Institute highlights the teaching of Asia and the Asian-American experience

Teacher participants in the 2017 East Asia Summer Institute examine propaganda posters from China's Cultural Revolution.


—SPICE: Offering teacher institutes since 1973—


In 1973, the roots of the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE) were established with the creation of the Bay Area China Education Program, which focused on the development of K–12 curriculum materials and teacher professional development. Only a year prior, President Richard Nixon had made his historic trip to China and many American students were able to view contemporary images of China on television for the first time in their lifetimes. Teachers who attended SPICE institutes on China in the 1970s often commented that they were at a loss about how to teach about China.

Forty-four years later, a new generation of educators expressed similar sentiments at a SPICE institute. However, the challenge wasn’t so much about the teaching of China but rather the teaching of North Korea. Thus, when Pulitzer Prize-winning author Adam Johnson spoke about his book, The Orphan Master’s Son, a New York Times bestselling novel about North Korea, teachers were riveted by his comments. Teachers were interested not only in ways that his novel could help them better understand contemporary North Korea but also in ways they could use the book to help their students gain a more balanced view of North Korea. The 22 teacher participants received copies of The Orphan Master’s Son to use in their teaching and were offered two SPICE curriculum units titled Inter-Korean Relations: Rivalry, Reconciliation, and Reunification and Uncovering North Korea.  

Co-sponsored by the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA), the SPICE summer institute, July 24–26, 2017, had the objectives of (1) deepening teachers’ understanding of Asia, U.S.–Asian relations, and the Asian-American experience; (2) providing teachers with teaching resources; and (3) creating a community of learners. The institute featured lectures by Stanford faculty (like Johnson), U.C. Berkeley faculty, and other experts on a range of Asia- and Asian-American-related topics closely aligned with the History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools standards, which were recently revised. Interactive curriculum demonstrations by SPICE staff were also offered.

One such standard focuses on recent economic growth in China. Following a lecture by Thomas Fingar, Shorenstein Asia Pacific Research Center Fellow, on “Recurring Themes in U.S.–China Relations,” a curriculum demonstration on the SPICE curriculum unit, China in Transition: Economic Development, Migration, and Education, was offered by its author, Rylan Sekiguchi of SPICE. One teacher remarked, “I teach about China, and it was so helpful to hear someone with such deep expertise [Fingar] speak about U.S.–Chinese history in a way that enriches my knowledge and understanding to bring back some bigger themes to my teaching. I can’t wait to bring this content back to my students [through the SPICE curriculum].” Other scholarly lectures on Japan and Korea were also followed by curriculum demonstrations by SPICE staff. This coupling of lectures and curriculum demonstrations has been a hallmark of SPICE since its inception.

Updated History-Social Science Framework standards on the Asian-American experience were also addressed at the institute. Dr. Khatharya Um, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, introduced the diverse cultural and historical backgrounds of the Asian-American student population which often comprises a significant percentage of students in schools in areas like the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. She emphasized the importance of acknowledging individual circumstances in minority student populations and breaking down commonly cited stereotypes of Asian Americans as being a critical element of effective teaching. One of the topics that she addressed was stereotypes of Japanese Americans that arose following the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. Her lecture was coupled with the sharing of first-hand experiences by Dr. Joseph Yasutake, who was interned at the age of nine. Dr. Yasutake’s talk stimulated discussions on civil liberties, race relations, discrimination, and American identity among the teachers. “Hearing history from one who has experienced it as well as studied and taught the history is really wonderful,” said one institute participant. “This combination brings a great amount of authority and well as authenticity to the narrative he [Yasutake] provides.” The SPICE curriculum unit, Civil Rights and Japanese-American Internment, was recommended as a resource for teachers.

The institute brought together both experienced mentor teachers and those new to the field. Naomi Funahashi, who organized and facilitated the institute, remains in communication with many of the teachers and has noticed that a community of learners, who are committed to a long-term exploration of Asian and Asian-American studies, has grown from the institute. She reflected, “One of the unexpected outcomes of the institute was the recommendations that many of the teachers have written in support of their students’ applications to my online class on Japan called the Reischauer Scholar Program. My hope is that some of my students will someday attend SPICE institutes as teachers and that SPICE institutes will continue to serve teachers as they have since 1973 for many decades to come.”

SPICE is currently recruiting teachers to attend its 2018 summer institute for middle school teachers (June 20–22, 2018) and summer institute for high school teachers (July 23–25, 2018).

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