Oakland Mills High School fair teaches about different cultures

March 14, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Welcome to the world of non-Western culture.

Visit the Mekong River, which flows through several Asian countries and is a source of transportation and income for millions of people. Tour Tibet, where Buddhism first reached the temples in 645 A.D.

Discover the early kingdoms of Africa, including Kush, which existed from 1,000 B.C. to 150 A.D., and Songhai, from 1450 A.D. to 1,600 A.D. Read about the Mayas of Mexico and Central America, and about the Incan empire, which the Spaniards destroyed in 1532 A.D.

That was the agenda at Columbia's Oakland Mills High School last week, where world history students held a "Golden Ages Outside of Europe" cultural fair, featuring Asia, Australia, Africa and other regions.

Replicas of famous African art, slides of Chinese pottery and time lines detailing important dates in history filled the school's library.

The annual event began seven years ago as a way for students to widen their world history experience and to share what they learn.

"The focus of textbooks is on Western cultures," said social studies teacher Joseph Staub. "But the texts have gotten better over the years to include non-Western cultures."

Still, he said, the text that his students use includes three chapters on the Middle Ages in Europe, a time when that area had relatively little development compared with other cultures.

And while Christopher Columbus may be a household name, there were countless Asian and African explorers who braved the seas to trade in silk and salt.

The Chinese during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) sent out explorers long before Western cultures did, Mr. Staub said.

At the fair, groups of world history students were assigned to different aspects of a region or country. Assignments included looking at religion, art, history and topography.

Ninth-grader Candice Burke researched Chinese art, including pottery and sculptures from the 18th century. Her favorite was a rectangular table-top container made of turquoise and gold that was used as an air conditioner for emperors. Palace workers would put ice into the slitted container during the summer.

"I like learning about different things," she said. "I didn't think it was going to be fun, but it's interesting."

Justin Taylor, 14, came up with a creative way to highlight American Indian culture, a game called "Indianopoly," similar to Monopoly, in which students vie to buy as much property as they can.

Instead of labeling the property "Boardwalk" or "Illinois Avenue," Justin used American Indian heroes and chiefs, such as Geronimo, Big Bear, Falling Rock and Running Horse. And instead of "Go to Jail," a sign says "Go Straight to Fort."

Justin, who is part American Indian himself, said the project allowed him to learn more about his heritage and culture.

"The Indians weren't hostile," he said. "We forced them to be hostile because they were afraid of losing their land."

Fifteen-year-old Kelly Lockwood also worked on American Indian history, learning about farming and trading.

"I think it's important to learn about other cultures so you see how they're different from your culture and how they're the same," she said.

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