For a variety of reasons, Asia is largely neglected in the nation’s schools. In recent years there appears to be a growing interest among college and university-level Asianists to work with school teachers who are interested in increasing student understanding of Asia. However, in part because the school and the university are in many ways two different cultures, collaboration is not an easy process. Lesley Solomon is perhaps one of the most uniquely qualified people in the United States with whom to explore the issue of how Asia can be promoted in the nation’s schools.
Lesley Solomon received her B.A. in History and M.A. and Ph.D. in International Relations with a concentration in East Asian History and Government. For the past 17 years, Lesley has taught History, English, and Humanities in two high schools in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Solomon has won numerous teaching awards, including being selected as New Jersey’s 1995 Humanities Teacher of the Year. Solomon is currently president of the Mid-Atlantic Conference of the Association of Asian Studies. In the following interview with EAA editor Lucien Ellington, Solomon discusses how her interest in Asia developed, her own classroom efforts, and how university professors and school teachers might more effectively collaborate to improve student understanding of Asia.
“LIKE MANY EDUCATORS, I COULD NO LONGER WILLINGLY TEACH A CURRICULUM THAT WAS NOT MEETING THE NEEDS OF LATE TWENTIETH CENTURY STUDENTS. . . . AMERICAN STUDENTS MUST LEARN ABOUT THE VALUES, THE HISTORIES, AND THE LITERATURE OF NON-WESTERN CULTURES.”
How did you become interested in Asian studies?
As a history student at the University of Pennsylvania in the l960s, I decided to take a course which was off the beaten track for most history majors. The course was “An Introduction to Asian History” taught by Professor F. Hilary Conroy. Fifteen years later, Dr. Conroy would serve as my dissertation advisor. As the course introduced me to the history of this part of the world, I could not understand why this important material had not been a part of my regular high school and college history curriculums. Unfortunately, Asian history and cultures were still virtually invisible from the high school program when I resumed my teaching career in the late l970s. Upon graduation from college, I began my teaching career as a history teacher at the Masterman Junior High School in Philadelphia. At the same time, I pursued my interest in Asian history at the University of Pennsylvania. Eventually, I received an M.A. and later a Ph.D. in International Relations with a concentration in East Asian history and government. When I returned to teaching as a high school teacher, my major focus became the introduction of Asian studies into a Western-oriented curriculum. Moreover, I decided to adopt the interdisciplinary approach used in the International Relations program at Penn.