When the federal government tried to introduce multiculturalism and globalization into public thinking and educational systems in the 1980s, it was met by protests and criticism that we would lose our cultural identity. Some even argued that learning about other cultures was “un-American.”
As a result, our school systems today show that U.S. students lack an understanding and knowledge of different people, places and cultures. On the plus side, we are recognizing this failure and the need to do something about it.
“If we think something is happening here today, it’s happening tomorrow somewhere else. So we must understand we are part of the globe,” says Dr. Lilly Cheng, founder and director of the Confucius Institute of San Diego State University, which is committed to strengthening educational and cultural cooperation between the U.S. and China. The institute collaborates with the Chinese Language International Council, or Hanban, to foster understanding of Chinese culture and language.
“On the one hand, we think it very important that our kids are really literate in English. Language can be a unifying power,” said Cheng. “But then one nation with many people is our other concept – E Pluribus Unum – out of many comes one.”
Globalization should start at an early age, at least in middle school and maybe even in elementary school, according to Cheng, who said focusing on other cultures and languages doesn’t mean forsaking English. “We are talking about an additive model,” she said. “We don’t take anything away from the students (but) their brains are capable of absorbing more.”
Such understanding is paramount in this rapidly changing world. “The world is our neighborhood, and the concern for our neighborhood and ourselves is a global concern. We must understand we are part of the globe. We are global citizens,” Cheng added.
SDSU, under the guidance of its relatively new president, Dr. Elliot Hirshman, is rapidly adjusting to change. To compete in today’s business world, students must graduate with an understanding of how other cultures conduct business. “In America, we are often monolingual,” unlike many other countries where speaking two or more languages is typical,” he pointed out.
The importance of global understanding can’t be underestimated, according to Hirshman, who has made two trips to China since taking over the reins of SDSU. On his first trip, he marveled at the “multiplicity” of activities Chinese students engage in – sports, the arts, physical training and science – making them some of the most well-rounded students in the world.
Collaborating with countries like China is important to match the “enormous mobility of students,” who are rapidly getting accustomed to moving from place to place and country to country. To “be engaged in mobility and interact with students from many different countries” should be parcel of the SDSU student experience, said Hirshman.
Driving this globalization engine is science and technology, according to scholar Dr. Merry Mayfield. “Global education has significantly increased in importance and prominence in K-12 education over the last two decades. Not only are students learning about the world through new technologies, they are also interacting with it,” she said. “Being fully immersed in the21stt century has placed new importance on understanding cultures other than our own. New technologies are placing distant peoples only clicks away.”
At the same time, students in this country are woefully behind in warming up to the technological and scientific changes taking place.
“We don’t take science education as seriously in this country as they do in China and Italy,” said Joe Panetta, CEO and President of BIOCOM, an organization of some 600 San Diego companies specializing in biomedical research.
“Part of the problem is that we don’t have teachers who are educated in teaching science. We have to find ways to further reward those teachers who are willing to teach science and to get kids engaged.”
“What we see today is the result of many years of neglect in education training – not only education training but in personal mentorship,” said Cheng. “Young minds must be mentored. If they look at the role model and they think actively, they can get somewhere. But we need to have that happen in the schools.”
And the ones who need to be engaged the most are female students, who routinely don’t get the same encouragement their male counterparts receive. “We need to give them opportunities, for young girls to think that it is possible to be a physicist and to win the Nobel Prize,” said Cheng. “We need to instill the concept in these young minds. They are open.”
Naval officer, physician, surgeon, teacher and mentor – “her contributions are enormous,” said Roger Natsuhara, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy, delivering the keynote address at the retirement ceremony of Capt. Cynthia Macri on Tuesday, June 25.
The ceremony aboard the USS Makin Island at the San Diego Naval Station was attended by some 60 friends and colleagues – Navy and civilians – and included all the pomp associated with a naval event, including the reading of “Olde Glory,” a paean to the Flag as it was passed along the ranks before being presented to Macri, who celebrated 34 years of military service.
Macri, a 2010 Asian Heritage Award Honoree and a mentor in the Asian Heritage Society’s BOOST-STEM pilot program launched at Montgomery Middle School last year, discussed her career but focused on what she described as her two passions – soccer and diversity.
As an undergraduate at Lehigh University, she played on the all-man’s soccer team because the institution had no female team. She continues to play as part of an all-woman’s team, many of whose members attended the ceremony. In 1977, she started a women’s soccer team at Lehigh after the adoption of Title IX, which afforded women equal access to education and competitive sports.
In addition, as the chief assistant on diversity for the admiral of the Navy, she has helped promote the elevation of minorities through the ranks as well as promote diversity throughout the Navy and to the civilian community.
In her role as mentor, she said she was proud that “my career has touched many young people,” whom she tells to “take chances but stay grounded.” How grounded she has been as a doctor was symbolized four years ago while she was on the way from Washington to San Diego to receive the Asian Heritage Award. During the flight, a male passenger had taken ill and collapsed. Macri attended the man and had the pilot divert the plane to Omaha, where he could be taken to the hospital.
“That’s what I do,” Macri told the audience as she received the award.
The daughter of a renowned plant geneticist and a World War II Japanese relocation camp internee, Macri grew up in Hawaii but her father’s career took his family all over the world. After graduating high school in Pakistan, she decided on a career as a naval officer and a physician.
After completing training in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California at Irvine, she returned to Bethesda, Maryland, where she served in a variety of academic and administrative leadership roles before becoming director of Medical Department Accessions for the Navy and vice president for Recruitment and Diversity at the Uniformed Services University. In 2009, she was selected by then Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead to be his Special Assistant for Diversity, a position she held until retirement.