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January Term: Students Explore Education System in U.S. and Japan



Jan 18, 2016

Randolph-Macon College students enrolled in a course taught by Education Instructor Leslie Roberson and Education Professor Michael Mudd '97 are traveling throughout Japan. Roberson and Mudd are co-teaching Critique and Comparison of American Education Policy during January Term (J-term) 2016.

Education department students holding bannerThe course, which explores education in the United States and Japan, is the culmination of a fact-finding mission to Japan that Roberson and Mudd took in January 2014.

Participants, who left Ashland on January 14, are also doing a blog, titled Jackets in Japan, to chronicle their experiences.

Honoring Taylor Anderson '08
"We wanted to bring back information to build a travel class for education students, but we also wanted to honor Taylor Anderson's work," says Mudd of the earlier trip. Anderson (R-MC Class of 2008) was a dedicated student who went on to teach students in Ishinomaki in conjunction with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program. Anderson died during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Japan.

Following the tragedy, Anderson's sorority sisters donated books to the Ishinomaki bunkos (school libraries); on behalf of the U.S government and in Anderson's memory, Ambassador Caroline Bouvier Kennedy also donated books. A film made in Anderson's honor, "Live Your Dream: The Taylor Anderson Story," has been shown at numerous schools, museums and societies.

In 2011, Randolph-Macon College received a generous grant from The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, "Honoring the Life, Work, and Good Spirit of Taylor Anderson – Enhancing Japanese Studies at Randolph-Macon College." Funds from the grant are helping the college reach its goal of increasing course offerings in Japanese language and culture, and allow students to travel to Japan as part of their studies.

Special Guests
Students spent two weeks on campus studying education in the United States and Japan and preparing for their experience abroad. The students also visited local schools in Hanover County and Spotsylvania County. Guest speakers, including Anderson's parents, recently gave in-class talks.

"Andy and Jeanne Anderson spoke about the aftermath of the tsunami—buildings that will never be rebuilt, cities that will never fully recover, and people who are still dealing with the disaster," says Roberson. "They also talked about the Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund and what it supports, such as scholarships for both American and Japanese students."

Kianna Taylor '14, who taught in Japan for several years, met with the class and shared her experiences of teaching and living in Japan.

"Kianna gave us tips for Japanese etiquette and manners and shared food recommendations and other practical tips, such as what side of the escalator to stand on," says Roberson. "She also talked about her experience working at a private company, where she taught students as young as one year old and as old as 80. This kind of connection—an alumna sharing her expertise—is invaluable to our students."

Dorsey Smith, who served for 12 years as principal at an American school in Japan, spoke about the Japanese school system and Japanese gender roles.

"He was there from 1988-1991, so it will be interesting for our students to compare his experiences with our own," says Roberson.

Travel Time
In Japan, travelers will examine Japanese social, economic and historical aspects as they visit Tokyo, Kamakura, Ishinomaki, Hiroshima and Kyoto.

"In four of the cities we will visit Japanese elementary and secondary schools, meeting with administrators, teachers and students at each visit as we learn about Japanese schooling,” explains Roberson. A portion of the travel course was generously supplied by the Japan Foundation.

Fraser Mayberry '18, a psychology major and education minor, is excited to see how Japanese schools are run.

"Their standards and curricula are so different from ours and I cannot wait to see the differences between American and Japanese schools," she says. Mayberry, who attended the same high school as Taylor Anderson, derives inspiration from her.

"When I toured R-MC before my junior year, I noticed a Japanese book and a photo of Taylor on display in the library," she recalls. "I hadn't realized that she had gone to R-MC. During the past few years, I've realized all the connections I have with Taylor—including our mutual love for Greek life and travel, and most importantly, our passion for education. I wanted to take this course to experience Japanese culture, and also to keep the connection alive between Taylor and her alma mater. Though I did not personally know Taylor, I feel a bond with her, and I am excited to see where she lived and worked."

Books and Bookmarks
During fall term, Mayberry organized a campus project—colorful, handmade bookmarks that R-MC students made—in conjunction with the trip to Japan. 

"We will hand them out to elementary students as a gift from R-MC," she says. "On each bookmark is an English word about education and its Japanese translation." Randolph-Macon students decorated more than 150 bookmarks. Mayberry also spearheaded a book drive with the help of the Panhellenic sororities on campus.

"A few years ago, Taylor's sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta, held a book drive to send books to one of Taylor's schools in Japan," explains Mayberry. "This year, I asked each sorority to donate several children's books; in all, we collected 40! These books will be sent to one of the schools where Taylor taught: In each library there are special shelves reserved for American books in honor of Taylor."

J-term at R-MC
J-term provides students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in another culture, embark on an internship, or conduct groundbreaking research. On campus, J-term offers for-credit courses across the curriculum, making it possible for students to fully engage for one month in a single subject.