ERIC Identifier: ED296913 Publication Date: 1987-12-00
Author: Wojtan, Linda S. Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Teaching about the Pacific Rim. ERIC Digest No. 43.
At the turn of the century, then Secretary of State John Hay declared
that the Mediterranean was the "ocean" of the past, the Atlantic the ocean of
the present, and the Pacific the ocean of the future. The Pacific future is
imminent. We hear daily reports of increased trade, immigration, and cultural
exchange with Pacific Rim nations, especially those in the Asian sector.
Focusing attention on this Pacific phenomenon is often a challenging task for
educators in the United States. To a large extent, the United States has spent
the last 200 years looking across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. We have been
historically drawn there by ethnic and cultural heritages, political ties, and
economic needs. However, the time has come to attend to the Pacific Rim. This
digest examines (1) the meaning of the term PACIFIC RIM, (2) reasons for
emphasizing the Pacific Rim in the social studies curriculum, and (3) useful
strategies for teaching about this part of the world.
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THE TERM "PACIFIC RIM"?
Gradually, the terms PACIFIC RIM and PACIFIC BASIN have become part of our
daily political and economic parlance. Although used interchangeably, "Rim"
refers to those nations bordering on the Pacific while "Basin" includes all the
island nations. Specifically, the nations of the Asian Pacific include China,
Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the Asian NICA (Industrialized Countries, of
Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong) and the ASEAN (Association of
Southeast Asian Nations) countries of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines,
These nations of the Pacific Rim have taken on increased global significance.
Many of these countries are experiencing unprecedented growth in trade, finance,
energy resource exploration, and migration. In the United States, we find
examples of our connection to these changes in the foods we eat, articles we
buy, children we teach, and changes in transportation and communications.
Although the term PACIFIC RIM encompasses all the nations on the edge of the
Pacific, this digest will focus on the Asian sector, where the United States
finds its most perplexing challenges.
WHY SHOULD THE PACIFIC RIM BE EMPHASIZED IN THE SOCIAL STUDIES CURRICULUM?
There are three main reasons for emphasizing course content on the Asian
Pacific Rim in the social studies curriculum of elementary and secondary
--Economic interdependence of the United States with countries of the Pacific
Rim. --Military and political importance of the Pacific Rim. --Growing rates of
immigration from the Asian Pacific Rim to the United States.
Economic Interdependence. In 1977, the United States trade balance shifted
from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Statistics for the period 1970-1982 show
United States trade with major West European countries increased fourfold; trade
with Pacific Rim countries averaged an eightfold increase during the same
12-year period. In contrast to the trade surpluses of the 1960s and 1970s, the
1980s signalled a period of alarming trade deficits for the United States. This
was particularly true with Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong. The United
States trade deficit with Japan alone stood at $59 billion in 1986.
These trade figures have caused many in the United States to call for
protectionist legislation. Some blame the Pacific Rim countries for American
unemployment and point to unfair trade barriers. Economic interactions with
Pacific Rim countries, however, are increasingly complex, attesting to our
growing interdependence with their economies.
The terms "import" and "export" no longer retain their standard definitions
in the face of global manufacturing, assembling, and originating patterns. Many
United States firms have operations based in the Pacific Rim, while nations such
as Korea and Japan continue to open plants in the United States.
Economic interactions are multiplying in the world of finance. While
Americans sleep, the dollar continues to be exchanged around the world. It
appears that corn, soybeans, and porkbellies will now have this same 24-hour
vitality, since futures trading currently accommodates Pacific traders with
sessions opening at 7:30 p.m. in Chicago. Surplus Pacific trade funds are being
channeled back to the United States through the sale of United States Treasury
notes. Japan now holds notes on over $52 billion of the United States debt. In
addition, nine leading Japanese banks have purchased $130 million in notes to
rebuild Bank America's capital base.
Clearly then, economic interactions across the Pacific form an intricate
matrix that promises to grow even more complex. Introducing students to this
global reality can help prepare them for life in the 21st century.
Military and Political Importance of the Region. The U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R.
carefully monitor each other's actions and bases in the Pacific. The Soviets now
have their first warm water port in the Pacific at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam.
Soviet ships on their way to Cam Ranh Bay from Vladivostok must pass through
narrow straits guarded by South Korea, Japan, and the United States. Currently,
the United States Pacific fleet accounts for almost half of the United States
Japan is a staunch ally of the United States in the Pacific. There are 50,000
United States troops stationed in Japan with the Japanese spending $1.7 billion
a year for their maintenance. Although relations with the government of the
Philippines are strong, there is concern over present United States bases. These
bases, housing an American force of 16,000, will be reviewed in 1988 and expire
in 1991. Opposition to these bases and general political unrest in the
Philippines have raised questions over their future.
The United States has fostered good political relations with many nations of
the Asian Pacific by playing a role in their economic development. The United
States has contributed technology, capital, and equipment while purchasing their
manufactured goods. Free enterprise has worked to a large extent in the Asian
Pacific, and capitalists there have a stake in maintaining noncommunist
The American presence in the Pacific has raised questions about nuclear
power. In 1985, New Zealand would not permit the U.S.S. Buchanan to visit
because the Americans refused to state whether or not the ship was carrying
nuclear weapons. The United States government has a long-standing policy of
neither confirming nor denying such requests for information. Compliance with
this request would have set a precedent and perhaps jeopardized United States
bases in other countries. In August 1986, the United States suspended its
military commitment to defend New Zealand under the ANZUS pact.
