Teachers Explore Islam, Asian Literature, at Summer Institutes

35 Los Angeles area school teachers attend two-week in-depth in-service sponsored by five International Institute centers and programs.

"I got a real appreciation for the diversity of the Muslim people," one teacher said afterward. "Also, I have realized how one-sided our typical lessons are -- everything is about the Christian West, very little about input from other cultures." Seventeen high school and middle school teachers had just completed a two-week seminar on "Islam in the Contemporary World," presented this summer for the second year. Another 18 attended a parallel two-week seminar on "The World of Asian Literature." These all-day sessions were the 22nd annual teacher training institutes in international studies sponsored at UCLA by the International Institute and its predecessor organizations.

This year the two workshops were held concurrently from Saturday, July 26, through Thursday, August 7. Islam in the Contemporary World was sponsored by the UCLA International Institute, the James S. Coleman Center for African Studies, the Center for European and Eurasian Studies, Center for Near Eastern Studies, and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies. It explored the diverse forms and meanings of Islam in the daily lives of Muslims living in Africa, Europe, South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Asia, and North America--how popular Islamic practices and meanings differ by gender, class, and region; and how social and historical contexts have shaped specific forms and understandings.
The workshop on Asian Literature heard lectures on the Asian classics and important newer works. It also looked at how this literature has been translated into films and television shows and how it can be used to better understand social relations and cultural norms. It included a session on manga, the comic book art that has swept Japan, attracting people of all ages over the last few decades -- including many in the United States.

Islam in the Contemporary World

The sessions on Islam were organized by Sherry Vatter of the History Department of California State University, Long Beach, and Jonathan Friedlander, the International Institute's outreach director. They included several general introductory surveys of Islamic history and beliefs, a tour of the Fowler Museum's exhibit on the Sufi saint Amadou Bamba led by art historian Allen Roberts; and talks on such diverse subjects as popular religion in Turkey; Islamic health practices in North Africa and Southeast Asia; Islamic rites in Nigeria; Islamic cultures in Indonesia; Middle Eastern literature; music of Bosnian Muslims; Muslim immigrant communities in Great Britain and Germany; spiritual healing in a West African Muslim community; Islamic cultures in countries of the former Soviet Union; and the history and politics of Muslims in the Philippines. Several films were shown. There was also a session on the post-9/11 backlash against Muslims in the United States. A highlight of the series was a performance of Filipino Muslim traditional kulintang music by Danongan Kalanduyan supported by a group of UCLA Ethnomusicology students.

Because they are an "invisible" minority, not counted by the U.S. Census, the presence of Middle Easterners and Muslims in the United States is usually underestimated. Current conservative estimates are that there are perhaps 3 million Middle Easterners in the country as a whole, with the highest concentration here in California. But while not all Middle Easterners are Muslims, neither are most Muslims Middle Easterners, despite the popular stereotype. The three largest communities of Muslims in the world, the teachers learned, are, in order of size, in Indonesia, India, and Bangladesh, and Nigeria ties Turkey, Iran, and Egypt for 5th place.

One teacher wrote in an evaluation at the end of the sessions that "it helped me develop activities to expose the students to Islamic poets and different cultural and religious mindsets, beliefs and views -- hopefully creating more understanding and tolerance. Indirectly it helped me be a more educated, understanding, sensitive teacher -- which always benefits the children." Another wrote: "My eyes have been opened to the experience of others. Preconceived notions were replaced with an understanding and appreciation of a group of people that have and continue to contribute greatly to our global society." Yet another wrote: "From a survey course ten years ago, you have developed an in-depth, scholarly review of multi-cultural Islam of which UCLA should be proud."

