women?

The teachings of Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching overlooked. The pulchritude of Sun-Tzu’s "The Art of War" uncharted.

The works of W. E. B. Du Bois and Frederick Douglass a minute lesson in our training. Hypatia of Alexandria fails to receive even a minor mention. But why?

There is an overwhelming push for students to know the “classics” the “foundations.” Who decides what the foundations are, though? Why is "The Odyssey" read in every high school, but no one has seen the "Mahabharata?"

The lack of diversity in what students learn is heartbreaking. Young minds are given a shallow pool of scholars; robbed of the vast ocean of knowledge that the world can offer. But why?

Ralph Wiley’s response to Bellow’s question sums it up.

“Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus?”

“Tolstoy is the Tolstoy of the Zulus,” Wiley states.

It is sad to admit, but no one cares if there is a scholar from the Zulu tribe. Their history is not important in the western world. The Xhosas are considered irrelevant. The Ming dynasty insignificant to western academia.

We do not learn about the world’s rich history. We miss the lessons that the world’s great thinkers have left us. Our only exposure is to that which pushes the agenda of the West. The teachings must fall in line with moral principles that were established long ago.

Principles dating to the Greeks. Their democratic ideas live on in our governments today. The thinkers of that over time influenced later thinkers in Europe. As Europe looked to colonize the world the yoke of colonialism drowned other philosophies, thoughts and ideas. It would smother the knowledge.

Moving forward in history many more intellectuals would be overlooked. Their work being considered nothing more than a hobby. No respect is given to the “Tolstoys” of the Zulus. They are inferior, their thoughts are simple, and could never be influential. These thinkers were never given a chance, their thoughts and spirits have been lynched.

In recent years, there has been a push for diversity in all things. Maybe one day the knowledge that was lost over the years will be revived. Hopefully the boundaries are broken and the missing wisdom from history can be recovered.

It is time to step out of the shallow pool and dive deep into the ocean of knowledge.

“Who is Tolstoy of the Zulus?”

Who knows, but let us find out. The ship is ready; it has been for years. Time to voyage the waters of knowledge


Editor's Note: This piece is the opinion of Joshua Ogboenyiya, not the O'Colly editorial board. To reach Ogboenyiya, you can do so at