Thursday, April 24, 2008

(1) Why should knowledge of East Asia be part of the twenty-first century curriculum?

TIME TO STUDY EAST ASIA, WORLD: Why should knowledge of East Asia be part of the twenty-first century curriculum?

Just as during WWII--when every child in my own father’s tiny school in rural Genoa, Illinois was expected to be shown maps of the globe on a daily basis in order to find out where the events in the Great War of that day were taking place--American youth must be shown and educated in school & on a daily basis where the major events around the world are occurring.

In addition, the youth of America must also be given the background & past cultural-historical information to predict, identify, & handle future events (and trends) that are likely to affect them as well. With the fast growth in Asia’s economic influence on the world in the last 40 years, East Asia is an important place to start.

I, myself, taught in Japan from 1992-1994 through the JET program and worked in high schools there. Therefore, on the one hand, I know that lack of awareness of the globe around us may be certainly be found in parts of Asia--just as it is in the USA. However, on the other hand, the JET program—as the world’s largest teacher exchange program--, showed us how forward thinking a country can be in empowering local communities to operate better in a cross-cultural situations over time.

The aforementioned WWII-era educational experience of my father’s, i.e. in “world literacy education” in primary school, can be contrasted with what was prevalent in American elementary, junior highs, and high schools in the 1980s and 1990s as schools sought to keep up with the new testing standard trends mandated in their various states. (Moreover, at the personal level, I had been taught Latin American culture & geography a decade earlier in Wentzville, Missouri in the 6th grade and African studies was integrated with my American history education in the 5th grade. So, the low expectations of the 1980s can also be contrasted with my own personal primary educational experience.)

Due to my father’s global awareness training and through creative social studies curricula tried out on my 5th (African culture and geography) and 6th (Latin America and the Caribbean) grades while I grew up in Missouri in the early 1970s, I could comprehend that there was a growing & grave disconnect in America long-before 2000 arrived. Although the Cold-War era was over, I felt that something bad was on the horizon for America and Americans if it didn’t become more culturally savvy.

As the events of September 11, 2001 occurred, I was teaching students from 25 different nations at the Intensive English Language Program at Texas A & M University. The events of that day once again affected directly my job prospects as a university ESL instructor in America—as enrollment of foreign students, especially from the Middle East sky dived. In short, I—and other Americans—are affected by what is occurring in other parts of our small planet. This should be reason enough to fill our minds with world literacy & cultural education.


CONNECTING CULTURES AND KNOWLEDGE

Over the years, my late father, Ronald John Stoda, shared his educational experiences during and after WWII with me again and again.

He had clarified that his elementary teachers talked about where the U.S. forces were active each day in each corner of the world throughout that war. Those teachers brought the newspaper to class and talked about life in Southeast Asia, China & Japan, the geography of northern Africa, the politics of Europe and Russia throughout WWII.

As Asia makes up the majority of the world’s current population and its global market places, it is essential to see that Asia needs to be placed in front of our students on an almost daily basis. East Asia is a good place to start in this as the sun rises there and our news comes from there long before we wake up each day. In addition, more migrants from China and companies from Japan and South Korea or Taiwan are interested in the USA than most of us can imagine. We need to be interested in them, too, as they move here—and integrate ourselves towards each other better.

My father was so impressed with his elementary school “literacy in world education” that instead of going off to college upon graduation from high school, he saved up his money over 3 years and then at the age of 21 took an around the world tour in 1957—i.e. the year the USSR sent Sputnik up.

Dad landed in Japan at the end of that around-the-world tour. He traveled from Tokyo on a train through Hiroshima on to the famous village of Iwakuni, Japan to visit a high school classmate of his stationed on a marine base there—i.e. near the famous wooden bridge of Iwakuni. On his way, he read John Hershey’s book HIROSHIMA.

In short, my dad modeled a lifelong fascination with global cultures. He wanted younger Americans to have such an experience. These experiences of my father connected me to the world at a young age—through him showing slides. Without a doubt, this is why I became a history and social studies instructor.

However, my father indicated time-and-again that learning was a life-long endeavor. He read voraciously 7000 books by the time he had passed away. He said I would need to change my jobs as economic and global forces came along. He impressed this upon me in my high school years.

In the wake of 9-11 and in the wake of another economic downturn with high unemployment in the USA, Americans need to become empowered educationally. Foreign language education is one way. International cultural literacy is the other way.

One obvious concern of a global natures is global warming.

The global climate reduction regime is still quite synonymous with the Kyoto Framework on Global Warming. Having lived in Japan, I was quite pleased that Japan took such a strong posture on this global problem while, at the same time, I have been quite dismayed that American Senators were so ill-informed on how the U.S., China, and India needed to be brought on board.

This very awareness that the heating atmosphere which we all share ends only 6 to 7 miles up should impress upon us all the realization that we need to be more concerned at a multinational level about certain global matters. Getting-to-know states around the globe rather than vilifying them should be the focus of this new century—whether we are talking about Japan, North Korea, China, Russia, or somewhere in Arabia.

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