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Asia in Your Classroom

With Asia on the rise, it is more important than ever to include it in the classroom. Here, Paul Pass, Asia Society Texas Center Education Coordinator, shares some tips and resources.

by Paul Pass

The demand for information on Asia has skyrocketed in the last decade, particularly with respect to China and to a lesser extent, India. The State Department echoed this focus by announcing a pivot to Asia in Obama's first term, and in the initial months of the second term, newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry referred to a Sino-US "special relationship," a designation once only reserved for America's partnerships with Israel and the United Kingdom.

Asian culture has also caught the interest of the Western world as Psy's "Gangnam Style" has become a global phenomenon since its release in July 2012. In this age of Asia as an increasingly important international power, greater knowledge about countries across the Pacific will go far in creating a globally competent student.

As an educator plans curricula before each academic year, questions must arise, such as "how do I integrate this continent and where do I begin?"

Here, I will present a handful of resources that can be utilized by secondary history, physical geography, and visual arts teachers. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather a spring board for an educator wishing to add more Asian content into his or her classroom. This can motivate students by providing engaging, relevant content. And the study of Asia can enforce other best practices in instruction: combining a focus on deep content knowledge with reasoning skills and analysis of multiple perspectives; exploring cultural universals and common themes as well as deepening appreciation of cultural differences and diversity; demonstrating interconnectedness—connecting the local to the global and the past to the future; using purposeful inquiry into large questions; using primary sources from the U.S. and other countries; and emphasizing interaction with people in other parts of the world as part and parcel of the learning process.

At first glance, Asia is a daunting area to cover, accounting for 60% of global population, spanning over 17 million square miles, and numbering over 60 countries in its wide definition. By dividing Asia into its regions, I present a simple method to create manageable sections for analysis and focus within the class setting. For clarification, I will list countries' regions as defined by the United Nations and for brevity, I will eliminate North Asia, Oceania, and Southwest Asia in the description. Let us begin with the region that is arguably most identifiable to Americans, East Asia.

East Asia
Countries: China, Hong Kong*, Japan, Macau* Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, and Taiwan**

History: The Mongols in World History
This intriguing website provides information on the Mongols' conquests, nomadic life, influence on China, and mark on global history.

Physical Geography: Japan's Explosive Geology Explained
This short article givens an introductory guide to Japanese geography, which played a role in the Triple Disaster of 2011.

Visual Arts: Four Treasures of the Study
A brief introduction to the four treasures of classical Chinese calligraphy: the brush, ink stick, paper, and ink stone.

Central Asia
Countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan

History: From Silk to Oil: Cross-Cultural Connections along the Silk Roads
This collection of articles, essays, lesson plans, and maps is particularly useful for history educators desiring an interdisciplinary approach. Although quite lengthy when taken as a whole, each section includes numerous materials that can be utilized as one-session projects.

Physical Geography: The Aral Sea Crisis
A brief introduction to the drying up of the Aral Sea, which borders Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and its past vital role in everyday Central Asian commerce and sustenance.

Visual arts: Central Asia Discovery Travel Magazine: Arts and crafts of Central Asia
This publication, rich in imagery and detail, gives an overview of Central Asian textiles, weaving, and wooden lace. Other titles in the series include Central Asian fashion, music, traditions, and wildlife.

South Asia
Countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka

History: Partition of India
This article gives an overview of the partition of the former British Raj, which covers the present day boundaries of Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, and Pakistan.

Physical geography: Maldives Builds Barriers to Global Warming
This study discusses the threat of rising sea levels to the Maldives, a collection of islands in the Indian Ocean, and its policies to avoid catastrophe.

Visual arts: Three Folk Art Traditions from Northeast India
This site highlights an Eastern Illinois University exhibition focusing on traditional Indian painting, which has simple enough color schemes and drawing to easily recreate in either a primary or a secondary classroom.

Southeast Asia
Countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam

History: Colonial History of Southeast Asia
This entry slideshow presents an overview of European powers that ruled over Southeast Asian countries from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

Physical Geography: Deforestation in Southeast Asia: The Future is being decided in Indonesia
As this article describes, Southeast Asia has been a valued location for natural resources and reaped the economic benefits, however there has been a recent push for greater environmental awareness.

Visual arts: Dancing Shadows, Epic Tales: Wayang Kulit of Indonesia
Although inherently a version of performing arts, the practice of shadow puppetry also has a strong visual arts component through the creation of the puppets themselves.

*Hong Kong and Macau are Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China. Although officially a part of China, these regions possess their own sovereignty in all affairs except diplomatic relations and defense.
**Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, considers itself to be a self-governing autonomous sovereign entity; however the People's Republic of China defines the island as its 23rd province.

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