ERIC Identifier: ED411175 Publication Date: 1996-09-00
Author: Schlene, Vicki J. Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Teaching about Vietnam and the Vietnam War. ERIC Digest.
A high school senior recently told a reporter, "I keep hearing people say
Central America is just like Vietnam. How am I supposed to know if Nicaragua is
like Vietnam if I don't know what Vietnam is like?" Another student described
his lack of knowledge of the Vietnam War and his fascination with it as the
black hole of history. These responses reflect the widespread ignorance of
students about a pivotal event in American history.
Our students were not born when the last helicopter lifted off the United
States embassy rooftop in Saigon in 1975. Yet most of them have experienced
myriad images, isolated facts, and emotional testimonials regarding Vietnam. But
they lack systematic and detailed knowledge of a turning point in modern
American history. If we want our students to understand many current foreign
policy issues, they must be adequately informed about the war in Vietnam and how
it has influenced our leaders and our culture. Given the importance of the
Vietnam War in modern American history, it should be emphasized more than it is
in the history curricula of schools.
REASONS FOR NEGLECT
Several factors have led to the
brevity or absence of class time spent on teaching about Vietnam. These include:
(1) superficial and often distorted textbook coverage, (2) time constraints, (3)
lack of worthy supplementary instructional materials, and (4) the controversial
nature of a still-emotional era of United States history.
How and where should teachers include in the curriculum a decade-long
conflict, spanning three presidencies? This problem continues to perplex
educators. It took more than ten years after the last troops were withdrawn for
teaching about Vietnam to be included in curricula of schools. Those teachers
who took on this task found little, if any, scholarly supplementary
instructional materials. Often, they were forced to write their own materials.
The many controversies surrounding Vietnam made it a political hot-potato many
instructors wanted to avoid. What can be done to improve teaching and learning
about Vietnam and the Vietnam War?
WAYS TO TEACH ABOUT VIETNAM
There are three aspects of
teaching about Vietnam that should be addressed. These are the conflict itself,
the geographic concepts of places/regions and physical systems, and the gamut of
homefront issues, ranging from anti-war demonstrations to the political
ramifications of the war. In "The Vietnam War: Teaching Approaches and
Resources," Marc Jason Gilbert addresses teaching about Vietnam through the
development of critical thinking skills. He proposes several models, including
decision-making simulations and alternative exercises, opposing viewpoints, moot
court proceedings, and media analyses (Gilbert 1991). In a chapter of Gilbert's
book, Steve Potts promotes primary sources as an excellent way to teach about
Vietnam. He uses four arguments: (1) primary sources can extend the textbooks'
coverage and offer the beginnings of a thorough, balanced approach to the war;
(2) primary documents are more intriguing than textbooks; (3) primary sources
expose the students to a wide range of opinions concerning the war; and (4)
primary source materials force instructors and teachers to come to terms with
their own subjectivity toward the war (Gilbert 1991, 193). It has also been said
that by "letting the events and people of history speak for themselves, teachers
can finally find a place for Vietnam in the curriculum" (Gilbert 1991, 196).
Another way to capture the students' attention is to teach about Vietnam using
popular literature and films. Using Vietnam conflict literature and films in the
classroom can challenge students' preconceived perceptions of the war and help
them to gain a more responsible view of American involvement in Indochina. This
can only happen, however, if they are adequately prepared to utilize critical
thinking skills to form knowledgeable opinions about the materials they read and
ORGANIZATIONS AND RESOURCES FOR TEACHING ABOUT VIETNAM AND THE VIETNAM WAR
"The New York Times" Educational Media has produced
"Live from the Past," a series of instructional modules based on articles from
the newspaper. A four-module set examines the origins, development, and
consequences of the Vietnam War. To obtain information about the availability of
these modules, call (800) 991-1112 or write to NYT Educational Media, 122 East
42nd Street, 14th Floor, New York, NY 10168. "The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam
War," a 1996 publication, includes original, signed articles dealing with many
divergent aspects of the war.
Three social studies journals have devoted entire issues to teaching about
the Vietnam War: (1) "Social Education," January 1988, (2) "New England Journal
of History," Spring 1990, and (3) "The Social Studies," January/February 1995.
Active Southeast Asia Resource Centers are located at several universities.
Many of these centers produce instructional materials on teaching about Vietnam
and other Southeast Asian countries. In addition, many organizations provide
information on teaching about Vietnam. Here is a partial list of these
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are available in microfiche and/or paper copies from the ERIC
Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices, contact
EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852;
telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400 and (800) 443-3742. Entries followed by an
EJ number, annotated monthly in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE),
are not available through EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal
section of most larger libraries by using the information provided or requested
through Interlibrary Loan.
Bender, David L. VIETNAM WAR: OPPOSING VIEWPOINTS. St. Paul, MN: Greenhaven
Berman, David M. " Every Vietnamese Was a Gook': My Lai, Vietnam, and
American Education." THEORY AND RESEARCH IN SOCIAL EDUCATION 16 (Spring 1988):
141-159. EJ 376 906.
Berman, David M. "Perspectives on Teaching the Vietnam War." SOCIAL STUDIES
77 (July/August 1986): 165-168. EJ 343 111.
Dunn, Joe P. "Teaching the Vietnam War in High School." SOCIAL STUDIES 74
(September/October 1983): 198-200. EJ 288 888.
Dunn, Joe P. THE STATE OF THE FIELD: HOW VIETNAM IS BEING TAUGHT.
Spartansburg, NC: Converse College, 1995.
Edmonds, Anthony. RESOURCES FOR TEACHING THE VIETNAM WAR: AN ANNOTATED GUIDE.
Pittsburgh, PA: Center for Social Studies Education, 1992.
Gilbert, Marc Jason. THE VIETNAM WAR: TEACHING APPROACHES AND RESOURCES. New
York: Greenwood Press, 1991.
Kenney, Marianne, and Joan Besley."'We Gotta Get Out of this Place':
Geographic Perspectives on the Vietnam War." JOURNAL OF GEOGRAPHY 88
(July/August 1989): 152-157. EJ 397 146.
Kutler, Stanley I., ed. THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE VIETNAM WAR. New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1996.
McCloud, Bill. WHAT SHOULD WE TEACH OUR CHILDREN ABOUT VIETNAM? Norman, OK:
University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.
Meadows, Darrell. THE VIETNAM WAR: A FOUR-WEEK INSTRUCTIONAL UNIT--GRADES
11-12. St. Louis, MO: University of Missouri, 1990. ED 328 492.
Olsen, Karen, and John Low. VIETNAM IN THE CLASSROOM: FACT, FICTION, AND
TRUTH. Baltimore, MD: Dundalk Community College, 1985. ED 265 912.
Starr, Jerold M., ed. THE LESSONS OF THE VIETNAM WAR: A MODULAR TEXTBOOK.
Pittsburgh, PA: Center for Social Studies Education, 1988. ED 337 409.
Tollefson, James. "Conscientious Objection to the Vietnam War." OAH MAGAZINE
OF HISTORY 8 (Spring 1994): 75-76. EJ 488 704.
Totten, Sam. "The Lessons of Vietnam." CURRICULUM REVIEW 25
(September/October 1985): 87-89. EJ 324 155.
VIETNAM: A TEACHER'S GUIDE. New York: The Asia Society, 1983.
THE VIETNAM ERA: A GUIDE TO TEACHING RESOURCES. Cambridge, MA: Indochina
Curriculum Group, 1978.
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