Religion in Japan: A Look at Cultural Transmission
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Exploring Buddhism and Shinto
Divided into five complete lessons, this SPICE resource is more complete and concise than any internet research one may attempt to do in order to prepare lessons on Japanese religious beliefs. With an introduction to the functions of cultural transmission and ways to introduce this simple yet complex idea to students, a foundation is laid for presenting new ideas, opening the minds, and connecting material to the lives of middle or high school students. A variety of background information about Japanese history and culture is provided for each of the five lessons, while connecting the concepts of cultural transmission, the history and tenants of Buddhism and Shinto, the practice of these two religions, comparing perspectives on the sacred, and examining the modern-day personal profiles of three faith leaders through primary sources. An appendix with descriptions of how the role Buddhism, Shinto, and Christianity have changed over time in Japan could be used alone as a supplement or background reading for other classroom lessons.
Taken either collectively or individually, these lessons provide a set of information and resources that are simple to use and easy to integrate into existing units. Each lesson comes with hands-on resources for the students such as graphic organizers, handouts, discussion activities, or maps. Vivid pictures on a CD, accompanied by a script in the guidebook, add another dimension for investigative activities and class discussion. While a teacher may use the a “See, Think, Wonder” framework where students are asked to describe that they see in the CD images, explain what they think about these observations, and develop questions verbalizing what they wonder about the images displayed, the images could also be used in a scramble activity where students match the script descriptions with the images shown or with the guided questions and activities described in the booklet. The role of Prince Shotoku is also examined as a case study for cultural transmission while many other figures can be compared throughout history as a follow-up class assignment. After presenting the history and background of these two systems of beliefs, a variety of activities comparing Buddhism and Shinto invite further collaboration, analysis, and the use of higher-order, critical-thinking skills. While many of the follow-up activities fit my middle school classroom well, they could easily be adapted for high school students in a Social Studies, philosophy, psychology, sociology, or religion class.
Curriculum Unit Review
Gregory N. Thomas
World History I
Central Catholic High School
The curriculum unit "Religion in Japan: And a Look at Cultural Transmission" is a quality unit, however it does have some drawbacks. The unit was created by the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE) and published in 1990. As such, it shows a bit of its age when it comes to the visuals included with the unit. While the photographs themselves closely go with the unit's prepared script and are definitely beneficial for students to see during a lesson, they are on outdated slide projector machine slides which I doubt many schools still possess. So an updated digital version of the unit, along the lines of PowerPoint (if available), would need to be purchased.
From there, while the unit does provide pages of informative script, I can foresee flaw in this as well because I am certain that students would quickly become bored listening to a teach read directly from a binder. My suggestion would be for the teacher to familiarize their self with the content in advance and then teach from their own notes.
Finally, another minor critique I have of the unit is its assessment. I think that the content of the lessons handouts and the information contained throughout the unit are superb with the handouts, especially the parts where students get to do case studies of modern Buddhists, however I think that with Lesson Two having the students do a Crossword Puzzle to compare Shinto and Buddhism is not the most engaging approach. The unit is designed for students in grade 7-12, however I likewise can foresee older students not being impressed with a crossword puzzle assignment. Here the teacher might have to do some adapting.