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The National Consortium for Teaching about Asia

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Teachers of world history, geography, and culture have a remarkable opportunity to participate in seminars and study tours with the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA). In addition to learning a great deal and becoming better equipped to teach about Asia with confidence and enthusiasm, those who complete these seminars earn points toward professional development, and receive both in-service credits and a stipend when they have completed the seminar. In some cases, teachers can earn graduate credits. Their schools also receive materials on Asia.

What is the NCTA? Begun in 1998, it is a multiyear national effort offering professional development for teaching about Asia, currently operating in forty-four states, with a projected lifetime of ten years. The consortium’s work is supported by the Freeman Foundation. NCTA seminars offer K–12 teachers a way to engage in in-depth study of Asia while working with local scholars and resource specialists. NCTA seminars focus primarily on China, Japan, and Korea. Participants attend thirty hours of seminars, then have the option to apply for NCTA-funded study tours to East Asia.

The long-term goal of the program is to encourage perma­nent inclusion of Asia in the K–12 curriculum of American schools. The NCTA’s strategy is to focus on grassroots profes­sional development, working directly with teachers at the local and school district level. This approach puts into practice research that has identified the critical role teachers play in educational change. Teachers with a sound knowledge base on a subject tend to spend more time and teach more creatively about it, regardless of what each state’s curriculum guidelines, standards, require­ments, or textbooks include. If Asia is to find a place in American classrooms, teachers need to know about Asia and feel informed and motivated to teach about it.

Already, close to 3,000 teachers have taken NCTA seminars and the response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic:

“Projects like this are great because many times textbooks are thrown at teachers and you are told to teach. This opportunity added to what I know and gave me new insights into how to bet­ter teach it.”

“Teachers want to be informed. We only teach what we understand and are comfortable with.”

In sum, it turns out that Asia, once you know about it, can fit in almost anywhere: “Before taking this seminar, I never even thought of putting Asian studies in my courses. Now I’m looking for opportunities to bring them in.”

“This [Asia] is so important! Why didn’t anyone tell me about it before?”

The NCTA Web site ( provides detailed information about NCTA activities in each state and cites each state’s educational policies and guidelines. It also provides excel­lent links to resources for teaching about Asia, and more.

a group photo of about 30 people
NCTA Annual Conference, Indianapolis 2002.

The NCTA program is in step with the growing eagerness among Americans, as documented in numerous reports and appar­ent in media presentations, to know and understand more about Asia. Anyone following the news today knows that Americans are more than ever connected to what happens within and among Asian nations.

One American foundation that feels strongly about the need for Americans to know more about Asia is the Freeman Founda­tion, which, in recent years, has generously funded Asia-related educational efforts. In 1997, the Foundation posed a challenge to educators to make education about East Asia a permanent part of every American’s pre-collegiate education. Educators working from East Asian centers in universities across the United States had spent, prior to 1997, two or more decades producing resource materials and running workshops for teachers on East Asia. Five of these centers came together, in response to the Foundation’s challenge, to propose the formation of a national collaborative effort to further education in K–12 classrooms. In 1998, the Free­man Foundation accepted their proposal and the National Consor­tium for Teaching about Asia was launched. The five centers are: Five College Center for East Asian Studies, in Northampton, Massachusetts; the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University in New York; the East Asian Studies Center of Indiana University at Bloomington; the Program for Teaching East Asia at the University of Colorado in Boulder; and the East Asia Resource Center at the University of Washington in Seattle.

In deciding where to offer initial seminars, the NCTA select­ed states where it seemed that the seminars and study tours would fill a need. They sought out other colleagues and institutions to work with NCTA as seminar leaders or outside speakers. Seminar leaders draw on local experts on Asia to bring outside speakers to the seminars, take field trips to museums or other places where resources for teaching about Asia might appear, and inform the seminar participants of Asian-related events, resources, and cele­brations in their region.

a photo of two people posing with a diploma
NCTA Study Tour participant receiving diploma after week stay at Beida, Beijing.

