Annual Educators’ Tour To Japan & Other Educational & Cultural Programs
The Japan Society is one of the premier private, non-profit New York City organizations focused on promoting comparative understanding of global cultural, artistic, social, economic and political patterns and issues through the lens of national identity.
Over its 100 plus year history the Society has been offering art exhibits, film programs, lectures and workshops related to Japanese culture and language instruction. Since 1971 the Society has been located at Japan House on East 47th Street within walking distance of the United Nations. Today the Society is widely recognized as an important resource for New Yorkers of all ages interested in cultural enrichment and Asian studies.
Every year the Society offers, with generous support of the Freeman Fund, a three-week educators’ study tour in Japan in late June and early July. This summer four of the ten teachers who participated were from New York state, Ramona Fittipaldi, Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem; Reina Zafonte, High School for Math and Science and Engineering; Dana Stranges, Tappan Zee High School, Orangeburg; and Allison Weller, Walter G. O’Connell High School. Islip. In addition there were educators from Washington, DC, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oregon, Maryland and Tennessee.
Personally, in the 1980s when educational policy makers began to look enviously at Japan’s comparatively strong educational achievement levels I began to include the study of Japanese teaching practice and curriculum development in my courses and research agendas at City College CUNY. At that juncture the Japan Society proved to be an unequalled source of information and connections in Japan, most notably through Peter Grilli, then Director of Education, Film and Performing Arts and John Wheeler, Vice President.
This experience demonstrates the Japan Society’s historic commitment to working closely with other institutions that share their mission. The relationship between City College and the Japan Society goes back to the founding, of each institution. The first President of the Society was CCNY’s third President, John Huston Finley. And, coincidentally, the founder of City College was Townsend Harris, the first US Consul to Japan.
The current Director of Education and Family Programs, Jeffrey Miller and Kazuko Minamoto, Deputy Director, who led the 2014 Educators’ Tour to Japan designed their three day orientation program to provide the participants “with targeted everyday Japanese language and an introduction to Japanese history, culture and educational systems.”
As for the three -week study tour experiences in Japan, Miller and Minamoto expected the participants to bring their experiences back to their classrooms and demonstrate a firm commitment to foster and sustain education about Japan in their schools. To bring specificity to these goals they required each teacher to create a written teaching unit on a critical cultural pattern or challenge such as The nuclear meltdown in Fukushima and The Yasukuni Shrine as religion and politics based on their experience in Japan.
In addition to the usual cultural and historical sites any energetic and committed traveler would visit in a trip to Japan the study tour added homestays with families in both rural and suburban areas. In addition k-12 school visits were arranged to enable each participant to connect with their counterparts in Japanese schools and to provide the opportunity to plan electronic exchanges personally and among their pupils.
Of course it is the words of the participants themselves, past and present, that are the most telling. One of this year’s teachers, Allison Weller said, “I like my students to look and think about historical memory through public monuments. Therefore, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Peace Park, I am sure, will have the most impact on my teaching”.
In terms of past participants, Douglas O’Connor a Midwood High School, New York City social studies teacher said, “He still incorporates the ideas and materials he gathered in the Japan Society study tour in 2001”. For him, “Just to find himself in Hiroshima in a museum totally dedicated to peace was amazing, as was the opportunity to meet and listen to a survivor of an atomic bomb attack.”
James J. Shields is the Emeritus Professor & Director, The Japan Initiative The City College CUNY and author Japanese Schooling Patterns of Socialization, Equality and Political Control [Listed as top ten books published by Penn State Press].