Immigration from the Asian Pacific Rim. Interconnections across the Pacific
include the flow of capital, goods, cultural forms, and people. The flow of
people among Asian nations and between these countries and the United States has
dramatically accelerated. For example, in 1965 only 7% of immigrants to the
United States came from Asia in contrast to 44% in 1981. There are currently 5.2
million Asian Americans in the United States, and by the year 2000 there will be
about 10 million.
The influx of Asian immigrants challenges teachers trying to cope with a wide
variety of behaviors and learning styles. For example, in a typical American
classroom casting down one's eyes might be viewed as disinterest or disrespect.
Yet, in some Asian cultures it is a deferential gesture, appropriate for a
superior, such as a teacher.
WHAT ARE USEFUL STRATEGIES FOR TEACHING ABOUT THE PACIFIC RIM?
Emphasize the realities of social change. Jiro Tokuyama points out in the
WHOLE PACIFIC CATALOG that, "History's biggest changes are generally hardest to
perceive. The Egyptians in the ancient times were not aware of the emerging
Phoenicians, who, engrossed in commerce and trade, paid little attention to the
rise of the Greeks and Romans, who in turn were ignorant of the Portuguese and
the Spanish on the Iberian Peninsula." Tokuyama continues: "The Spanish did not
realize the potential power of Great Britain, which was not far-sighted enough
to see the United States taking shape in the tobacco and cotton fields on the
new continent. This lesson of history teaches us to open our eyes to the changes
taking place right before us in the Pacific."
The study of ethics can provide clues to Asian cultures. Too often a
discussion of the Pacific Rim revolves around economic issues rather than
societal values. Frank Givney, President of the Pacific Basin Institute, argues
that it is a mistake to cast the whole relationship in terms of business. For
example, he urges us not to simply copy Japanese styles of management but to
understand the Confucian and Buddhist cultures that have been the foundation of
these skills. Comparing these values, and their relationship to the work force,
provides an opportunity for American students to question their own patterns of
behavior and examine societies that are organized quite differently.
Use studies of modernization and change in Pacific societies to provide
insights into global change. Today there are historical as well as temporal time
zones in the Pacific, with nations in various stages of technological
development. According to Gibney, the hallmarks of the Pacific Basin that have
evolved over the past 25 years are the transistor, semiconductors, television,
and the jet aircraft. These changes have propelled some countries on a course of
modernization and in some cases, Westernization, that few could have predicted.
Studying these changes is especially critical for American students facing a
future with high-level technology and fast-paced change.
Emphasize the diversity of Pacific Rim cultures. For example, various
religions are practiced: Buddhism, Shintoism, Islam, Christianity, and others.
Lifestyles range from the highly urbanized experiences of Tokyo, Singapore, and
Hong Kong to rural communities without running water or other modern
conveniences. Numerous languages prevail in this area. Point out the difference
in temporal perspectives. In the United States, there is great value placed on
the present, on quick returns, and on a relatively short attention span. The
longer histories and cultural traditions of many Asian countries foster a longer
range view and longer attention span. Delayed gratification and long-range
planning are norms fostered through religious and social practices.
The study of Asian Pacific practices different from our own can not only
enhance our understanding of the people but also can foster a sense of
appreciation for the social diversity found in the United States.
Cahill, Bruce, Ed. "Distance Education in Asia and the Pacific." BULLETIN OF
THE UNESCO REGIONAL OFFICE FOR EDUCATION IN ASIA ON THE PACIFIC 26 (1985): 172.
ED 269 200.
Clausen, A. W. THE PACIFIC ASIAN COUNTRIES: A FORCE FOR GROWTH IN THE GLOBAL
ECONOMY. Los Angeles: World Affairs Council, 1984. ED 244 852.
Cleveland, Harlan. THE FUTURE OF THE PACIFIC BASIN: A KEYNOTE ADDRESS. New
Zealand: Conference on New Zealand's Prospects in the Pacific Region, 1983.
Gibney, Frank B., Ed. WHOLE PACIFIC CATALOG. Los Angeles, CA: l981.
"The Pacific Basin Alliances, Trade and Bases." GREAT DECISIONS 1987. New
York: Foreign Policy Association, 1987. ED 283 743.
Rogers, Theodore S., and Robert L. Snakenber. "Language Studies in the
Schools: A Pacific Prospect." EDUCATIONAL PERSPECTIVES 21 (1982): 12-15.
Wedemeyer, Dan J., and Anthony J. Pennings, Eds. TELECOMMUNICATIONS--ASIA,
AMERICAS, PACIFIC: PTC 86. "Evolution of the Digital Pacific." Proceedings of
the Annual Meeting of the Pacific Telecommunications Council: Honolulu, Hawaii,
1986. ED 272 147.
West, Philip, and Thomas Jackson. THE PACIFIC RIM AND THE BOTTOM LINE.
Bloomington, Indiana, 1987.
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