At Eagle Rock Elementary School, Kathleen Wittick's class of gifted sixth-graders has put on debates in which each student represents a Chinese imperial dynasty, arguing for its preeminence in artistic, technological, and other achievements. This year, with inspiration from three days of training organized by the UCLA Asia Institute, Wittick will stage classroom debates on issues such as the status of women under Communism and the awarding of the 2008 Summer Olympics to Beijing.
Teachers in a workshop on Europe and the Middle East toured the Getty Villa and viewed the exhibition "Greeks on the Black Sea."
The question of how the International Olympic Committee should have responded to China's ultimately successful bid for the games, discussed by a dozen schoolteachers in a curriculum planning session at the July workshop, will also come up in Joel Rothblatt's seven-grade classroom at Emerson Middle School near UCLA, but this time in the context of ancient history. Rothblatt will ask students to develop criteria for denying an Olympic bid to a country, then have them apply those standards to the dynasties of the past.
There you have two small ripples from an afternoon of K-12 teacher training at the UCLA International Institute. To get a sense of the Institute's presence in the schools, in the LAUSD and well beyond, you'd need to picture more than three decades of similar ripples and also to appreciate the many methods the Institute uses to reach youngsters. It collaborates on curricula with Holmes Middle School in Northridge and other international studies magnet programs in the metropolitan area. It invites seniors from Hamilton High School to campus for occasional lectures, for example one last year on Iraq. Each summer, the Latin American Institute (LAI) and the Centers for Near Eastern Studies (CNES) and European and Eurasian Studies (CEES) run two-week, nine-to-five workshops for teachers that resemble accelerated graduate seminars. There are demonstrations, cultural presentations, field trips to museums, two sacks full of reading every night, and, yes, homework, for teachers from Glendora on down to South Bay and across the Valley to Agoura Hills—not to mention the out-of-staters, this year from New Jersey and North Carolina. Teachers also show up for day-long or three-part sessions on weekends during the academic year, earning credits for their professional development.
Sarah Knopp, a high school social studies teacher, at the workshop on Europe and the Middle East.
The Institute gets involved in putting together lesson plans at the year-round teacher workshops and independently of them. It hosts the OutreachWorld website, an important and growing repository of free lesson plans about world regions, and develops its own units in line with California standards, for example one on Middle Eastern Americans. Last year the UCLA Globalization Research Center–Africa, also a member center of the Institute, launched a full-year multimedia curriculum on Africa and globalization, and the Asia Institute is now helping the National Center for History in the Schools at UCLA to produce units on China for the World History for Us All website. Rothblatt has been invited to contribute to the Chinese history project.
"It's not just about what you do in the classroom," he says of the teacher training at the Institute. "It also opens up new doors."
One of the newer initiatives coming out of the Institute's K-12 outreach efforts is a series of language tutorials for middle and high schools, designed to give students a day of exposure to Korean, Turkish, Indonesian, or the dialect of Arabic spoken in Morocco as the countries come up in social studies classes. Meanwhile, the UCLA Center for World Languages recently opened a library of materials for K-16 Italian language teachers with funds from the Italian Consulate.
Alba Hacker of the Consulate of the Dominican Republic offers background on Dominican culture.
The summer training workshops feature talks by consuls general and their representatives, educational consultants, businesspeople, and leading scholars. In addition to UCLA faculty, professors and lecturers come in from other UC campuses and professional schools, and from Cal States and private schools including the University of Southern California. Graduate students rarely get the coordinated attention and could envy the wide-angle perspective adopted in these seminars, which are remarkable for their compression of material. In her three hours, for example, Associate Professor Beatriz Cortez of CSU Northridge, who has coordinated the nation's only Central American studies program there, found time to lay out the contours of major Central American literary movements since the Popol Vuh, break down assumptions on which the categories are based, and lead teachers through careful analyses of images and assigned texts.
CNES Assistant Director Jonathan Friedlander and LAI Outreach Coordinator David Arriaza are responsible for many of the Institute's K-12 initiatives, while Elizabeth Leicester of the Asia Institute and Jim Robbins of CEES coordinate teacher training for their UCLA units, which receive Education Department funding for the purpose.