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‘Exploring Asia’ event leaves lasting impact on local educators

May 8, 2013

Inside the Seattle Times, on April 30, 2013, the workshop “Exploring Asia: Political Change in the 21st Century,” put on jointly by the JSIS Asia Centers and Center for Global Studies, with The Seattle Times, was winding down. However, many of the local educators who attended lingered, discussing all that they had heard and seen that night.

Skagit Valley College ESL instructor and Jackson School alumna Dorothy Carlson, class of 1991, was a first-time attendee of the “Exploring Asia” series.

Carlson attended the workshop because “I love to learn,” she explained. Carlson said there were many concepts she took away from the workshop and will apply to her teaching job at SVCC. Carlson was particularly interested in the idea of looking at Asian cultures through a native lens, rather than an American perspective.

“I wish there were more Jackson Schools,” she said, “because everybody is ethnocentric… and [the workshops] give you a different worldview perspective.”

For seven years, the Center for Global Studies, the Southeast Asia Center, the South Asia Center, the East Asia Resource Center, East Asia Center, and the Ellison Center for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies, have collaborated on an annual workshop series focusing on contemporary issues in Asia. Each year the theme is different: this year’s theme focused on the political climate of the different regions of Asia. Three speakers, Anand Yang, David Bachman, and Scott Radnitz, spoke about different regions of Asia and their political climates.

Educators learned, for example, about today’s Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, these countries produced one export (electricity, grain, water, etc.) and shared their exports with each other. Today, there are political tensions in regard to how to distribute these exports fairly.

Graduate students and faculty wrote articles for educators to base lesson plans around for their students, and also serve as the basis for the special curriculum developed by a curriculum specialist.

The Seattle Times, the Jackson School’s partner for this event, publishes one article a week for five weeks. The Times also helps develop, design and publish the teaching materials.
One exercise relates to the article published in The Seattle Times on May 15, “China’s 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress and the Challenges of the 21st Century.” After reading the article, students find an article or a blog by a Chinese person living in China that calls for political, social, or economic reform. Through the exercise, students learn about the political, social, and economic situations in China and how people manage to publish their opinions online despite the Chinese firewall, which censors Internet access.

These six JSIS centers work for nine months out of the year to put on not only this particular workshop, but many others as well, both in their respective departments and collaborating with others. They work with various community groups, local cultural organizations, and more in order to bring these different ethnic and cultural perspectives to the greater Seattle community primarily through educational workshops and seminars.

The Jackson School has eight Title VI resource centers. Developed by the federal government in response to the need for more international education in schools, Title VI promotes “language and area training, research, outreach, and… opportunities to develop these skills.” While Title VI focuses specifically on secondary education, it encourages resource centers to develop international curricula for K-12.

At the “Exploring Asia” workshop, curriculum specialist Tese Neighbor developed specific activities and supplementary readings based upon the five articles, such as pre-reading, post-reading, and synthesis activities. Neighbor went through each of the 51 activities with the educators at the workshop, encouraging them to “put a smiley face” next to at least 26 activities that educators want to do in class.

“The workshops’ priority is to educators,” explained Southeast Asia Center Outreach Coordinator Tikka Sears.

In addition to organizing workshops, the outreach centers also develop and plan accompanying curriculum guides, written by a curriculum specialist, that teachers can use in their classrooms.

While the “Exploring Asia” workshop was primarily for middle school and high school educators, the centers put on other workshops for K-12, secondary and community college educators, said Tamara Leonard, Associate Director for the Center for Global Studies.
The “Exploring Asia” workshop has a registration fee, but registering for access to the curriculum guides that accompany it is free. “We have anywhere from 300-800 people sign up to access these guides,” explained Sears.

The series is in its seventh year. Despite its success, organizers have had to prune back parts of the program. Budget cuts in particular played a role. For example, the “Exploring Asia” workshop used to include “spin-off” events such as lectures, concerts and performances, but over time the centers had to “prioritize on what was important,” Associate Director of the South East Asia Center Keith Snodgrass said. But “we kept the money for this program intact.”

The Jackson School’s relationship with their partner, The Seattle Times, changed as well. “I think the budget cuts were harder on them [than us],” Sears said. “Starting out, we didn’t have to pay them at all, and we didn’t have to up until three or four years ago.” The money that they pay The Times goes toward services such as layout, formatting and publication of the five educational articles the newspaper publishes.

The investment, however, is worth it. “This program has the potential for a lasting impact,” said Snodgrass, for educators and the generation of students who will gain international knowledge from these workshops.

Seattle Public Schools teacher Kim Wells has recognized this impact for some time now, taking academic classes at the Jackson School for several years and attending two other workshops. She appreciates the Jackson School workshops, particularly the “Exploring Asia” workshop, because “it’s just relevant, current information that I can use in the classroom that compares some of our policies with other countries and with different perspectives…I appreciate the academics behind it and the research.”

Wells, a U.S. history teacher, believes these types of workshops and curriculum to be especially great supplementary lessons for her students. “Their reactions are interesting,” said Wells. “They’re very intrigued by the lessons.”

Hoping to continue to fill the desire for multinational perspectives in the classroom, the Jackson School Title VI Centers expanded their reach to not only the greater Seattle community, but the greater national community. “We’ve presented this series for the National Council for Social Studies, where we had presented the curriculum,” said Leonard. “[Educators] were very surprised and pleased when we would pass out free CDs with the curriculum guides for them to use in their classrooms.”

Some of this year’s participants are already thinking about next year’s event. “I’ll return [to this workshop] next year,” Carlson said. “Definitely.”

By Melissa Croce