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The Overreach of the American Empire in the War for Vietnam

Richard Nixon once said that “No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then and it is misremembered now”; so how can we teach it with any integrity? In this unit for high school English Language Arts students, participants learn of the war through close readings of archival presidential speeches, in creating poetry, by way of a thematic short story, and if possible from guest speakers who can translate between then and now. Students may also learn about the past by doing something to involve themselves with it, honoring veterans of that distinct space and drawing themselves into the experience by holding a Memorial Day ceremony.

Students can approach past events through each activity in order to study the Vietnam War as if we are farmers of dreams, as W.D. Ehrhart has written: “A farmer of dreams knows how to pretend. A farmer of dreams knows what it means to be patient.” Perhaps we can know what it means to go into the fields each day enough to see some kind of healing grow: in our nation, in our schools, and in our students.

Sydney Hunt Coffin
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