Multicultural Education Fail?

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I've always had a great passion for global awareness, but there are times when even I have to admit - some multicultural awareness assignments are not as helpful as they could be.

Asian History in High School

For capstone assignment for 10th grade Asian history in high school. I recognize that Asian history, Chinese history in particular, is very long and complex and frankly pretty detached from Western history for the most part. You can't really expect to sensibly cover 2500+ years of history in two weeks, but here's the assignment I most remember from that curriculum.

"Pretend you're at the beach for vacation. Write two letters to friends and family - one from a Daoist perspective and another from a Confucian perspective."

For this assignment we were given some key quotes, but nothing like...when these philosophies developed or why they developed. Nor were we really given much information about historical events before the Opium Wars nor even really told that the last dynasty in China was actually not Chinese, but Manchurian (that would be WAY too complicated even if it might explain some other cultural patterns...).

"Despite the county's best intentions, somehow all of Chinese culture and history was boiled down to a vision of Arnold from Happy Days proclaiming "Confucius say..."

Best Answer?

The Fail Blog triggered this memory when it presented this timely answer to the another history assignment:

Assume the role of a Chinese immigrant in 1870 and write a letter home describing your experiences. Be sure to include your contributions and experiences in the West.

If the Adventures of Brisco County Jr are to be believed, experiences were not always positive and maybe not everyone had a chance to write a letter.

Nonetheless this student completed the assignment and for full authenticity wrote the answer in Chinese. I don't know if this was high school history or Chinese 101, but it made me smile to think what could happen if we REALLY could imagine what it was like to experience another culture.


For the record, I do not consider Brisco County Jr to be an authentic historic source, but I give the TV show credit for acknowledging that there were Chinese Americans in the West and that it was not always a "good" immigrant experience. I also felt like it epitomized the media image clash I felt when reading the 1870 assignment.

I would compare it to writing a letter about coal mining (according to family lore, it generally sucked and led to lung disease) or surviving the Irish potato famine (an experience some may have wanted to forget altogether). In other words, this kind of assignment can also unintentionally trivialize genuine suffering.

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