Localizing Guam education
Proposed curriculum change seeks to introduce students to their historical roots
“Organic Act?” Only five of 100 students surveyed at the University of Guam had heard of it. The remaining 95 gave a perplexed look. The 95 percent cluelessness reveals an astounding gap in local civic knowledge created by Guam’s largely Americanized education system. The local academe has thus deemed it time to give the new generation a reorientation of their identity and get them acquainted with the fundamentals of the very society in which they live.
Plans are in motion to change the social studies curriculum on island to focus more on Guam and the Pacific-Asia region than the United States.
The Guam Department of Education and the University of Guam plan a pilot version of the program in several elementary schools on island. The plan is that 2nd and 3rd grade students will be learning about Guam and the rest of the region for Social Studies class while 4th graders will learn about Guam history.
“Curriculum should start from what you know to what you don’t know. When you come from a small society like Guam, people tend to devalue who we are and devalue our immediate experience as if it wasn’t really important but those are the building blocks in which we can learn about the rest of the world,” says Dr. Robert Underwood, president of the University of Guam. “In order for you to be a secure human being and understand society, you first have to understand your own society.”
Underwood is part of the team of subject matter experts and curriculum specialists that will be putting this program together. He emphasizes that this change of curriculum is nothing new.
The project, Underwood says, is based the governor’s executive order that calls for the preparation of new textbooks and instructional materials to go along with the curriculum revamp. “Curriculum should always be changing,” he says. “Knowledge is not static so I don’t understand why people think curriculum should be static. The challenges are different and students change.”
Underwood believes this is the perfect time to start the change of curriculum because the new generation of students are more open to change and more proud of their roots. “I think the way society feels right now, the people of Guam are more introspective than they have been in the past so they’re more interested in their own roots,” he says.
The new generation, Underwood says, has shown interest in their own environment, health care and social systems.
Initially, the pilot program will only supplement the material in elementary Social Studies classes, but over time, Underwood hopes the material will become the standard. Materials ranging from textbooks, rubrics, activities, questions, examples, handouts, will be produced and distributed to the teachers.
“The challenge for us, as is the challenge for anyone who’s developing a curriculum, is not just having the subject matter expertise but it’s understanding curriculum and what kind of materials are readable and accessible to children of various ages,” Underwood says. “I think the real critical element of this is the consumer and trying to make sure they lend their experience to the endeavor.”
As to the concepts that will be taught at a Social Studies elementary class, Underwood admits “conceptually, it’s not easy.” It will require thorough examination and some serious thinking, he says. “For example, how do you deal with difference? How can we teach that in a way that’s healthy and helps build a strong society? So what is the school scenario on that and how do you ground them on the Guam experience? What does it mean to have a village mayor? What does it mean to be a seven-year-old on Guam? Where do you work? They’re really simple concepts but if you don’t touch them all, you don’t get an integrated human being.”
Dr. Michael Bevacqua, a professor at UOG who is also part of the team that will create textbooks and other teaching materials for this program, agrees with the change in curriculum.
“It is far more important for a child on Guam to learn about the Organic Act than the U.S. Constitution because the constitution doesn’t full apply, it only partially applies, to Guam because of the Organic Act,” he says.
Citing the dismal result of the survey on the students’ knowledge of the Organic Act, Bevacqua underscores the need for reorientation. He believes that at the elementary school level, students should be learning about how the local government works and comparing it to other islands in the region.
According to Bevacqua, an added benefit to the program is the amount of money that GDOE would save on textbooks by replacing the expensive U.S.-centered textbooks with locally-made textbooks and reading material. “It would cost about half the price,” he says.
Bevacqua expressed the great need for a more localized education. “Social Studies teachers would say they never cover local stuff unless it’s once in Chamorro Month,” he says. “Their reasons are usually because it’s not in the curriculum or it’s not in their textbooks. Social Studies is supposed to be connected to wherever you live your life. Students on Guam get Social Studies classes that prepare them for life on the other side of the world but don’t give them much understanding of their life here.”
As a member of the Commission of Decolonization, Bevacqua says there’s also another project in the works to change the curriculum for all grade levels.
Last year August, the commission agreed to conduct research, develop educational materials, and engage in community outreach with the $300,000 grant from the Department of Interior intended for political status education.
“The commission connected with GDOE, saying that we should make discussions on political status and decolonization part of the regular system,” says Bevacqua. “What was proposed was to create supplementary material for Social Studies teacher. Basically, to add materials such as political status issues.”
Bevacqua says more complex topics, such as different political status options as well as their benefits and drawbacks, will be introduced in the higher grade levels.
“In order for you to be a secure human being and understand society, you first have to understand your own society.”
Educational materials such as the Self-Determination 411 Fact Sheet, The Case for Independence Overview Sheet, An Analysis of the Economic Impact of Guam’s Political Status Options prepared by Joseph Bradley, vice president and chief economist for the Bank of Guam, and other academic articles relating to the region and independence can be found on the Independence for Guam Task Force’s website.
“We’ve had several meetings looking at what material already exists and brainstorming what material we’d like to be in existence. As you go with your GDOE approved curriculum, these are things you can branch out into about local issues,” says Bevacqua.
At one of the most recent general assemblies held by the Commission, Guam History and Chamorro Studies Major Jesse Chargualaf presented his research on student district-wide assessment scores and the correlation of content. “Basically, students are not doing so well right now. Our test scores show that our students are below average,” Bevacqua says. “I just feel like changing the way students see education would make them feel part of something rather than looking in from the outside.”
This is an ongoing process and is a long- term goal for the commission and GDOE.