Group Created To Promote Asian Curriculum in Schools

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A national commission will work to expand the teaching of Asia- related issues to American schoolchildren in an effort to address what two new polls suggest is U.S. students' and adults' lack of essential knowledge about the most populous continent.

The National Commission on Asia in Schools, sponsored by the New York City-based Asia Society, will devise strategies over the next 18 months to ensure that teachers understand the increasing economic, cultural, and political role of Asia and that such topics are incorporated into school curricula.

"Americans need to know about Asia because half the people of the world live there, our economies are ever more intertwined, and because we have major national security issues there," said James A. Kelly, the founding president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the vice chairman of the new commission.

"Yet schools have not changed their curriculums and developed their capacities to learn about Asia as quickly as they might in response to the growing importance of Asia," he said.

French Spoken Here

According to Asia Society surveys, the results of which were released last week, most teachers and students do not have even a basic knowledge of Asian history or culture. Among the social studies teachers, high school students, and adults questioned, more than two-thirds did not know that some 60 percent of the world's population lives in the Asia-Pacific region.

The nonprofit organization's study of textbooks, curriculum standards, and teacher-preparation programs also found that:

  • No states require teacher-candidates to have specific content background pertaining to Asia.
  • None of the top 50 U.S. colleges or universities requires even a single course in Asian studies for a degree in history or social studies.
  • Asian languages are "virtually ignored" in U.S. schools. While more than 1 million American students study French—a language spoken by about 100 million people worldwide—only 8,700 study Chinese, which is spoken by more than a billion people.
  • K-12 instructional materials on Asia, Asian-American affairs, and Asian languages are scarce.

The commission is made up of 30 education, public-policy, and business representatives. It is co-chaired by Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina; Chang-Lin Tien, a former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley; and Charlotte Mason, a world history teacher in Newton, Mass. The Asia Society has drafted a 15-year, $10 million plan to implement the recommendations.

Vol. 19, Issue 16, Page 8

Published in Print: December 15, 1999, as Group Created To Promote Asian Curriculum in Schools
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