Lynn Parisi, winner of the 1998 Association for Asian Studies Franklin Buchanan Prize for the Development of Curricular Materials, is an Associate Director of the Boulder, Colorado-based Social Science Education Consortium and Director of its Rocky Mountain Japan Project. Lynn, a national leader in Asian studies outreach for K-12 teachers, is also an innovative and incredibly productive educator. In the following interview with Lucien Ellington, Parisi addresses a wide range of issues that relate to teaching and learning about Asia.
Lynn, congratulations on winning the Buchanan Prize. Can you share with our readers how you became interested in Asia and, specifically, in educating K-12 teachers in Japanese and Asian studies?
Lucien, thank you; I’m honored to have received this award and to have the opportunity to talk with you and Education About Asia readers about the field of Asian studies outreach.
I suspect that my path into Asian studies is hardly unique. For me, the impetus was a Chinese history course I elected in college. I probably chose the course for convenience, but it was a watershed. It was the first non-Western studies course I had taken and it literally jolted me out of any assumptions about the world revolving around and responding to Western models and standards. I went on to a master’s program in Asian studies with a focus in Chinese history, and then into the world of employment, which did not much value such a degree. I was interested in outreach, but outreach programs were limited to a few Title VI outreach centers.
There is actually a nice symmetry for me in receiving this award because, following graduate school, I wrote a letter to Franklin Buchanan. I didn’t know him but I knew Focus on Asian Studies, which he edited and published out of his center at Ohio State. Working on that journal seemed like a dream job, so I asked Professor Buchanan if he needed help or had any advice about similar jobs. He wrote back a very supportive letter, explaining that the journal was a small operation, but encouraging me to go into teaching and stay involved with the study of Asia. I did go into teaching, which, in turn, led to the opportunity to travel and study in China with the first U.S. Office of Education program for K-12 teachers in 1980. It was a fascinating time to be in China, witnessing Mao slogans being painted over on public buildings.
From China, I resigned from my teaching job back home and went to Taiwan. After two years traveling in Southeast Asia and teaching in Taiwan and Japan, I returned to the United States, where things had changed considerably for Asian outreach, particularly related to Japan. I was fortunate to join the Social Science Education Consortium, a private not-for-profit that encourages its staff to develop programs to address needs in K12 social studies education. Encouraged and guided by people like Linda Wojtan and others who welcomed us as newcomers in the field, my colleague Jacquelyn Johnson, and I developed a local educational program on Japan that was then funded by the United States-Japan Foundation as the Rocky Mountain Japan Project (RMJP).