There are many simple ways to engage students and to make them realize that Asia is now, and always has been, part of their lives.
- In class have students look at the labels on their clothes, their book bags, etc., and see how many were made in Asia. Continue this at home, by asking them to look around their homes (and garages) and see if they can find ten things made in Asia (TVs, VCRs, DVDs, kitchen appliances, dishes, cars, clothes, toys, etc. are some that come readily to mind. Have them bring in their lists and share them by having the students work in groups to compile lists of similar things they have found (kinds of toys, kinds of appliances, etc).
- Take the class on a walk through your town to see what Asian shops and contents you can find. Are there Asian restaurants, Asian martial arts studios, Asian specialty shops? Then go into your local grocery store and have students make list of Asian food they find (look at spices, noodles, teas, a sushi bar, a special section for Asian foods, etc.). This could also be done in a toy store. Then discuss the things that we take for granted that are made in Asia and see what they feel about this.
- Put together a display of items that we use today that were invented, discovered or first grown in Asia: such as paper, printing, the compass, tea, silk, porcelain, gunpowder (fireworks), rice, wheelbarrow, etc. Discuss the importance of each item through history and today. What would our world be like without paper? How would sailors have found their way without a compass?
- Show a film, either part or all of one of the Miyazaki films that appeal to young children, such as Totoro or Kiki's delivery service (These are available at Blockbusters). Have the students find things in the movies that are similar to those in the U.S. and those that are different. Discuss what these differences and similarities mean.
- Children can be given a good map of Asia (maps from AskAsia) and asked to locate the major mountains, rivers, good land for farming, good land for grazing, etc. Look at where the people have settled and discuss why they settle there. What can they learn from a map? One interesting exercise it to look at the trade routes-for example, the great Asian Silk Road (Askasia silk road info) and see what it meant to transfer goods by camel and horse thousands of miles across inhospitable land (camel caravan).
- One good way to introduce children to a country in Asia is to look at pictures of cultural artifacts, such as temples, festivals, musical instruments, art works such as sculpture, monuments such as the great wall, an imperial palace, the terracotta warriors, etc. Images of all of these can be found in the individual country sections which will link you to websites with these images.
Another good idea is to look at the way people eat and discuss what this tells you about a culture. Bring chopsticks to class (these can be purchased in bulk at most grocery stores) and teach the kids to use them. Order some Chinese takeout food and have the children eat with chopsticks. Bring pictures of a Chinese meal (round table, communal dishes, individual rice bowls). Look at the things the Chinese eat, the ways it is prepared, and the things they don't traditionally eat (dairy products). What does this tell you about the culture (for example, to eat the food with chopsticks, the food must be in fairly small pieces as there are no knives at the table. This in term means more chopping for the cook but less cooking time-hence less use of a scare commodity-fuel).
For centuries, the Chinese ate almost everything (scarcity of food) except dairy products (one explanation is that the Chinese were always primarily farmers, not herders whereas the nomads to the West and North of China were herders who drank milk and ate cheese. Since the Chinese considered themselves more civilized, eating dairy products became seen as a sign of being uncivilized.) The emphasis on a grain based diet may also be evidence of early overpopulation as a Chinese history as early as 500 B.C. (BCE) has a ruler complaining about "each man has 5 sons, and each of those sons has five sons, and soon there is no land to go around!" So to many people for the land has always been a Chinese problem.
Having looked at the way the Chinese eat, then turn and look at the way Indians eat. Show a picture of an Indian meal, showing people eating with the right hand (depending upon the maturity of the class, you can discuss WHY the right hand only is used) on individual trays and discuss why, unlike the Chinese who eat from communal dishes the Indians, with their fear of pollution, and their caste society, never share the same plate or bowl (to do so, means to take on another's pollution and signifies one's humility and inferiority to the person from whose plate one eats-thus a wife may eat from her husbands plate, a subject from his rulers, and everyone from food offered to the gods). Discuss what this style of eating tells you about the society. Have the students practice eating with their right hand only (bring in a rice and lentil mixture for them to practice on). Then discuss how it makes them feel.
- Many Asian countries place tremendous attention upon the family system and traditionally have practiced an extended family system. In this system, sons don't leave home upon marriage; instead they bring their brides to their parent's home, and continue to live together. This form of marriage is very different from the nuclear system that we have in the US today. However, the difference is not just one of closer physical family ties; it makes marriage mean something very different for men and for women. Men remain in the home in which they grew up and retain close ties with their parents, especially their mothers who often continue in the caretaking roles they have always had and often are the first to respond to their sons' needs. Thus a man's experience of family is continuous; marriage adds a new person to the family but doesn't fundamentally alter his situation. Since the woman is moving into the family, then the parents, especially the mother, want a hand in selecting the girl who will share their home; thus men have less say in their choice of life partners than in our society.
The girl on the other had has a totally discontinuous experience of family life. Brought up in one family, she will leave that family and move into another. Her new family may have different habits, different foods, and different ways of doing things than she was used to. However, she is the stranger in the new house and must adjust to the new ways. Her ties to her natal family are supposed to become less strong and she is to consider herself a member of her new family. She has to compete with her husband's mother for his attention rather than having her husband to herself.
