Reflections on Culturally Relevant Curriculum and Identity
A SPICE/CASEER Graduate School of Education course at the University of Tokyo was offered in fall 2022.
The following is a guest article written by Yuting Luo, graduate student at the University of Tokyo. Luo enrolled in a course at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Education called “Introduction to International and Cross-Cultural Education,” which was co-taught by SPICE Director Dr. Gary Mukai and former CASEER Director Dr. Hideto Fukudome. SPICE will feature several student reflections on the course in 2023.
Can you imagine hearing for the first time that your ancestors had contributed significantly to another country’s development? For me, as a native of China who lived in the country for more than 20 years and now as a student in Japan, it was a unique cultural experience to hear from Gary Mukai about Chinese immigration to the United States and their significant contributions to the United States.
I never imagined that my ancestors had worked in the United States as railroad workers on the Transcontinental Railroad. It was a history I had never learned from a Chinese textbook. The following words from Mukai impressed me the most: “I think that the history of Chinese railroad workers and their contribution to the United States should be known more widely not only in the United States but also in China.”
In the first class of “Introduction to International and Cross-Cultural Education,” Mukai introduced the topic of “culturally relevant curriculum” and I realized that culturally relevant curriculum for Chinese Americans can help to create emotional connections between them and their ancestral homeland, China. Similarly, I began to think about the relationship between Japan and China, and have since thought of this question: In order to help build a more amicable relationship between the two countries, what types of culturally relevant curriculum could be offered to Chinese studying in Japan and Japanese studying in China?
I was born and raised in Shenzhen, China, in the 1990s. My beautiful hometown, Shenzhen, benefited from the Reform and Opening-Up Policy and developed rapidly. Due to the location of Shenzhen, which connects mainland China with Hong Kong, more and more Japanese companies began to establish themselves in this city in order to access low-cost labor. Yet, despite this social context, it was not until I entered junior high school that I began to directly learn about Japan. Unfortunately, the only means I had to learn about Japan was from my history teacher.
After entering high school, my encounter with Japanese literature, including Musashi: An Epic Novel of the Samurai Era, led me to develop a positive interest in the country of Japan. Later, wanting to read original books on my own, I enrolled in the Japanese language department of Shenzhen University. I worked hard on my Japanese language studies and learned more about Japan through the Japanese language. The more I studied Japanese and learned about Japan objectively, the more I fell in love with Japanese culture. Of course, I love my country, China, too. I began to feel some connection to Japanese identity inside of me, and I realized that I could feel some empathy for the Japanese. It wasn’t immediately clear what this empathetic connection was specifically. However, I could only say that Japanese literature prompted me to feel a connection to Japanese identity, even though I am not Japanese.
I sometimes feel uncomfortable with this connection and sometimes wonder how I would feel if I had been introduced to curriculum in secondary schools that introduced the fluidity of identity and also the importance of considering diverse perspectives. While learning history in one’s own country is crucial, it is also important to see one’s own country through other countries’ lenses. In particular, a historical perspective that respects mutual recognition may improve one’s self-esteem and world outlook. Moreover, from a broader perspective, recognizing each other’s contributions can also lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the world. From my perspective, one’s identity cannot be fixed merely based on the place of birth or one’s skin color. In an increasingly global and diverse world, one’s identity is becoming more fluid and constantly switching, and will keep switching.
As Immanuel Kant mentioned in Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, “It is never too late to become reasonable and wise; but if the knowledge comes late, there is always more difficulty in starting a reform.” Likewise, it is never too late for me to be more inclusive and wiser. Therefore, I will continue contributing to a more diverse and inclusive world by studying international comparative education.