The seminars have been carefully designed to fit into current guidelines and curriculum standards for world history, world geography, and social studies especially. Teacher participants attend seminars of thirty hours duration, the majority of which are divided into ten three-hour sessions given over a span of months—once a week or every two or three weeks, depending on individual schedules and travel time. The syllabi include the geographies, languages, and early civilizations of China, Japan, and Korea, and move through history to the present. Seminar leaders choose one or two texts to form the core bibliogra­phy. Other texts, primary source readings, literature antholo­gies, maps, calligraphic materials, curriculum units, videos, and films, along with field trips to museums fill out the read­ing assignments. Participants receive a collection of these materials for their school libraries. Invited speakers include academic and/or curatorial experts on East Asia who work and live in the seminar area. Best practices in pedagogy are modeled by seminar leaders or invited teachers. Participants are required to complete an average of three assignments in the course of the seminar. The aim of these assignments is to help seminar participants retain the information presented and discussed in the seminar sessions by using it to fulfill the assignments.

A follow-up session with the seminar leader completes the professional training requirement and qualifies participants to receive stipends and choose resource materials for their school libraries. The end of the formal seminar is not the culmination of group energy and contact. The collegiality and sense of shared purpose that builds up between seminar members carries forward as alumni continue to meet for field trips, for further exchanges on teaching about Asia, or to feast together in celebration of, for instance, the Lunar New Year.

a group poses in front of a temple
NCTA Study Tour in China. Photo Courtesy of Robert Richter.

Participation in seminars and follow-up activities has shown that the NCTA alumni are ready to bring new knowledge into their classrooms and that they have found the whole experience immensely valuable. Testimonials such as the following are com­mon on seminar evaluation forms:

“Great seminar! This has been worth all the time and effort.”

“The resources and teaching strategies have allowed me to grow professionally and to gain confidence in my ability to teach about Asia.”

“I feel I grew a great deal professionally. From sheer expo­sure to new ideas, detailed history, group discussions, and activi­ties, my knowledge of China and Japan has grown tenfold.”

“This seminar gave me many new ideas and inspired me to learn more about the comparisons I can make between the history of the U.S. and the histories of China and Japan.”

The NCTA summer study tours for alumni were initiated in the summer of 2001. Tours have gone to China, Japan, and Korea; others have focused on a single country. Some tours include teachers from only one state, some have teachers from several. Reunions have begun to take place to enable the travelers to exchange ideas on bringing their experiences into the classroom. As with the seminars, study tours have elicited an enthusiastic response:

“The curriculum I developed as a result of the NCTA seminar and study tour has been shared . . . with Indiana University [and] the University of California at Santa Barbara. My colleagues have also used these lesson plans (Shintoism and Buddhism) in their classes.”

a man peers over the shoulder of a young boy as he practices his calligraphy
Visiting a Japanese school during a calligraphy lesson.
many people watch a line of woman thread silk
NCTA Study Tour visit to a silk factory
in China.
a woman holds up her teacup for another woman to see
NCTA Study Tour includes a demonstration
of a Japanese tea ceremony.

“Korea was an unexpected delight. I must confess to having been woefully ignorant about this country . . . I was delighted by the vitality of the Korean people as illustrated in their art, dance, and architecture. This is a country I want to read and learn more about, especially its history.”

Because the NCTA seminar training can be applied to the teaching of history, geography, culture, literature, and art, the NCTA participates in the national meetings of several educational organizations and seeks collaboration with their state and local affil­iates, including: the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS), the National Council of Geographic Educators (NCGE), the World History Association (WHA), and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCGE). This collaboration and networking reaches educators at several levels who might not otherwise know of the NCTA and encourages them to become involved. Many NCTA seminar leaders are also leaders in these organizations.

The NCTA holds its annual national meeting in the fall in Indianapolis. Seminar leaders, national directors and their associ­ates, and invited speakers meet in plenary sessions and small groups to discuss ways to broaden the reach and impact of NCTA through recruitment strategies, new resources, follow-up activities, study tours, and initiatives in new areas. New strategies are con­sidered, such as working with the educational, business, and polit­ical leaders in a state to reinforce what teachers are bringing to the classrooms from their NCTA seminars, and the promotion of direct school-to-school exchange between American and Asian schools.

While the NCTA reaches out to more teachers interested in taking its seminars, it is also engaging others in the educational system. Principals, supervisors, and others involved in state edu­cation policies are beginning to notice the classroom effects of NCTA training, while at the same time becoming aware of the importance of Asia in the school curriculum. They are joining the effort to establish a permanent place for Asia in the school cur­riculum. This is wonderfully encouraging to all those who have joined in the NCTA effort. Readers of this article are encouraged to add their strengths to make this a truly successful enterprise, a landmark in educational change.

