Using community people to help teachers embrace the world

By , Education editor of The Christian Science Monitor

If they had to, which they don't, teachers really could "go it alone." For example, a teacher who has never been to Europe, made no thorough study of the area, and does not speak or read a European language may still, for younger children, provide them with a passable education about Europe's history and culture.

Such schooling, admittedly, is narrow in the extreme, but without any resources other than one or two social studies texts and a good wall map, teachers around the world attempt to teach their youngsters about the importance of other key nations.

Yet, there is little need for teachers with such limited backgrounds to have to "go it alone."

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There are probably several people within walking or easy commuting distance from the school who read and write in a foreign language. As volunteers or as hourlywage aides, these people could be invited to come to school and work with a few children at a time, giving them not only a sense of the language of another people, but the history and culture as well.

But what about the teachers themselves? Don't they need to talk with such people and to work at knowing something of a second (or third or fourth) language?

These community-resource people with this natural language skill and an authentic accent shouldn't be reserved just for the children, but should be engaged by the teachers to give tutorials and workshops, at the convenience of both the "outside" expert and the in-school teacher.

And aren't there people in the community who are scholars on some area of the world? In Birmingham, England, for example, there might be a strong US history scholar, just as there might be an academic who has an advanced degree in British history living in Birmingham, Ala. Each might relish a weekly session with a group of lively teachers.

Of course, there can always be the occasional lecture- hall talk during classroom visitation by such a person, but how much more useful in the long run if the teachers with weak backgrounds in one or more areas were to engage these scholars as tutors and instructors.

An enormous concern for all who live outside Asia is the need to know more about these peoples, numbering more than 2 1/2 billion. It has only been in the most recent years that school history and social studies textbooks have included much besides the most superficial information.

And most of those who teach in the Western half of the world did their studying in that half about their own half. It is the very rare general-subject teacher who has ever taken any serious courses in Asian studies, and even more rare for a teacher of math, natural science, music, or English to have anything but the least smattering of learning about the non-Western world.

Yet, our young scholars need our very best help to get to know all of the world we're sharing, and it behooves teachers to reach out to those few in their communities who are themselves of Asian origin to help in deeper understandings.

It may even be necessary in some areas to turn to Western scholars to explain the non-Western thought, as in some areas there are no Asians to help with this teaching.

It's always tempting to think of teachers taking some kind of formal course during after-school hours or giving over a summer to broadening their knowledge bases, but how much more natural for this kind of training and education to come from within the communi ty and during a school day.

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