Exploring the Cultures and Social Issues of Contemporary South India

Summer 2003

Exploring the Cultures and Social Issues
of Contemporary South India

Three educators in the Wausau area participated in a five week curriculum development team to South India, June 20-July 24. The University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for South Asia, with support from the Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad Program, took fifteen elementary, middle, and high school teachers from Wisconsin to the state of Tamilnadu, India. Joel Anderson, grade four, Jefferson Elementary School, Wausau, Randall Colton, grade three, Weston Elementary School, Weston, and Scott Miles, World History, Wausau West High School, were selected for the program. The Exploring the Cultures and Social Issues of Contemporary South India project was designed to accomplish three major goals:

1) to increase teachers’ knowledge of South India, especially of Tamilnadu;
2) to enhance teachers’ ability to create new teaching materials that integrate learning about India into the curricula of American schools; and
3) to deepen teachers’ understanding of educational thought and practice in India, as it exists in urban and rural settings.

The southern Indian state of Tamilnadu was chosen as the site for this project because it provides a balance to textbook presentations of India, which tend to favor a classical view of Northern India. Teachers studied in the city of Madurai with other workshops in Mahabalipuram, Chennai, and Thanjavur. Exploring the Cultures and Social Issues of Contemporary South India provided the participants with a rich, first-hand experience of India, allowing them to develop a more complex and complete view of the intersections of urban and rural lifestyles, coastal and agricultural economies, multiple religious communities, and the traditional and modern landscapes of South India.

This project enabled participating teachers to team teach with local teachers during a one week stay in English medium schools of Madurai. The teachers from Wisconsin shared culture of the United States and teaching methods in various subjects with students and teachers while experiencing the classroom and curriculum of India. Issues of women and society in India were discussed at Lady Doak College, Madurai. A program at the Gandhi Museum, Madurai, focused on current material for teaching nonviolence. Arts and crafts of South India were experienced at the DakshinaChitra in Mahabalipuram. Teachers looked at recent trends in children’s literature while visiting Tulika Publications, Chennai.

South Asia remains under represented in the curricula of schools in the United States. Many important facets of South Asia can be understood by focusing on India, which is the largest democracy in the world, and is often in the news in connection with global economic, political, and security issues. In recent years, India has also played a key role in the world market, highlighting the necessity of building understanding between the two nations. These reasons make it a powerful learning context for American educators and students today. By disseminating the curriculum units developed in this project on a state and national level the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for South Asia’s Outreach Program will help educators fill gaps in their knowledge of the world today.

Joel Anderson, Randall Colton, Scott Miles
Participating Teachers in the 2003 program