Emory Report

October 26, 1998

 Volume 51, No. 9

Directed study yields insight on South Asian heritage

A new directed study course--Asian Studies 497R--is not only educating seven Emory students, but will have the added benefit of helping local middle schoolers of South Asian heritage learn more about that region's culture and history.

Working as a team, seven Emory undergraduates of South Asian heritage are developing a pilot curriculum suitable for seventh and eighth graders. By the end of the semester, the group's goal is to produce 10 or more classes that can be taught on weekends during the spring semester by Emory student volunteers.

"I think their hope is to develop a curriculum that can be posted on a web site, so there's potential for this having broader impact than just Emory and Atlanta," said Paul Courtright, director of the Asian Studies Program and faculty advisor for the course.

The idea for this directed study program came from two recent Emory graduates--Matt Matthews, currently studying law, and Sushil Mody, a medical school student. They came up with the basic idea, worked with faculty to develop a proposal and got the word around among Emory students who were interested.

Matthews and Mody decided to focus on middle school children because "they wanted to, in a sense, teach the younger kids what they wished they had known when they were that age about their own heritage," Courtright said. They also wanted "to provide role models for these kids to take seriously their Indian heritage as a positive thing and as something that they can feel proud about."

In addition to Courtright, several faculty members from educational studies serve as consultants to the course, helping the Emory students understand issues relating to adolescent cognitive development.

The curriculum the students develop will include a variety of educational activities such as instructional videos or guest speakers. "Keeping in mind the attention span of 12- and 13-year-olds, they will take a break and then do something that's more interactive, such as building a model of the Taj Mahal or learning dances or games that are traditional to the area," Courtright said. Plans also include serving the children lunches consisting of cuisine characteristic to the different regions.

Most of the curriculum will focus on India because Atlanta has such a large Indian community, Courtright said. However, other countries in the region, such as Pakistan, will be included also.

While the Emory students all share an Indian heritage, each comes from different traditions and different parts of that country. Most have also been active in various student organizations, particularly the India Cultural Exchange. "This class is not pursuing a particular religious or ideological agenda," Courtright emphasized, and it is "very cosmopolitan in its interpretation of Indian traditions." The Emory students want to make sure that all of the communities playing an important role in Indian life are studied and appreciated, he said.

Courtright thinks the weekend classes will give middle school children an opportunity to get to know classmates from other parts of town who represent a geographic mix of the Indian subcontinent. "It will give them a more diverse access to one another than they might get from religious communities or neighborhoods," he said.

This project "is consistent with the larger cultural ethos at Emory, where there's a strong tradition of volunteering," Courtright said. He cited it as an example of student leadership, energy and commitment to their communities and to the larger work of living in a multicultural society.

--Linda Klein

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