Mandated to teach about Asia, too few teachers are prepared to do so. A UCLA Asia Institute seminar addresses this need.
Judy Lin's story was originally published in UCLA Today on Nov. 8, 2005.
Brad Cheney probably knows more about Asian-American culture than most non-Asians. He grew up in multicultural Torrance with Asian-American friends. Today he works as a teacher at Jefferson Middle School, where more than a third of his students are of Asian descent.
But the curricula in his 7th-grade world history and 8th-grade English classes are “still very Western,” Cheney said. “I'd like to offer my students a global perspective.”
To that end, Cheney is spending a good chunk of his spare time in “East Asia and New Media in My Classroom,” a 40-hour seminar that helps teachers bring the worlds of China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and other Asian countries to their schools.
A creation of the UCLA Asia Institute, the 13-year-old program is the oldest and largest of its type in California. For the past four years the seminar has gone off campus into teachers' own communities. And hundreds of educators countywide, from the inner city to the San Gabriel Valley, have enrolled, partly because the California State Board of Education now mandates the study of Asia to help youth understand the region and its relationship to their lives and the nation's future.
Leading the seminar is Clayton Dube, assistant director of UCLA's Asia Institute and a veteran teacher trainer. Dube's enthusiasm for his subject matter, his teacher-students find, is infectious.
“Clayton hooked me from the very first class,” Cheney said. “As a teacher, you're always looking for new ways to challenge yourself and to excite your students.”
Dube recently led an animated philosophical debate among class participants role-playing Confucians, Mohists, Daoists and Legalists — an exercise the educators may adapt to apply in their own classrooms. “My experience is that kids really latch onto this,” said Dube, citing a student who created a hip-hop song to advocate Confucian doctrines.
Joining Dube as guest lecturers are some of the leading lights of Asian scholarship from UCLA and beyond. David Schaberg, codirector of the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies, leads the group in interpreting Chinese “Songs of Love and War,” circa 600 B.C. Fred Notehelfer, director of UCLA's Center for Japanese Studies, teaches about the rise of modern Japan, and E. Lynne Miyake, a Pomona College professor of Japanese literature and language, brings Japanese “manga” cartoon literature to class.
The seminar's popularity, said Dube, parallels a rapid rise in the teaching of Asian languages — Chinese in particular — to students as young as kindergarten age. More than 3,000 L.A. County K-12 students studied Chinese last year. These numbers are growing, said Dube, as parents seek to enhance their children's academic and economic prospects, and as children themselves develop interest in Asian cultures through television and other popular media.
When this group of seminars concludes, 20 alumni will take a three-week summer study tour that includes visits to schools, homes, hospitals and factories in Japan and China.
Nicole Ventura, a seminar participant and colleague of Cheney's at Jefferson, said she's thrilled to be learning about Asian culture.
“I've felt I had a cultural gap with my Asian students,” Ventura said. “They're excited to hear I'm coming to this class. One of my students said to me, ‘I hope you're going to learn about Korea.'"
For information about the UCLA Asia Institute's programs for teachers, please visit the Asia in the K-12 Curriculum section of the AI website. This program is a collaboration with the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia and is funded by the Freeman Foundation.