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Outreach Programs at the National Resource Centers for the Study of Asia

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Increasingly, Asian history, culture, language, and politics are being integrated into the K-12 curriculum in schools across the nation. Many teachers are now teaching subjects, then, in which they received little or no training while in college. Fortunately, however, centers for the study of Asia at universities around the country have, under the auspices of Title VI of the Higher Education Act, established National Resource Centers (NRCs). One of the nine programs within the Center for International Education of the U.S. Department of Education, NRCs support improvement of university library collections, academic research by faculty, language instruction, and curriculum development, as well as promote outreach to K-12, community college, and four-year college teachers. These outreach efforts take the form of information, lesson plans, learning opportunities, and instructional materials about Asia. There are currently fifteen NRCs for East Asia, nine for South Asia, and six for Southeast Asia. (note 1) The centers are scattered around the country, and while many provide some services nationwide, most outreach programs focus primarily on assisting teachers and professors in their own regions.

Perhaps most immediately useful to teachers are the curriculum guides, lesson plans, and resource materials offered, usually for a nominal charge or free, by many of these centers. The South Asian Center at Syracuse University, for example, provides teaching kits, some of which include comics from India, for teachers to use in classrooms. The University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana’s Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies also offers a study of cartoons from Japan. At the University of Hawaii’s Southeast Asia Center, they have developed lesson plans (one to two lessons each) on twenty-five different topics, as well as workbooks for high school students on the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

photograph of a man holding an elaborate puppet while viewers look on.
Professor Benedict Anderson demonstrates Kumb°akarn°a, a puppet from the traditional Javanese wayang (shadow play) during the workshop, “Understanding Southeast Asia: Stories from the Flow of Life” at the Kahin Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Cornell University, June 1996.

Columbia University’s East Asian Institute has run the East Asian Curriculum Project, and developed teaching workbooks on Japan and China. The Center for International Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis operates a resource library for teachers in the state which includes slide lessons, children’s literature, curriculum units, and cultural artifact kits. Cornell University’s East Asia Program has developed curricula for schoolchildren, using the resources of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. And for those who live near the University of
Pennsylvania, the outreach coordinator of its South Asian Center helps local teachers develop curriculum on South Asia, tailored to their specific needs.

Most of the outreach programs also offer video lending libraries of films about or from Asia. Cornell University’s Southeast Asia Program, for example, has thematic video packages which provide an interdisciplinary look at a country’s culture, history, and politics. The South Asian Center at the University of Virginia has made a special effort to collect video materials about Tibet, one of its areas of expertise. The East Asian Studies Center at Ohio State University has approximately twenty-five feature films and 200 documentaries on East Asian topics. Some programs restrict lending to their immediate area, but many others are willing to mail videos for a nominal fee and/or deposit. Most outreach centers with video lending libraries have catalogs available on request.

The outreach programs also offer many opportunities for continuing education, primarily in the form of institutes and workshops. They range in length from two hours to two weeks, may be held in schools or at the centers, and treat a wide variety of topics. In summer 1996, the University of California at Berkeley offered an institute titled “Waters of Life: Exploring the River Civilizations of China, Middle East and South Asia.” This workshop targeted California teachers of sixth and seventh grade, as did the Summer Institute at the University of California at San Diego for 1996, “The Great Wall: Connecting Past and Present.” Both of these institutes offer lectures by experts, information about resources, lesson plans, and small group discussions to enable teachers to learn from
each others’ experiences.

The three NRCs for Asia at the University of Michigan collaborate to offer the Teachers Institute in Asian Studies each year, for teachers in the midwest. Each fourday institute focuses on a different country or region, and draws on University of Michigan faculty and graduate students as well as K-12 teachers who have particular expertise in Asian studies. In summer 1995, Cornell University’s three Asia outreach centers also collaborated to offer a two-day workshop, “Teaching Asia through Cultural Media,” which provided teachers with information about festivals, food, literature, music, and drama appropriate for elementary, middle, or high school classroom use.

The outreach coordinators for East, South, and Southeast Asia at the University of Washington work closely together, often jointly sponsoring teacher training institutes, including the 1996 institute, “A World of Cities: Problems and Trends in Urban Centers.” The three centers for Asia worked with other area studies centers for an integrated, worldwide study of cities and urbanism. The University of Washington also sponsors popular travel/study programs. In summer 1996, teachers went to Hy¯ogo, Japan. These teachers gain knowledge and experience of Japan, and upon return have the opportunity to assist the East Asia Center with curriculum development and in leading workshops for other teachers.

The Speakers’ Bureau, which most outreach programs offer, is another means of providing information about specialized topics. Indiana University maintains a Global Speakers service, with speakers prepared to lecture on a wide variety of topics. This service is easily accessible through their toll-free number. The University of Chicago’s East Asian Studies program, in conjunction with the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, sponsors a lecture series for high school teachers and administrators. The Speakers’ Bureaus of the NRCs include experts on topics such as politics, economics, or history, and performance experts in music, drama, dance, storytelling, or puppetry.

Harvard University’s East Asia Council has taken an innovative approach to outreach. Its outreach program is located within the Children’s Museum in Boston and takes advantage of the resources and access to children which the museum offers. In their exhibit of a traditional house from Ky¯oto, Japan, children go into the house, taking off their shoes at the door. They get to explore, as well as have explained, traditional Japanese living arrangements, including stored bedding, a silk weaver’s shop, and eating customs. The museum also sponsors annual celebrations of festivals such as the Chinese and Japanese New Years.

The outreach programs of the National Resource Centers have much more to offer than can possibly be described in a short article, but the two best ways to learn about the offerings of the closest NRC are to get on their mailing lists, and visit their Web sites. Everyone on the mailing list of the East Asian Center at Indiana University receives their CultureSpeak brochures, brief brochures with information and activities about different cultural issues in East Asia. Current topics include Japanese traditions, festivals, and holidays; recent changes in the People’s Republic of China; and elementary and secondary education in Korea. Many of the newsletters provide short articles potentially useful in the classroom, but also keep teachers informed about newly available resources, opportunities for continuing education, and special programs.

Many of the NRCs also have their own Web sites. These Internet resources provide information available in many of the newsletters, although on a more timely basis, as well as information, photographs, maps, and stories which teachers may use in their classrooms.

Patricia O’Connell-Young, Outreach Coordinator at the University of Michigan’s Center for Chinese Studies, finds it very exciting to be working in the field of education about Asia because of the “almost universal acknowledgment of the active, vital, and important roles played by the countries of East Asia.” Students and teachers are interested in learning more about Asia, and she, like other Outreach Coordinators of the NRCs for Asia, are there to provide information and resources to satisfy that interest.

1. This article discusses a few outreach programs at universities which are not currently designated as National Resource Centers, but which receive some Title VI funding. For more information about the National Resource Center program, contact the Center for International Education at the U.S. Department of Education, 600 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington D.C. 20202-5247, phone 202-401-9798.
The program officer for East Asia is Cheryl Gibbs (202-401-9785) and for South and Southeast Asia, Uri Monson (202-401-9779).

*PDF includes a list of NRCs for Asia*