For further information, please go to or contact the NCTA coordinating site directors:

Kathleen Woods Masalski

Five College Center for East Asian Studies

tel: 413-585-3751; email:

Roberta Martin

Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University

tel: 212-854-6906; email:

Jacques Fuqua

East Asian Studies Center, Indiana University

tel: 812-855-3765; email:

Lynn Parisi

Program for Teaching East Asia, University of Colorado

tel: 303-735-5122; email

Mary Hammond Bernson

East Asia Resource Center, University of Washington, Seattle

tel: 206-543-1921; email:

Institutions, schools and school districts, and organizations involved in National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA) programs

This list, while in formation and incom­plete in details, illustrates the range of those participating in NCTA programs.


Columbia University, NY

Five College Center for East Asian Studies,

Five Colleges, Inc., MA

Indiana University

University of Colorado

University of Washington


China Institute, NY

Clark University, MA

Furman University, SC

Los Angeles Center for International Studies at Loyola Marymount University

New Hampshire Humanities Center Princeton University, NJ

Rhode Island College

Rice University, TX

SPICE, Institute for International Studies,

Stanford University, CA

University of California, Los Angeles

University of Florida

University of Kansas University of Pittsburgh

University of North Carolina

University of Oklahoma

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

World Affairs Council of Northern California


Adams Five Star School District, CO

Ardsley Union Free School District, NY

Bangor High School, ME

Belchertown High School, MA

Boulder Valley School District, Colorado

Broken Arrow Public Schools, OK

Cherry Hill Schools, NJ

DeKalb County School System, GA

Emerson Junior-Senior High School, NJ

Grant Wood Area Education Agency, IA

Hacienda La Puente Unified School District (USD), CA

Heartland Area Education Agency, IA

Holland Hall School, OK

Jenks Public Schools, OK

Jericho Union Free School District, NY

Jordan School District, UT

Lincoln Public Schools, NE

Littleton School District, Colorado

Long Beach Schools, CA

Los Angeles Unified School District, CA

Northwest Arkansas Educational Cooperative

Oakland School System, CA

Oklahoma City Public Schools, OK

Omaha Public Schools, NE

Park Tudor Schools, Indianapolis, IN

Poudre School District, CO

Rowland Heights USD, CA

San Francisco Unified District, CA

Sapulpa Public Schools, OK

Springfield School System, MA

Syosset Central School District, NY

Tulsa Public Schools, OK

Walnut Valley USD, CA

Yonkers Public School, NY


Adult Education Center, Hartford, CT

Connecticut Department of Education

Connecticut Geographic Alliance

East-West Center, HI

Experiment in International Living, VT

Houston Center of the Asia Society

Indiana Department of Education

International Division, Oklahoma

Department of Commerce

Iowa Council for the Social Studies

Maine Humanities Council

Maine World Affairs Council

Massachusetts Department of Education

New Hampshire Geographic Alliance

New Hampshire Humanities Council

North Carolina Center for International Understanding

Oklahoma Department of Education Tulsa Global Alliance, OK

Virginia Department of Education, Office of International Education

Windham Supervisory Union, VT

World Affairs Council of Richmond, VA

World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, PA

World Affairs Council of Washington

Colleges and universities

Arizona State University

Augustana College, IL

Bowdoin College, ME

Brooklyn College of the City University of New York

Carroll College, MT

Cape Cod Community College, MA

Center for East Asian Studies and the Asia/Pacific Research Center, Stanford University, CA

Cleveland State University, OH

Colorado College

Croft Institute of International Studies,

University of Mississippi

Duke University, NC

Emory University, GA

Fairfield University, CT

Kansas State University Keene State College, NH

Lasell College, MA

Lewis-Clark State College, ID

Loyola University, LA

Macalester College, MN

Mercyhurst College, PA

Michigan State University

Middle Tennessee State University

Montclair State University, NJ

Nazareth College, NY

Northeastern State University, OK

Rose State College, OK

Slippery Rock University, PA

Trinity University, TX

University of Alabama

University of Arkansas

University of Central Oklahoma

University of Georgia

University of Hartford, CT

University of Massachusetts-Amherst

University of Maryland, College Park

University of Michigan

University of Montana

University of Nevada at Las Vegas

University of Chicago, IL

University of Kentucky

University of Louisville, KY

University of Pittsburgh, PA

University of North Texas

University of Southern California

University of Toledo, OH

Virginia Commonwealth University

Wesleyan University, CT

West Virginia University-Shepherdstown

Wittenberg University, OH

For further information, please go to the NCTA Web site: