Education About Asia: Online Archives

EAA Interview: Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. on Asia in the Schools

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Editor’s Note:

Former four-time North Carolina Governor James B. Hunt is extremely well known for his work in education reform. Not only did Governor Hunt provide leadership that resulted in dramatic improvements in North Carolina schools, but he also became a national figure in school change through serving as Founding Chair of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Founding Chair of the National Center for Public Policy and Education, and Chair of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.

Governor Hunt also has a long-time interest in Asia and the connection between Asian studies and American education. The Governor is now Co-chair of the Asia Society and Freeman Foundation-sponsored National Commission on Asia in the Schools, which just released its report in June of this year. Currently, Governor Hunt is with Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge and Rice, PLLC and is a trustee of the Asia Society.

What follows is an interview with Governor Hunt on the importance of improving teaching about Asia and strategies to achieve that goal. This interview would not have been possible without the dedicated efforts of Namji Steinemann. Namji, who is also an EAA editor, was Vice President of the Education Division of the Asia Society until summer 2001 and is now Associate Director of Education Programs at the East-West Center in Honolulu.

Lucien: Governor Hunt, could you please inform our readers how you became interested in Asia and about any memorable experiences you’ve had in Asian countries?

Governor Hunt: My fascination with Asia has deep roots, beginning with the two years I spent in Nepal as a Ford Foundation Economic Advisor to His Majesty’s Government in 1964–6. We lived in Kathmandu, but my work took me over a good part of the country—often on foot. In fact, my wife had our third child there in a missionary hospital. You never forget those early experiences, especially those that allow you to travel to different parts of the world and to live and work in a new cultural setting. Later, as governor of North Carolina, I worked to help the public and the business communities understand just how intricately our economy is intertwined with that of Asia and other nations. North Carolina businesses compete directly with those of many Asian nations, so the competition is real. As part of that educational and economic mission, I led many trade delegations to Asian nations, and I’m proud to say we were able to attract substantial investment in North Carolina from that part of the world. I learned early in my career just how closely connected we are with Asia, and it was a small leap to realizing that we need to do a better job of educating students for a world in which Asia has become so important.