In late September of 1858, an unusually shaped comet suddenly appeared in the night sky of Mito Prefecture, Japan. Naturally, the people were frightened. A few viewed it as a symbol of world renewal, but many others read the celestial light as a sign of impending disaster. The country had just suffered a severe cholera epidemic, and many citizens were afraid that the bright comet might predict the shogun’s death since another shogun’s sudden death had coincided with a first sighting of a large comet in the past. As religious, political, and economic interpretation kept floating around, people became increasingly tense. What was going to happen?
If you like stories like that, you may enjoy the class that the Institute for Asian Studies at Florida International University is offering to teachers. Topics include East Asian history, religion, international and political affairs, geography, literature, culture, etc. The class is sponsored by the National Consortium for the Teaching about Asia, a nationwide professional development program whose goal it is to encourage teaching and learning about Asia. Classes meet once month on Saturday from 9:30 am to 2 pm and include a lunch break. The participants teach various grade levels in many different subject areas. This year, I was the only person from the post-secondary level, but Dr. Heine, the director of the Institute, has encouraged me to spread the word among my colleagues.
We begin each meeting with a current events session during which we discuss the latest news involving Asia: tainted tooth paste from China, Japanese housewives who play the stock market online… Then, participants take turns presenting the reading assignments for that month. Whether we’re talking about the decline and collapse of the Tang Dynasty, the warriors of the Edo period, or the hand positions of an Indian Buddha statue, Dr. Heine always has something fascinating to add, and before we know it, it’s time to take a break. After lunch, we have the pleasure of listening to experts in the field of Asian studies lecture about one of the various aspects covered in this class. Some teach at FIU, but others are visiting professors from as far as Japan.
At the end of the year-long course, everyone has to create a lesson plan that infuses Asia into the curriculum. These lesson plans are then made available online to be shared with teachers everywhere. So, if you’re a person who finds Ming vases, Mongol invasions, and Mahayana Buddhism delightful, you may want to inquire about the 2008-2009 class at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.nctasia.org/
P. S. The textbooks are provided free of charge. (The class may be taken for graduate credit, too.)
Update: Forty-three people have already registered for the 2008 - 2009 class, so although you likely wouldn't be able to take this year's class, now is the time to get on the waiting list for next year's course!
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