Saturday, July 15, 2017

Creating Community and Deep Thinking in Special Education: The Japanese Relocation

   In our Resource Room we spent several months reading about an important and tragic time in our history: The Japanese Relocation. We had the opportunity to have a guest in our classroom: a 96-year-old survivor of the Japanese internment. It seemed like the perfect time, in our current political and social climate, to learn about a shameful time in history. The children were appalled when Mrs. E told us that after her family came back to our town on the California coast, her sister did not have a seat on the all-white school bus! The other high school students had placed books on every vacant seat until finally, one girl moved her books so the Japanese-America student could sit down. They heard about the family being swept away on buses with the blinds drawn, only one suitcase for all their belongs as they made their way to the desert for internment. 
   Upon talking about the internment with our school librarian, I learned about a new book: Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban, about a Japanese-American girl from the state of Washington who was interned with her family in the California desert. The book was a beautifully readable piece of historic fiction that I knew most of my students could access, through shared and independent reading. Needless to say, they loved it!

“Your classroom is a place where students learn how to read, write, and expand all of their language skills, but it is much more. It is a laboratory where they learn how to be confident, self-determined, kind, and democratic,” (Fountas and Pinnell 2017)
   Fountas and Pinnell continue to be my mentors for teaching reading. I have yet to find a concept or philosophy of theirs that I disagree with. Children with learning disabilities, autism, and emotional disturbance still need high-quality literature and thought-provoking topics to promote the love of reading.

Students wrote letters from the point of view of a child at an interment camp, and created art depicting cold mountain regions, or deserts where the camps were located.

   2017 was the anniversary of a shameful time in our history. The Japanese relocation during World War II took place from 1942 to 1945. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which required all people of Japanese ancestry on the west coast of the U.S., to report to detention centers. These centers were located in desert and mountain areas in the west, forcing families to live in extreme hot or cold weather in desolate locations. Families were forced to abandon farms, businesses, friends, and schools, and were given a few days notice to pack their most precious belongings in one suitcase. 
   We discovered several other beautiful books to support our unit on this time in history. One was Sylvia and Aki by Winifred Conkling, which tells the
true story of Sylvia Mendez and Aki Munimitsu, and the discrimination both girls faced during this time period. Excellent and readable historical fiction which tells the story of two girls in southern California in the 40’s: Aki was sent to an interment camp with her family, and Sylvia and other Mexican-American children were denied access to the local school when they rented the house from Aki’s family. Sylvia’s father filed the historical desegregation lawsuit: Mendez vs. Westminster School District. 

   Our students in the Resource class were riveted; there was much discussion about the injustice, and they displayed feelings of empathy and understanding as they put themselves in the place of a Japanese-American child in 1942. They wrote letters and created phenomenal artwork, and proudly told their parents about a time in history that should never be repeated. 

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