Lecturers at the sessions were all specialists in the subject drawn from a wide variety of institutions. In addition to Sherry Vatter from CSU Long Beach, other presenters included Juan Campo and Mark Soileau, Department of Religious Studies, UC Santa Barbara; Ben Zimmer, Anthropology, UCLA; Barbara Pillsbury, International Health and Development Associates; Muhammad S. Umar, Arizona State University, in residence this year as a UCLA International Institute Global Fellow; Nezar Andary, Comparative Literature, UCLA; Rajna Klaser, Music, UC Berkeley;  Pinar Kizir Tremblay, Political Science, UCLA; Ray Silverman, History of Art, University of Michigan; Mehdi Bozorgmehr, Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center, City University of New York; Irina Gutkin, Foreign Languages and Humanities, Los Angeles City College; and Barbara Gaerlan, UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

Asian Literature

Striking a different note, the Asia Institute in collaboration with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies took their group of 18 teachers through a landscape of ancient Chinese and Indian literature, classical Chinese philosophy and poetry, South and Southeast Asian art, and ancient and modern Japanese cultural creations. The sessions included:

  • Story telling in India and Indonesia;
  • the birth of Chinese philosophy;
  • Chinese poetry of the Tang and Song period;
  • premodern Korean literature;
  • late Ming literati life;
  • modern Vietnamese literature and film;
  • early classical Japanese literature, particularly the Tale of Genji;
  • short fiction and folktales of Southeast Asia;
  • gender in Indian, Singaporean and Filipino societies;
  • separate sessions on modern Japanese, Chinese, and Korean literature;
  • and a session on Japanese manga graphic art stories.

The group also viewed and discussed two films exploring divided societies in Asia (Joint Security Area, focusing on Korea and Earth, focusing on India), and they traveled to North Hollywood's Wat Thai Buddhist temple. The program included three workshops where teachers strengthened their ability to use the web with their students.

The sessions were organized by Clayton Dube, assistant director of the Asia Institute, with support from Linda Truong and Miranda Ko from the Institute and Barbara Gaerlan from the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

Besides Dube, seminar presenters included Mary Zurbuchen, UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies; several faculty members from UCLA's department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, including David Schaberg, Jennifer Jung-Kim, Theodore Huters, Thu-Huong Nguyen-Vo, Seiji Lippit, and Walter Lew; Yang Ye, Comparative Literature, UC Riverside; Lynne Miyake, Asian Languages and Literature, Pomona College; Robert Brown, Art History, UCLA, and curator of LACMA's South and Southeast Asian collection; Teri Yamada, Comparative Literature, Cal State University Long Beach; and Esha De, UCLA Writing Programs.

Bucky Schmidt of Holmes Middle School in Northridge said afterward that he would use the manga characters and style to teach students to draw a cartoon series to summarize things they had learned. Jerome Robinson, who teaches 9th grade at Granada Hills High School, said he would base some of his lessons on the ancient Indian epic poem the Mahabharata. And Janette Lopez, who teaches 6th grade at Lawrence Middle School in Chatsworth, said she planned to have her students do a puppet show based on the Ramayana, India's other famous epic poem.

In a web forum of the Asia Institute running during the seminars Mehgan Manes, who teaches at Orville Wright Middle School in Los Angeles, wrote, "I enjoyed the field trip very much. The highlight was listening to Professor Brown explain the connections between Hinduism and Buddhism and contrast them with the Judeo/Christian/Islamic traditions. I thought it was an excellent way to present the material. I also loved learning about the Gods and why they are so popular. I plan to locate 6th grade level books on those stories for my literature unit on India and China."

Another teacher in a written evaluation of Lynn Miyake's presentation on the Tale of Genji writes: "Enjoyable and careful explanation of the style and content of classical Japanese literature. Much of this can be used to inform and add to my lessons on Japan."

Teachers and others concerned with strengthening the presentation of Asian topics should visit the Asia in the K-12 Curriculum and Resources sections of the Asia Institute website. Among the resources there is a web discussion board where teachers exchange ideas on ways to bring Asia into their classrooms.

Both of the seminar series were funded by the U.S. Department of Education through its Title VI National Resource Center program. Teachers completing all the seminar requirements are eligible to receive either 4 LAUSD salary credits or 4 University Extension unit credits.

Participants came from schools all over the county, in Redondo Beach, Rowland Heights, Eagle Rock, San Pedro, Azusa, Tarzana, Chatsworth, Northridge, Sherman Oaks, and Woodland Hills. Many of Los Angeles' major high schools were also represented, including Hollywood, Los Angeles, Hamilton, Cleveland, and Beverly Hills, as well as the County's program at Juvenile Hall. As part of their experience at the summer institute seminars the teachers are committed to develop lesson plans over the next month incorporating the materials they studied. The best of these will be made available via the web.

Published: Monday, August 11, 2003