Dr. Rai Wilson | Upper School History Teacher / Sankofa Storyteller
Upper School history teacher Dr. Rai Wilson is a strong believer in the West African word, “Sankofa,” which roughly translates to, “go back and get it.” But to historians, its significance means something deeper: to not go forward without having learned the lessons of the past.
Sankofa drives much of Dr. Wilson’s history curriculum, which culminates in a class project in which students present arguments for how America should progress as a nation based on historical examples. The topics, which range from civil rights to economic collapses, instill deep critical thinking skills and prompt students to consider what works and doesn’t work in society.
Dr. Wilson “hates when students feel that history is sterile,” and makes a strong point to tell history’s stories in a way that is relevant to high schoolers. His class often includes critically analyzing movies, music, photography, poetry, and even court cases. Students search for the narrative being pushed, whether or not the historical event was correctly portrayed, and other underlying themes. “I try to come at history from different angles,” Dr. Wilson explains. “It triggers different parts of the brain and reaches students who have different interests and backgrounds.”
Dr. Wilson isn’t reserved about his love of teaching at Parker, which is visibly reciprocated amongst students and alumni. On weekends and during summer, you’ll often find him hiking with students and their families, or going to brunch. “The family feeling here isn’t a brochure statement—it’s real,” he says.
Sankofa is not just about avoiding mistakes of generations past. To Dr. Wilson, the greatest lesson he can give students is to help them see life through perspectives that are different from their own. “My hope is that Parker is shaping leaders of tomorrow who are empathetic, understanding, and curious. Whether they become business owners, politicians, or teachers—if they can become empathetic people who value other humans, I feel like I’ve done my job.”
Francis Parker School is a private, independent, coeducational, college preparatory day school for students in Junior Kindergarten through Grade 12 from across San Diego County. Founded in 1912, the Lower School is located on the Mission Hills Campus with the Upper and Middle Schools on the Linda Vista Campus. Parker's mission is to inspire a diverse community of independent thinkers whose academic excellence, global perspective and strength of character prepare them to make a meaningful difference in the world.