Story 10: Cultural Learning - Two ModelsStory | Related Media | Archives | Print | eMail | Search
Written by Leslie Swartz
The museum's China program started out by offering teacher workshops and recommended curricula, some of which museum staff developed. Beginning in 1978, in my role as HEAP's China specialist, I organized a variety of conferences, workshops, and seminars at the museum. Harvard faculty gave lectures, and TCM staff translated the content into practical, highly engaging school curriculum activities. This is what teachers and students needed—and still need. It was (and is) unrealistic to think that teachers who had received no education about Asia (or many other parts of the world) could listen to some lectures and then feel equipped to impart this wisdom to students in meaningful ways. The model agenda of museum workshops and conferences—mixing in-depth background knowledge with the take-home lessons—begun in the late 1970s remains much appreciated to this day. Teachers find workshops intellectually stimulating, highly practical, and personally enjoyable.
Like TCM programs on any topic, the Asian curriculum conveys solid information through authentic activities. Lessons grab kids' attention immediately and draw them into meaningful learning. In one class period on Chinese calligraphy, for example, I could introduce the history and evolution of the Chinese written language, teach students how to write numbers in Chinese, and by the end of class, they would be able to write their phone numbers in Chinese. This simple but powerful experience changed how kids looked at one specific foreign script. Characters that at one time seemed exotic and downright unknowable became accessible, hopefully opening the doors to new ways of thinking about and accessing other and larger cultural differences as well.
The final ingredient that made the HEAP workshops valuable was museum staff's direct personal experiences in two Asian cultures: Leslie Bedford had spent time in Japan and I had visited and studied in China. My first visit to China in 1976 increased my legitimacy as an authority on the country. I was among the first 10,000 Americans to visit China since the reopening of that country in the early 1970s. I visited with the US-China People's Friendship Association, a group highly friendly to China. My first-hand experience, resulting in a collection of slides and cultural artifacts, was easily converted into audiovisual materials for classroom use, which ultimately became part of the curriculum developed in the 1980s. The HEAP curriculum was widely incorporated into many school curricula and remained there until recent state and national curriculum standards and the testing movement created their own mandates.