Have the students, in groups, discuss how they would feel if they had to move into a stranger's house upon marriage, with all decisions, such as what and when to eat, how to divide the housework, when to go out, how to care for your own children, was decided by a mother-in-law. What ways can they come up with that would make this transition easier? What should their own parents do in selecting a mate to help them adjust more easily? Look at the men's points of view as well as the women's. While they don't leave home, men also, as adults, remain subject to their parents, and must have many decisions "vetted' by parents; thus they too lack independence. Have the students then discuss how this would shape ones actions, one's sense of responsibility; what can men do to make their own and their brides situations easier? Conclude by discussing the ways that modern life is breaking down this system in many countries. What factors would contribute to the breakdown of this system?
- Have the students go to the school or local library and find a book about Asia: a collection of folk tales, a novel, a sort story, a biography. Have the student read the book, write a short report that she/he can present to the class, focusing on the questions of culture raised by the book. Students can draw pictures to illustrate their points. The class could cooperate and create a web site to encourage discussion of their books, etc.
- View a film as a class and discuss the questions of values raised in the film. Miyasaki's very popular "Spirited Away" is an excellent choice (available at Blockbusters) as it has the heroine saving her parents (a popular Asian theme and one which illustrates the filial piety so prevalent in East Asian culture). It also raises the questions of greed (that's why her parents were turned into pigs), and of the environment (the wonderful scene where the spirit of the river vomits up all the debris people have tossed into the river), and of the relations between superior and inferior (the way the girl does favors to those who will then assist her to rescue her parents). Another good movie choice is "Kikujiro" (also at Blockbusters) about a small boy who undertakes a journey to find his mother and is befriended at every turn by strangers. It raises questions of family and shows aspects of Japanese culture. Another film choice is "Not one less" a story about a 14 year old Chinese girl who is sent to teach a rural village school and, while she is unable to teach, does manage, through her stubborn insistence that all students at least stay in the school, brings about educational reform. The students could discuss how they would feel in the same situation as the 14 year old "teacher". While this film may seem farfetched with a 14 year old teacher, remember that 16 year old high school graduates were still employed to teach rural schools in the U.S. in the early 20th century.
- There are a number of good teaching modules dealing with themes of development which make clear the problems faced by some Asian countries. Askasia has two very good ones: "India, "How much is there to eat?" dealing with an understanding of the food problem related to population; and "Environment and Conservation: Japan", discussing the difficulties of conservation in an advanced society.
- To have the students think about the problems that come with lots of people and lack of development, whether it is the provision of schooling, medical care, housing, clean water, or food, make a comparison between the U.S. and an Asian country. First look a the square miles of the U.S. and its total population, its per capita income and GNP; then divide the class into groups and have each pick an Asian country and find out the same information: square miles and population, per capita income and GNP. Be sure and look at countries such as Bangadesh and Indonesia, as well as Japan, China and India.. Compare how much the U.S. and the target Asian country has available to spend on these basics: food, housing, education, medical care. Discuss ways that the Asian country can maximize use of their money; discuss what the priorities are when money is less than ideal.
- Pick 4 countries, one from each region (East Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia), divide the class into 4 groups and have each group do a project on that country, looking at culture (how people dress, what they wear, what kinds of work they do, what kind of festivals they have) and development (is this an advanced country, such as Japan, a "little Tiger of Asia" such as Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, a rapidly developing country such as China or Vietnam, or a very poor country, such as Myanmar (Burma) or Bangladesh). Look at the factors that position the country, in terms of development, where it is. What steps are being taken to deal with the problems the country has? Have each group present its finding, via charts, web pages, talks, stories, etc, to the class. Ideas and material can be found on Windows on Asia, but students should explore the library resources as well as the internet to find material.
- High school students should be able to deal with difficult issues such as child labor, the rise of militant Islam and terrorism, issues of discrimination against women, and religious identity and problems, as well as with immigration into the US. Material and information is available in the country sections of Windows on Asia which provide teaching modules on History and culture at the high school level.
Another way to understand Asia is to learn about Asian Americans, the difficulties and joys they have experienced here in the US.
Issues to be discussed could include
- Racism (look at the exclusion acts (19th and early 20th century), baring Chinese, and later Japanese immigrants, and refusing to let them become citizens-look at the rationale behind this.
- Discrimination: look at the disruption of Japanese life during WWII when families were uprooted and placed in concentration camps. A good short book on the subject is When the Emperor was Divine which would be a good focus of discussion. Carry this discussion over to current perceptions of Muslim immigrants-could the same thing happen to them today?
- Adaptation to a country in which one is physically a minority. What does it mean to be a minority person? What problem does one have, what compromises does one make? Divide the students into groups and have them interview Asian families, preferably first generation ones; help the students construct questionnaires so they all ask the same questions. Compile a list of similar answers-what do they reveal about the immigrant experience?
- Is America a "melting pot" or a culturally diverse nation? What difference does it make how the country views itself? The students might have a debate on this issue with one side taking the position that it IS a melting pot and everyone who comes must adjust to the majority (European) ways of doing things, with another group taking the position that it is a culturally diverse nation and each group should be allowed and encouraged to uphold its own values and customs. Be sure to consider what happens when these customs violate laws our deeply felt beliefs.