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EDUCATION UPDATE for MAY 2015
"Home of Record" Curriculum Examines Primary Sources Related to Vietnam War
Educators who are looking for a powerful Civics lesson to end the school year will find the discussion and research activities outlined in HistoryLink's new curriculum, "Home of Record," particularly relevant.
In April 2015 the streets of downtown Seattle were filled with concerned citizens demonstrating their support for an increase in the minimum wage. The right to peaceably assemble is provided for by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and such demonstrations have always been an effective way for the public to make known its opinions about the decisions, actions, or policies of local, state, and national government.
Forty-five years ago, on May 5, 1970, thousands of Seattle citizens (many of them UW students) filled the city's streets for another reason -- to show their opposition to the Vietnam War. The new HistoryLink curriculum, "Home of Record," explores how the small town of Vashon, Washington, was impacted by that war. It provides students with primary sources to help them study how the lives of students their own age -- and those of their friends and parents -- were changed forever. It also provides materials, personal stories, and organized activities to help students examine how the public's means of expressing agreement or disagreement with government policies have changed over the past 50 years.
Today also marks the 40th anniversary of the end of U.S military involvement in Vietnam on April 30, 1975. For many veterans like Christopher Gaynor, the Vietnam War never really ended. Students have the opportunity to relive his experiences through his photos and letters with the “Home of Record” curriculum. The following introduction to the curriculum provides a more thorough description of its objectives and its alignment with Washington State Learning Standards. The HistoryLink Education Team is very interested in receiving feedback on how individual units or activities are used in the classroom. Your comments may be sent to email@example.com.
It seems impossible, but soon we will be observing the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. An official nationwide commemoration is being planned by the United States government and Department of Defense for 2015 through 2018. Special events and projects will be developed to bring awareness of the sacrifices made by veterans and their families and to the contributions made by those on the home front.
Vashon-Maury Island, like many small rural communities in Washington, sent its young men and women off to fight in Vietnam. According to the 1970 census, the population of Vashon-Maury Island was just over 6,000. Twelve young men from the area lost their lives as a result of their participation in the Vietnam War -- an exceptionally high ratio for any community. Their names are inscribed on two obelisks in Ober Park on Vashon, but are rarely spoken aloud or remembered. Christopher Gaynor, a Vietnam War veteran who has lived on Vashon Island since 1991, has taken informal custodial responsibility for the monument, as well as observing special Veterans Day and Memorial Day traditions at the gravesites of six of the men who are interred at the Vashon Cemetery, members of the group he calls the "Vashon 12."
Gaynor, Patricia Filer, education director at HistoryLink.org, and intern Leigh Sheridan worked together throughout the past year to develop a curriculum for secondary students. This classroom resource provides opportunities to analyze and interpret different viewpoints concerning historical events by examining primary and secondary sources. Looking back at the lives of the Vashon 12 and the Vashon community during the Vietnam War era also provides an avenue to introduce basic research techniques and stimulate discussions about personal rights versus civic rights and responsibilities. The curriculum provides activities, discussion topics, and resources that complement Washington State History, U.S. History, and Civics grade-level learning expectations; Classroom-Based Assessments; and the C3 Framework.
A series of remembrances called People's Histories were collected to use in this curriculum. Young people will have the opportunity to learn about the Vietnam War through the voices of those who lived during that time and had firsthand experience with the Vietnam War and the Vashon 12. Other activities focus on interpreting unique primary sources -- Christopher Gaynor's photos and letters from the Vietnam War. Each unit's activities and discussion topics can stand alone; there is no need to commit to the entire curriculum for students to gain insight and knowledge into the Vietnam War by using these valuable primary sources.
"These letters are presented as I wrote them more than 45 years ago. My mother saved those I wrote to my family. Anne Blackwell's daughter, Erin Blackwell, recently returned the letters I wrote to her mother, my friend and mentor for nearly 50 years. At the heart of this archive are my photographs. I took my camera with me everywhere, carefully composing the shot whenever possible. After so many decades, the young man who took these pictures is something of a stranger to me, and I marvel at how so many good images were captured under such harsh conditions.
"Those who are looking for dramatic battle scenes or epic heroics will be disappointed. Instead, these photographs and letters present portraits of a group of young men, kids, really, who bond deeply through the crucible of war. In our day-to-day lives we laughed, we did a lot of posing to look tough, and we counted the days until we would return to The World. We listened to Jimi Hendrix, drank stale beer, and smoked the occasional joint. Not so different from our civilian peers. But, we pulled the triggers in this war, and now must live with our share of responsibility for that. I invite you to look, read and perhaps feel a little of what we felt and experience a little of what we experienced. This is history; it happened. Perhaps someday we will understand why."
Christopher Gaynor, 2014
Image: Christopher Gaynor 1965. Courtesy Christopher Gaynor.