Cultural exchanges foster peace,
understanding among studentsEditor's note: This week marks the Second Annual Hawai'i International Education Week, which will be capped tomorrow by day-long global activities for all ages at the East-West Center. Check www.EastWestCenter.org and click on Education for details.The horrible events of Sept. 11 have scarred every American, including those of us who live far away from New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Many of us are experiencing a personal vulnerability. Innocent people who lived ordinary lives and did typical things -- like eating breakfast, getting dressed and going to work -- just as we do, were killed without warning on Sept. 11. We are living with heightened caution, more awareness of our surroundings, perhaps even suspicion about anything unfamiliar. A few might even go so far as to admit that they are living in fear.
Living in dread, or even pursuing a life fixated on security is not what I want to promote for those among us who should be the most optimistic about their future -- our children. I look at what our teachers are doing and feel reassured that our standards, particularly our social studies, emphasize an appreciation of the global diversity and interdependence of the world's peoples, institutions, traditions, values and environment.
From kindergarten to grade 12, social studies focus on five strands: history, political science and civics, cultural anthropology, geography and economics. In the history strand, teachers are using the resources available on almost a daily basis to cover the origins and spread of Islam, as a result of Sept.11.
Our future leaders will need more than knowledge and finely tuned skills to thrive in a global environment that has become tenuous at best, and threatening at worst. Hope and trust will emerge from reaching out and acknowledging those qualities we share in our common humanity.
The Hawai'i-Fukuoka Sister-State Educational, Athletic, and Cultural Exchange Program is a gem among cultural exchanges. In this program, 12 to 24 students from Hawaii spend five days with a host family in Fukuoka, Japan, and attend classes with their host students, share stories, enlarge their vocabulary of Japanese words, tour cultural and historic sites, learn songs and dances and attend school events such as baseball games.
On another level, many public schools have cultivated opportunities for cultural exchanges. Radford High School's partnership with the Fukuoka Prefectural Suisan Marine Studies High School seeks to foster international good will by exposing students to another culture. Typically, 24 students from the Genyo Maru training vessel spend a day with their Radford hosts.
Then 50 to 75 Radford students spend an afternoon touring the Genyo Maru. Friend- ships are forged during an American cookout with hot dogs and hamburgers at Ala Moana Beach Park. Aiea, Kahuku, McKinley and Kalani high schools have also experienced international partnerships.
For most of our children, learning to become global citizens depends on resourceful teachers who recognize that we live in international education's multiethnic laboratory. The Okinawan, Greek, Puerto Rican, Narcissus festivals, the Portuguese festa, the Japanese bon dances, Aloha Week and the King Kamehameha Day parade provide tangible segues into deeper exploration.
Hawaii offers a multitude of resources within arm's reach that enable students to move from spectators to participants. At the elementary level, it's traditional for students to present May Day programs celebrating the music, dances, arts, crafts, foods and dress of our diverse ethnic groups.
On the secondary level, it's common for ethnic culture or foreign language clubs to raise awareness of the student population with guest speakers, cultural entertainment, native dress and costumes, displays of photos and artifacts and playing native games.
International education expands our capacity for appreciation for people, practices, beliefs and values that are different from our own. It can accomplish as much by seeking out those qualities that are shared -- personal dignity, human rights, peace and preservation of the ecosystem.
As we celebrate the Second Annual Hawai'i International Education Week, two months after Sept. 11, I hope our teachers, students and parents take this opportunity to renew and strengthen their own identity as global citizens. Knowledge can do much to further the cause of peace.
Patricia Hamamoto is the interim superintendent of the Hawaii state Department of Education.