Asian immersion

Charles Stayer plans to come to his Advanced Placement Geography classes dressed a little differently this fall.

Stayer, a teacher and dean of students at Coastal Christian Preparatory School in Mount Pleasant, will don a Japanese kimono for a new unit he’s planning on Asian folk and pop culture. Using his newly purchased tea utensils, he will lead his high school students through the experience of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

Going into this summer, Stayer said he felt his knowledge of Asia was rather limited, but after completing a free graduate seminar from the South Carolina Center for Teaching about Asia through Furman University’s Asian Studies Department, he is heading to class with a newfound enthusiasm.

Thirteen teachers from across the state recently gathered at Furman’s campus for a week-long intensive residential seminar which addressed state social studies and global studies standards pertaining to East Asia.

The South Carolina Center for Teaching about Asia was established at Furman University in 2003 and is the only headquarters for the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia in South Carolina. James Leavell, Herring Professor Emeritus, has served as the director since the center’s beginning. Professor of History and Asian Studies Professor Lane Harris will assume the directorship this fall.

Since many teachers have never traveled to Asia, the goal of the summer seminar is to give them confidence in teaching Asian history and culture, Leavell said. “We want them to have a sense of depth which will allow them to handle questions students may raise beyond the assigned classroom lessons,” he said.

Among universities in South Carolina, Furman has an unusually large number of faculty members specializing in Asian Studies, Leavell said. The seminar enables Furman faculty to share their expertise in East Asian history, geography, religion, philosophy, art, literature, language, social structure, contemporary politics, and pop culture.

This year’s seminar included an introduction to Japanese pottery with Art Professor Bob Chance and a hands-on lesson in Chinese and Japanese calligraphy with Modern Languages and Asian Studies Professor Sachi Schmidt-Hori. Simpsonville residents Aaron and Reiko Blackwell shared their knowledge of Japan over a cup of matcha with teachers during a traditional tea ceremony at Furman’s Place of Peace.

Each year, graduates of NCTA seminars become eligible to apply for a heavily subsidized travel study experience in East Asia, which may include China, Japan, Korea, or Vietnam.

Since traveling to China and Japan through the program in 2005, Hale Edwards, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Riverside Middle School in Greenville, said her Asia experiences have become constantly interwoven into her classroom lessons.

“I frequently have my students compare Chinese voyages of exploration and European voyages of exploration,” said Edwards, who was named National Council of Social Studies Midlevel Teacher of the Year in 2007. “They are always amazed when they compare Zheng He’s star ship and Columbus’s caravel.”  Europeans did not build a comparably sized sailing ship until 1914.

Tim Hicks, a graduate of this summer’s seminar, teaches eighth grade history in The Learning Collaborative at Dent Middle School in Richland District Two in Columbia. In the 2015–16 school year, a third of his students will be Asian.

One of the debate topics his students will be researching this year will involve whether the United States should issue a formal apology for the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They will examine, not just the American side of the decision, but the Japanese rationale behind World War II.

“Asia is and will be key to the economy and diplomacy of the modern world,” Hicks said. “If we want to know the world, we must know Asia.”