Fort Wayne-area classrooms have a unique window on the world this month, when Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi comes to town. Area educators shouldn’t miss the opportunity to incorporate her historic visit into lesson plans.
Suu Kyi’s address at Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 25 represents a teachable moment in the best sense. The city seldom hosts leaders known on the international stage and prominent in today’s headlines. Organizers expect many area schools to send students to hear the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
We do expect many students to attend at all grade levels, said Krista Stockman, public information officer for Fort Wayne Community Schools. We’re still working out the details, but it certainly is an exciting opportunity for students – and not just our Burmese students.
Even for those too young to attend, the event is a good way to make an international topic relevant to northeast Indiana students.
There’s the simple geo- graphy lesson: Where is she from? What part of the world is it? How far is it from Fort Wayne? What is the country like – its climate, its terrain, its people?
There are the obvious history and government questions: What sort of government does Burma have? Why is the country now known as Myanmar? How are her political views different from the ruling party’s? What is the National League for Democracy? Why was she under house arrest for more than 15 years?
Then there’s the piece that makes it so relevant for Fort Wayne-area students: Why is she coming here? Why are there so many Burmese refugees in Fort Wayne? What is the community’s history in welcoming refugees?
Language lessons abound. Suu Kyi’s address comes at the invitation of Fort Wayne’s Burmese community, and so she will speak in her native language, with translation provided. It’s an excellent opportunity to show students that foreign languages aren’t simply a classroom exercise and that a world of other cultures exists beyond Indiana.
Professor Gail Hickey of IPFW’s College of Education and Public Policy sees Suu Kyi’s appearance as an excellent opportunity for teachers to write women into the curriculum.
Women have always been a part of history, but society has not always recognized women’s contributions, Hickey said in an email.
Traditionally, history textbooks largely portrayed women as passive bystanders in the world’s events. Fewer than 11 percent of social studies textbook images and references are devoted to specific women.
She even offers some resources for developing lesson plans (see box).
There are countless local resources available to help teachers – IPFW faculty have long been engaged in educational efforts with the local Burmese community and the Burmese Advocacy Center could offer ideas and experts.
Students might learn the most, however, from their own classmates and contemporaries in advance of the visit: Hundreds of Burmese students attend both FWCS and East Allen County Schools, and each has much to share.