Japanese Immersion Social Studies Curriculum Causes Difficulties for Students

It seems that entering freshmen currently involved in the Japanese Immersion program are having challenges adapting to regular history classes such as Mischell Anderson’s Honors World History class. Myla Hummel, a senior, said that when she was in middle school she never learned U.S. history or much of the world history that students are expected to know for honors history courses at Dimond. Esther Glasionov, a senior, agrees that much of the history information she was expected to know was not taught. “What was taught,” Glasionov continued to say,”was taught in Japanese so the language barrier created hardships in understanding the material.” Hana Ah You, a senior, said that she was “not prepared for high school history.” Ah You said that she learned more Japanese history than she did American history. AP U.S. History was harder for Hummel than most, she recounts, because she had “little exposure to it in previous years.” Kent Isakson, the head of the history department at Dimond as well as a history teacher himself, acknowledges an issue with under coverage. Although this issue affects a small population, it has the potential to grow. Isakson mentioned the possibility for the problem to arise from other immersion programs in the Anchorage School District. This issue revolves around the inability to print the necessary history text books in foreign languages. A curriculum change occurred around 2007, when this year’s juniors were 8th graders. Originally, no U.S. history was really taught. Now, the curriculum is designed to include the beginning of U.S. history up to about 1835. By tenth-grade history, students are expected to know this information; however, they are not familiar with the required material. Anderson has witnessed some difficulties her oncoming freshmen are experiencing due to their previous experiences in the Japanese Immersion program. Anderson says that the biggest difficulty she sees in her immersion students is in writing history essays. Anderson says that over the years there have been fewer and fewer applicants for Honors World History from the Japanese immersion program. This year, Anderson received only seven applications, whereas the number used to be around 20 applicants, she said. One aspect of the problem is that those teaching in the immersion program are without proper materials. It is evident that printing history textbook in Japanese, or any other language, is simply not possible at this time for the district. Miyuki Imai, who taught Japanese Immersion in middle school, said that she would translate the important sections in the American history textbooks from English to Japanese. Imai said she would also create her own hand outs using the material she translated from the books. Imai is aware of the issue of under coverage with the Japanese Immersion students entering high school history courses and explained that there is a new curriculum to adapt to the situation. The curriculum calls for the teachers to teach American history from the Japanese perspective and to also briefly explain the American side. Imai said that the immersion students are smart kids and have the “ability to catch up.” Whatever challenges these students face, there are many resources available for these students to succeed through their freshman history courses. With help from their teachers and peers, these freshmen can persevere and overcome their challenges.