Teacher and Department Head – History
Crestwood Preparatory College
2017 Asia Study Tour Participant
I am a 52 year old optimist, in spite of all the things that one goes through by and during this part of life. And it’s not just the personal difficulties – your wife goes through cancer, a parent develops dementia, a long-buried family secret lets loose…Those things happen to all of us, and we deal with them and do our best to move on. The larger world unleashes its torrent on you too – a dysfunctional White House makes you wonder about what’s going on in this superficial and confrontational culture, and somewhere there is always another horrible event, war or crime by/against humanity…social justice is a tough path, and holding on to the essential idealism and “never again” spirit and general sense of hopefulness can be difficult.
But I still feel that way, and as a teacher that’s the lesson I want to pass on to my students. I had a discussion with New Jerseyite Bill Hegerich at the Incheon Airport – it so happened that our flights were at approximately the same time. So we took the shuttle together, and at the airport we shared some Dunkin’ Donuts (transitioning back to a North American diet), and we talked. Much of the conversation was about our teaching careers – events and milestones and motives. The conversation ran the gamut, and we both reached the simple conclusion that we couldn’t imagine doing anything else. The simple metric is the passage of time; neither of us could recall too many days where we counted the ticking of the clock waiting for the day to conclude. Both of us remarked that time went too quickly, and we often did not get the chance to do all that we wanted (not sure if the students felt the same way).
Neither of us is new to the job. Bill has been at it for fifteen years, and I just finished my 26th year. But we both want to improve personally and professionally, and the ALPHA tour offered the chance. I mentioned once or twice that I’d come to favour a “community in the classroom” approach over the second half of my career. The reasoning is simple: we are preparing our students for the community, so why not bring community members into the classroom. As a history teacher, my main goal was to find people who had lived through the history I teach, and I saw a great opportunity to connect to the WW2 generation. So I began to search out speakers, mainly Holocaust survivors and veterans to begin. Over time we branched out into the multicultural communities of Toronto, and students interviewed family members about a diverse array of experiences. We have now completed five hundred interviews, and over four hundred appear on my webpage at www.crestwood.on.ca/ohp. (I’ll keep pressing it in the hope people actually look!)
But something was missing, and that is where ALPHA comes in to play. Canada’s recent history is very Europe-focused, so most on the interviewees were of that background. We have recently had many Asian students start coming to my school, and I feel it is important that their voices are heard too. That means that I need to learn more about this perspective, and the two weeks of touring, learning, and discussion have done that. I knew something of the sexual slavery of the “Comfort Women” and Nanjing and Unit 731 – now I am on my way to a much deeper understanding of those complex issues, with the ability and the tools to take my students there too. I also added to my oral history archive as I planned interviews every step of the way – that includes the many survivors we met through ALPHA, and it also includes meetings arranged with students in China and Korea, as well as on my personal travels in Japan and Vietnam. Those people want their stories told and their suffering acknowledged – you can feel it as they speak, and there is noticeable relief at the end of the process. High school students have the maturity to notice that catharsis. My students, many of whom are fluent in those languages, will “meet” those people and complete projects on their lives and experiences. The process will add to their understanding, and to mine.
That is a reason to remain a little optimistic. Mitsubishi may say that the courts are not the place to judge history, but they are, as are the media and classrooms all over the world. Don Tow said during the presentation of the “10 000 Cries for Justice” website: “If I don’t do the work, history will be forgotten…” That’s true of all of us, whatever our perspective and means.