November 30, 2011 (HOUSTON) – The Chinese government censored his blog documenting communism’s impact on citizens. The government also blocked his entry into Tibet, where he hoped to learn more about the contrast between urban and rural daily life. But government constraints ended and authentic learning began when Harvey Lewis, III, returned to his classroom at Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts equipped with first-hand experiences from his Fund for Teachers fellowship last June.
After teaching social studies for ten years, Lewis was dissatisfied with students’ “textbook version” of China. He wanted to provide lessons that furthered students’ understanding of, competitiveness against and, ultimately, cooperation with their Chinese counterparts. To do so, he needed to move beyond facts and figures to more authentic learning about China’s government and people. Seeking out and obtaining a $5,000 Fund for Teachers grant, Lewis spent the month of June exploring the economic and political climate in one of the most influential countries on the planet.
“My Fund for Teachers fellowship took me by planes, high speed trains, bicycles, boats, camels, and foot across Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, and Mongolia, but speaking with ordinary Chinese about their lives, challenges, and dreams proved to be the most rewarding experiences,” said Lewis. “My goal was to immerse myself in Chinese culture and history to then share the material I collected with students in my government and economics classes. It’s easy to label China as a homogeneous state with government-mandated uniformity. But my photographs, videos, and personal accounts from China are helping students develop a greater appreciation of China’s complex society.”
Lewis’ itinerary included observing schools, interviewing teachers, touring sites, and exploring the architecture and lifestyles of Shanghai’s increasingly affluent middle class. He also visited Yanan to see the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party from 1936 to 1947, a major Communist pilgrimage destination. After his passport was rejected on the border of Tibet, Lewis cycled through Mongolia to experience the slower paced life characterized by rural farms and Buddhist monasteries.
In addition to daily sharing examples from his odyssey, Lewis also models life-long learning for his students. “Students appreciate the authenticity of first-hand accounts and have evidenced a desire to learn as much as they can from my fellowship,” said Lewis. “I also serve as an example to my students, demonstrating the exciting opportunities available to them by exploring and immersing themselves in another culture.”
Lewis is one of 10 Cincinnati teachers who used approximately $50,000 in Fund for Teachers grants to embark on self-designed learning odysseys last summer as scholars, researchers, and adventurers. Now in its second year of funding teacher grants in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area in collaboration with Strive Partnership, Fund for Teachers invites all eligible teachers to apply online for 2012 summer grants. The deadline for applications is January 27, 2012.