The Asia unbalance in Michigan high schools

Adam Joseph

Recent praise for the effectiveness of the International Baccalaureate high school diploma program in Michigan overlooks our top schools’ weakness in producing students who are ready to untangle the challenges of 21st century global affairs.

According to U.S News & World Report’s high school rankings, the International Academy in Bloomfield Hills is rated the best public high school in Michigan. Much of its success is rightfully attributed to the employment of the increasingly popular International Baccalaureate curriculum, which gives students the opportunity to engage a challenging college preparatory program with an international focus.

However, our top schools must also be assessed by their ability to cultivate leaders who are ready to engage the dynamics of the 21st century global order. The most critical aspect is a shifting foreign policy focus toward South and East Asia driven by the so-called White House “Asia Rebalance.” The International Academy and its peer International Baccalaureate institutions leave students with a crucial gap by largely ignoring such regions (particularly India and China) that are most pertinent to the 21st century geopolitical landscape.

We have met the Asia Rebalance with an “Asia Unbalance” in our high schools.

India and China are in the midst of a rapid economic revolution. China and India’s ascent in the global order will force America to collaborate closely with their governments to address crucial social problems such as poverty, disease, terrorism and global warming. Globalization will be on the minds of all American students, whose experiences will be inextricably linked to China and India.

But its not clear our high school graduates can name the year of Indian independence, for instance. This is not simply about a memorization of facts. This should be a broader educational experience that prioritizes nations and cultures that are intimately linked with our national trajectory. Our failure to create such an experience could derail America’s international efforts for generations to come.

This is not to say that these countries are entirely absent from life at Michigan high schools. At the International Academy, students learn the basics of Gandhian philosophy, nonviolent resistance and the Cultural Revolution. They eat samosas during school events and watch bhangra dance performances. This might foster tolerance and understanding, but such casual learning must be married to substantive lessons in history, politics and economics.

Our Asia unbalance should be on the minds of the leaders at the International Academy and its peer institutions. Their challenge lies in contentious decisions that will advance the integration of Chinese and Indian history, politics and economics into our national consciousness. Controversy has already erupted in California and in Michigan over social studies education. The solution could take many forms: a revised curriculum, teacher training or new exchange opportunities.

Michigan schools have a clear mandate to lead a national movement to educate America’s future leaders about China and India and rectify the Asia unbalance in our high schools.

Adam Joseph is a 2011 graduate of the International Academy, a 2015 graduate of Harvard College, and a 2015-2016 Fulbright Scholar to India.