Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Akiko Kurose Interview II
Narrator: Akiko Kurose
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 2 & 3, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-kakiko-02-0023

<Begin Segment 23>

AI: So you were the first person of color to desegregate the staff of the Laurelhurst Elementary School?

AK: Well, the first Asian; there was a black teacher. And there was something like, there was a quota of one and a half minority teachers. Really.

AI: So you were the half? [Laughs]

AK: Yeah. [Laughs] And then I became the whole. And then our computer teacher -- who was Japanese -- became the half. Anyway, it just, they played the numbers game for quite a while. But it was a cultural shock for Laurelhurst as well as for me to be in that situation. And then, Ken Seno -- who became the principal at Laurelhurst, and he was an excellent principal -- set the stage there for some really good learning to go on. Of course, the PTA is very strong, so, you know. But I realized right away, the inequities that go on. Because Laurelhurst is like an academy, you know, like a private school, with all the support from the parents and the community. And they could raise, like, you know, $46,000 over the weekend at an auction. And whereas a school like Dearborn Park, or whatever talking about, "Wow, they made $200," you know. And so the services to the students are, again, much less, because of, it's a monies game as far as I feel the school district is concerned. Because every school does not have, offer the same kind of education, although they're part of the public school system. And I have problems with their staff training and I've complained a lot about how they really aren't teaching the teachers or exposing them or sharing them the beauty of a multicultural, you know, aspect of education. And so I really like to emphasize that, peace and cultural pluralism and things, should be right, integrated into the whole curriculum. You're not getting a true education unless those things are considered.

AI: Can you tell me a little bit about how you incorporate that in the curriculum? Because I think people would be interested to know, because you work with young children who are in the first grade. And if you could, for example, describe when it's the fall and your class is starting up for the first time and you have a whole new class of young first graders, what are some typical things that you do to encourage the multiculturalism?

AK: Well, first of all, I have a big map on my floor, a world map on my floor at school, and so that the people get the perspective of their place on planet Earth. That, you know, usually we think of the United States, and we're pretty egocentric so we're only considering our area, and even as far as being just in the Puget Sound area, so kids don't even know where they are on planet Earth. And so I felt like it's important that we have a big world map on the floor and so that they know that Earth is a great big place and we're just a little spot on the map. And so I worked hard, I blew up, well, I made templates of the world map and then I had them blown up so that I'd have a pattern. And I had the world map painted on my floor. And so the first thing when the kids come into my classroom, they sit on the floor and they sit on the world map, and then we identify the different continents and the countries. We sing greeting songs of all the different countries and so that they could identify those countries by the song and the map that they have, and also that their background is represented in the classroom. So we sing in all different languages.

And so that's their introduction when they come to school in my classroom. And I talk about peace, that this is a peace class. It's very important that we learn about peace in this classroom. So we talk about how we feel about peace. And you know, it's so beautiful because once they lose their inhibitions and they're able to come out and say, "Oh, peace is having Mommy hold me," or something like that, and then people aren't laughing at them. And I think early in the game kids start to realize that there's a judgment call. When people, when they say something, if that person isn't really thinking in terms of that child, they'll laugh or make some remark that'll make the child feel uncomfortable, and not be able to come out and say how they really feel. So then, I noticed already in the first grade when they come to the classroom, they're wondering if they're going to give the right answer or not. Then when I put them at ease and say, "It's okay." Like, I'll say, "You know, when I was in first grade, what made me feel best was to have my mommy hug me and that was peace." And then they catch on, and then we talk about how important peace is.

And so that's our first, I have -- and then, of course, when they first come in I have little science experiments around the classroom. I have, I always say, "We want to make sure school is egg-citing." [Laughs] I have these eggs, boiled eggs, on little bottles and then I say, "I want this boiled egg to go into this bottle but it won't go in, what can I do about it?" And we were pushing it and doing all kinds of things and then I'll immerse one in real hot water and plump, it goes in, or then I'll light a match in one of the bottles and plump, the other goes in, you know. And so they see all these things and they get all excited and then we discuss why it happened, or how it happened, and can you get it out, and things like that. So that the whole day is spent experimenting and things like that.

We go outside and do exercises. And as we do exercises we count by ones and twos and fives and tens. So, and also we talk about peace, and so, "Let's make ourselves feel peaceful. So let's throw all our anger out." So we physically demonstrate how we're taking our anger out and throwing it out. And so every morning we go and throw our frustrations out, throw all our sadness out. Throw it into outer space. And I said, "We're not polluting outer space, because all of this disintegrates up in the air." [Laughs] So it becomes a kind of a ritual-like thing.

Then we observe the sky, we look for the, look at the clouds and we look at the moon and they're so excited when we're, in talking about the moon and how we're going to study the moon. And lo and behold, they're looking up in the sky and there's, you know, the moon. And people don't... and it's amazing how many parents are saying, "Well, we can't see the moon, we can't..." When I, at the parent meeting I'll say astronomy is one of my strongest fields, and we'll be talking about the phases of the moon, the position of the sun, and they're saying, "We don't want our kids to stay up that late." [Laughs]

But all this is stuff that's all around us, and we haven't spent any money on big textbooks, but then we're connecting with each other, and respecting each other. And I think that's what's the most important. And then, when we sing in all the different languages they're realizing that different languages are beautiful and not funny and something to laugh at. And especially up at Laurelhurst we have a bilingual center so we have children from all different countries and groups. And so sometimes people laugh at different languages. And I, when I was growing up, I noticed that many times when people weren't familiar with your culture they laughed at it and made fun of it. And I think that was just to put themselves in a comfort level, too. But, and so I want them all to feel that way. This is my main emphasis, that education is fun, should be fun, learning is fun. And also, learning can't take place unless a child feels very comfortable and peaceful with him or herself. And so, I just don't feel you need to get real expensive computers and expensive equipment to run a school. Have the children write their own stories, write their journals and share them.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.