The war in Vietnam happened more than 50 years ago and impacted the social and political views of several generations in part due to images captured on film. Media coverage of the events in Vietnam brought the reality of war to living rooms across the nation every evening, including images of jungle villages burning, children crying into cameras, soldiers dying in jungles in the rain, helicopters dropping soldiers or picking up wounded soldiers, and students protesting and burning draft cards across the United State campuses. So the question for educators today is, “How do we make the Vietnam War relevant to a generation of students who are far removed from the images and social commentaries of the day?”
Through the lesson, “The Vietnam War: Then and Now,” students have the opportunity to compare the events of the Vietnam War to conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Students compare the images in today’s wars to images from the Vietnam. Students analyze the issues of the Vietnam War that divided the country while exploring the issues of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have led to oppositional views in the United States today. Students will be engaged in several exploration activities whose goal is to get students involved in the learning process and to help them understand the events from the past that are still impacting us today.
The culmination of the lesson requires students to present a piece of information pertaining to the puzzle of the Vietnam War. Each presentation will provide insight into the conflict that divided a nation.
According to the National Research Council (2005), “History offers students strange worlds, exciting events, and people facing seemingly overwhelming challenges. It shows students the dark and light side of humanity. It is one of the central ways of coming to understand what it is to be human, because in showing what humans have done and suffered, it shows what kind of creatures we are.”
This lesson certainly shows students the dark side of humanity with incredible human suffering on both sides of the conflict.
The social, political, and physical events of the Vietnam War offer students these types of historical experiences. The goal of the lesson is to provide students with an authentic view of the war in Vietnam and to relate the events and experiences of the war to events and experiences of today. To accomplish these goals the lesson is designed around the Four Components of Authentic Teaching, (Newmann, 1996; 2003):
- Disciplined Inquiry: collecting information via methods of inquiry; in depth understanding via exploring issues and relations; elaborated communications.
- Construction of Knowledge: organizing, synthesizing, interpreting, explaining, and evaluating information to convert it into knowledge.
- Value Beyond School: problem connects to the world; link learning to real world issues faced outside of the school building.
- Implicit View of Students: Students seen as individuals.
Construction of Knowledge occurs as students gain knowledge concerning the events and terms associated with the Vietnam War through a timeline of peer presentations. Students provide the content covered by the lesson and explain the content through their student voice. Discipline Inquiry is facilitated as students research information concerning one event or topic associated with the Vietnam War.
The teacher provides guidance during this section of the lesson by assisting students’ research with leading questions and research support. Value Beyond School can be seen throughout the lesson as students make connections between a war from the past and the wars of current day. The concepts linked to Vietnam War history apply to current wars they are living through. Explicit View of Students is expressed through individual student presentations. Each student has an important piece of information that will allow the other students to gain a full perspective of the Vietnam War. Without each students presentation the overall picture of the Vietnam War will not be complete.
Research has shown that when students are actively engaged in the learning process and when the problems, issues, or questions are linked to real world connections, the learning is more complete and permanent.
This lesson encourages students to develop habits of asking questions, making connections, and drawing conclusions. It helps students delve deeper into the content and go beyond the scope of their prior knowledge. “The Vietnam War: Then and Now” is very timely in this current environment of worldwide terrorism and war.
Donovan, M.S., Bransford, J.D. (2005) How students learn: history in the classroom.
Washington D.C.: The National Academies Press.