Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Author Soetoro-Ng, Obama's half-sister, to speak on multicultural education

Multicultural education is complex and should not be limited to teachings in the classroom, says scholar and author Maya Soetoro-Ng, President Barack Obama's half-sister who will deliver a lecture at U-M on Thursday.

  Maya Soetoro-Ng

"Given our globalized world and obvious interconnectedness (environmentally, economically and politically) parents and the media must be actively involved in teaching children to understand and to embrace different cultures and races," says Soetoro-Ng, who is nine years younger than the commander-in-chief.

"Multicultural education is often not taught in a way that is meaningful," says Soetoro-Ng, who will lecture on "Education for Peace and Global Awareness" at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Michigan Union Rogel Ballroom. "We take a simplistic additive approach to identity — one that doesn't make room for shared vision, cultural intersections or collisions, and negotiated truths."

An expert on multicultural and international education, Soetoro-Ng will offer a vision of public education related to an increasingly diverse, interconnected society and one that meets the challenge of achieving peace in the 21st century. The event is free and open to the public.

Soetoro-Ng is an assistant professor of education at the University of Hawaii and a consultant with the East-West Center.

Meaningful multiculturalism should not be about "us" or "them," which divide people, she says.

Just because we know about kimono, crepes or Kwanzaa doesn't mean that we have useful knowledge of what it means to be Japanese, French or African-American in today's world, she says.

Soetoro-Ng in 2011 published the multicultural children's book "Ladder to the Moon" which made The New York Times' best-seller list and was inspired by her daughter Suhalia's questions about Soetoro-Ng's mother, Ann Dunham.

Born in Jakarta, Soetoro-Ng is the daughter of a white American mother and an Indonesian father.

Her U-M visit resulted from her friendship with Scott Kurashige, director of the Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Program.

"Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng is an accomplished scholar, author and a tireless advocate for improving the quality of education in America," Kurashige says. "We are honored to bring her to Michigan and are confident that her voice will resonate strongly with members of the university and the wider community."

Obama has visited U-M twice, including a recent stop in January. Soetoro-Ng says she has not spoken to Obama about his experiences here, but this would mark the second time she will arrive at U-M. As a 16-year-old in the late 1980s, her brother — who at the time lived in Chicago and was active with voter registration — took her on a college tour and they stopped in Ann Arbor.

Despite her favorable impressions of Ann Arbor and the university, she decided to attend Barnard College and the University of Hawaii before earning her master's in secondary education from New York University. She spent several years teaching and developing curricula for public middle schools in Manhattan, then returned to Hawaii and received a doctorate in international comparative education.