“Technology & Humanity: Contemporary China and Asia for K–12 Grade Classrooms” was the broad but timely theme of a virtual teachers workshop convened by Asia Society of Northern California on July 31–August 1, 2020. The relationship between technology and humanity—and between the United States and China—came into play in a variety of ways, from envisioning the scale of technological change over the next 100 years and a corresponding “education for a 22nd century” to exploring current UN Sustainable Development Goals as a framework for teaching global competencies. More specifically, sessions focused on artificial intelligence and implicit bias, as well as xenophobia toward Asians due to COVID-19.
Amid the racially charged response to the coronavirus pandemic, escalating tensions in U.S.–China relations around applications of facial recognition technology in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, growing citizen concerns within both countries over technological tracking and privacy issues, and breaking headlines about the national security threat of popular apps TikTok and WeChat, the workshop conversations were both current and pressing. In addition to technology’s influence on conflict and cooperation between the two countries, speakers presented a plethora of multimedia resources available to teachers as they bring related lessons into classrooms and Zoom calls.
Jonas Edman, an Instructional Designer for the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education, added important historical perspective to these discussions with his seminar on the Chinese American experience, introducing Stanford projects and SPICE curriculum that vividly depict the challenges, contributions, and diversity of Chinese Americans and immigrants throughout U.S. history. From the technological feat of the Transcontinental Railroad construction in the 1800s to the multifaceted ways Asian Americans have documented their experience through the Angel Island Immigration Station to the present day, Edman brought to life a dynamic history and posed a series of key questions. Many of these questions also relate to issues, movements, and national discourse today.
Bill Kwong (Stanford’s Center for East Asian Studies ’96), former Director of Global Initiatives/Director of Community Services at Crystal Springs Upland School in Hillsborough, California, attended the webinar. “I was introduced to SPICE’s curricular offering on the topics of Chinese railroad workers, Angel Island, and more broadly, voices of Chinese Americans,” he reflected. “I particularly enjoyed learning about the use of the graphic novel format as a medium of instruction, so elegantly explained to the audience by Jonas Edman of SPICE.”
Descriptions of three compelling SPICE curricular units presented by Edman follow.
Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford University
Stanford’s Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project seeks to give a voice to the thousands of Chinese migrants who labored amid perilous conditions on the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad and helped to shape the physical and social landscape of the American West. Bringing together historians and other scholars in both North America and Asia in an unprecedented, collaborative effort to locate new, historical materials, the Project explores a long-neglected history from a multi-disciplinary approach integrating both U.S. and Chinese perspectives.
Drawing upon the Project’s research, SPICE has created free, high school-level curricula—four modules that can be delivered in consecutive order or as stand-alone units. The first lesson familiarizes students with the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project as they consider ways in which Chinese railroad workers contributed to the first Transcontinental Railroad and helped shape the landscape of the American West. “Challenges to Chinese Immigration and Assimilation” explores the topics of racism and discrimination broadly and then focuses on how discrimination was directed toward different generations of Chinese immigrants in the United States. “Human-Environment Interaction” covers the physical, natural, and social challenges encountered by Chinese Transcontinental Railroad workers, as well as the relevance of these historical challenges to today’s technological advancements. And in “San Francisco’s Chinatown,” students learn about factors that contribute to the creation and sustainment of ethnic enclaves and explore the historical significance and cultural background of San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Angel Island: The Chinese American Experience, A Graphic Novel
This vibrant graphic novel illustrated by artist Rich Lee and companion teacher’s guide developed by Jonas Edman for SPICE is a single lesson for middle to high school students that depicts the story of Chinese immigrants detained at Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay between 1910 and 1940. Captivating illustrations are based on historical photographs and documents.
Told from the perspectives of Chinese immigrants themselves, the story offers a stark contrast to the more visible experiences of European immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, welcomed by the Statue of Liberty, on the East Coast. The contrast raises important questions about U.S. immigration policy, both past and present. Edman outlined a number of key questions ranging from “How do the experiences of Chinese immigrants to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century differ from that of other immigrant groups?” to “Is the United States today a country that welcomes and offers opportunities to immigrants, or a country that disenfranchises immigrants and seeks to restrict immigration?”
Chinese American Voices: From the Gold Rush to the Present, An Anthology and SPICE Teacher’s Guide
Bridging historical experiences to current times, Edman introduced the anthology Chinese American Voices: From the Gold Rush to the Present and the companion SPICE curriculum unit, Chinese American Voices: Teaching with Primary Sources. The anthology presents a diverse collection of primary source documents left by Chinese Americans in their own words. The scholars who collaborated on the book spent 10 years searching through materials, selecting over 60 primary sources to represent a cross-section of Chinese American experiences from the California Gold Rush in 1852 to the present. Letters, speeches, testimonies, oral histories, personal memoirs, poems, essays, folksongs, and photographs weave an intimate history of immigrant and American-born Chinese. Furthermore, these authentic stories infuse American social, cultural, and political history with a more inclusive account of the persistent fight for equality—a theme that continues to resonate with diverse and dynamic segments of the U.S. population today.
The companion teacher’s guide, developed for the high school or community college level, offers activities that invite students to glimpse into the diverse and historical Chinese American experience. The opportunity for students to critically and directly analyze the wealth of primary sources in Chinese American Voices also encourages students to think like historians themselves.
Four lessons build on each other. An introduction to primary source analysis and the concepts of bias, time, and place is followed by a lesson that explores how a single primary source can present multiple issues. Then, to deepen their knowledge of historical events, students are asked to evaluate various perspectives depicted in primary source documents from Chinese American Voices that relate to a turning point in Chinese American history. To conclude the unit, students are challenged to apply their historical knowledge and skills as they seek to answer enduring questions about the Chinese American experience. For example, “How did Chinese immigrants relate to other ethnic groups and respond to racial discrimination and exclusion?”
Historical Themes Resonate Today: Immigration, Inclusion, and Equality
By thoroughly detailing these three resources for K–12 educators attending the workshop, Edman not only shared a trove of both digital and print, interactive, historical lessons but also raised essential questions that continue to reverberate throughout American society. For example, how do we find sources that uncover forgotten, neglected, and deliberately erased history? How have immigrants to the United States shaped our social and physical landscape and contributed to innovations throughout American history?
By extension, one can ask, how has racism been expressed toward Chinese as well as other ethnic populations in the United States over time, and why? What sacrifices and struggles have a diversity of immigrants endured as they sought to build a new life amid the promise of American liberty? By critically analyzing historical documents, how can students better discern various perspectives and biases behind current primary sources and their influence on American social and political life today?
SPICE Teacher Resources and Student Programs on China
In addition to these three units, SPICE offers a variety of lesson plans and teacher resources relating to China covering a broad range of topics and ranging in level from elementary to community college.
China Scholars Program
In both the spring and fall, SPICE offers the China Scholars Program, a national online course for high school students throughout the United States that dives deeply into contemporary China, analyzing its politics, economics, social issues, culture, and arts, with a special focus on the U.S.–China relationship.
Launching this fall, Stanford e-China is a virtual course designed for high school students in China, connecting them with leading Stanford University scholars and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to explore cutting-edge technologies changing the world, including green tech, finance tech, health tech, and artificial intelligence. The application period for fall semester closes September 5, 2020.