Sunday, November 15, 2015

Teaching Race in U.S. History at the NCSS Annual Conference

For the past two years, I have presented teacher workshops on teaching race in U.S. history at the National Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference in Boston and New Orleans. The main premise of the workshop is that race is often omitted from the U.S. history curriculum and, when it is included, it appears only in a handful of units (i.e. European colonization/Indian "removal," slavery/abolition, and the modern civil rights movement). Additionally, Asians and Latinos may be completely invisible in the U.S. history curriculum (and may only appear during lessons on the building of the transcontinental railroad or Mexican American War). In these workshops, I ask teachers from around the country to share the many different ways that they include race and inequity in their U.S. history classrooms, which often includes many powerful examples (many of which I had never considered before the workshop.

If you are interested in making race a central aspect to your U.S. curriculum, I encourage you to download the below materials, which I have used during these workshops. They include an engaging opener, an inquiry question, and primary source documents rooted in racial experiences of past events. I list the session title and the topics addresses.

Beyond Slavery and Civil Rights: Teaching Race in U.S. History
NCSS 2014 Boston, Massachusetts

File Link:

California Gold Rush
Zoot Suit Riots
Hurricane Katrina 

Uncovering the Omitted Past: Teaching Race-Related Events in U.S. History
NCSS 2015 New Orleans, Louisiana

File Link:

American Revolution
Japanese Internment
1980s and Reagan's Economics Policies

Thursday, August 6, 2015

70th Anniversary of Hiroshima: 15 Websites, Books, and Films to Teach Multiple Perspectives

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the United States use of the atomic bomb on Japan. It is estimated that 150,000 people were killed at Hiroshima and 75,000 people were killed at Nagasaki by the atomic bomb. While the use of the atomic bomb is one of the most controversial issues in the history classroom and is still widely debated by historians, it is not uncommon for history teachers in the U.S. to teach the event from a one-sided perspective defending the use of the atomic bomb to decisively end the war and save American soldier's lives. This perspective would be aligned with a majority of Americans, as a recent Pew Poll found that 56% of respondents believed that the use of the atomic bomb was justified. Yet, the use of the atomic bomb is much more complex and any teaching of the event demands an examination of multiple perspectives and should include a careful discussion of the human loss of life, the political reasons that influenced the bombs' use, and the growing historical evidence that the bomb may not have been necessary to end the war.

To help teachers, I have compiled a list of 15 websites, books, and films that dive into the historical complexities, as well as present the multiple perspectives of the U.S. decision to use the atomic bomb on Japan.

1. Film and Graphic Novel: Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen)

The 1983 anime film was adapted from a manga series that ran from 1973-1985. Loosely based on Keiji Nakazawa experience as a Hiroshima bombing survivor. The film and manga series tell the story of six year old Gen Nakaoka who survives the bombing, but sees most of his family die in the bombing.

2. Book: Hiroshima

Originally published in The New Yorker magazine, American journalist John Hersey captured the stories of six people who survived the bombing of Hiroshima. It was one of the first publicly reported accounts of the survivors.

3. Article: The Atomic Bomb: Hiroshima and Nagasaki

An article on by Christopher Hamner of George Mason University discusses the controversy of the atomic bombing, how U.S. textbooks portray the event, and primary sources for students to use.

4. Curriculum: Hiroshima: Perspectives on the Atomic Bombing

This curriculum package from the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education includes several activities with primary sources that examine the atomic bombing from multiple perspectives.

5. Website: Atomic Archive: Hiroshima Documents and Photographs

In a National Science Foundation-funded project, this website housing a large collection of digital  texts, eyewitness accounts, photographs, videos, and maps. 

6. Website: Public Radio International: What If Your Hometown Were Hit by the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb?

Public Radio International has created a website to demonstrate the size of the destruction of the atomic bomb transposed on your specific location. This allows teachers to put the damage into perspective.

7: Article: Revisiting Hiroshima The Role of US and Japanese History Textbooks in the Construction of National Memory

A study in Asia Pacific Education Review by Keith Crawford of Edge Hill College (United Kingdom) that compares textbooks in the U.S. and Japan and their portrayal of the atomic bomb.

8. Film: PBS American Experience: Truman (Atomic Bomb Segment)

The PBS American Experience documentary on Truman has a 5 minute clip on the atomic bomb and the decision to use it on Japan.

9. Website: Truman Library Documents

A website cataloging the documents at the Truman Library related to the use of the atomic bomb on Japan.

10. Article: If the Atomic Bomb Had Not Been Used

This 1946 article from The Atlantic defends the use of the atomic bomb.

11. Website: National Security Archive: The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II

An extensive collection of primary sources (mostly government documents) related to the atomic bombing of Japan.

12. Article: TIME Magazine: After Hiroshima: Portrait of Survivors and Pictures from the Ruins

In 2014, TIME Magazine presented their photographs (published and unpublished) from their archives related to the bombing survivors and pictures from the ruins.

13. Interview: Tsutomu Yamaguchi

Tsutomu Yamaguchi was the only known person to survive both the atomic bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is one of the few English-language interviews with him.

14. Film: Atomic Cafe

Starting with the first atomic bomb test, this documentary uses historical film footage to tell the story of the use of the atomic bomb on Japan and the consequential atomic (and later nuclear) arms race between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.

15. Website: PBS NewsHour: Five things your class should know on the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing

PBS NewsHour has assembled a quick summary of the 5 things every history class should know about the atomic bomb.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Teaching Race and the “Good War”: The Role of Racism in World War II

When I was a child, I enjoyed playing army with my friends. We would dress up in our imagined uniforms and guns, and pretend we were fighting the bad guys. My grandfather, who was a soldier stationed in Boston during World War II, would say, “Stop playing that.” He would tell me that some of his friends died during the war and many others experienced terrible events. Despite the fact he never left the United States, he told me about his own difficult war experiences here at home and how lucky he was that he did not go through what others did, concluding that, “War is not a game. It is not fun.” I never forgot what my grandfather would tell me (in fact, it would later influence me to become a pacifist and a war protester). From a young age, I knew there was a very bad side of the “good war.”

In his book "The Good War," Studs Terkel captured powerful accounts of the war through oral histories, and in many cases, exposed the dark side of the war. As we approach the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, it is important that social studies teachers help students dig deep into the complexities, including the often-ugly past, of the war. The Second World War is often framed in history classes as a clash between democracy and fascism (certainly the Holocaust and Japanese military atrocities in China and elsewhere provide evidence of how horrific fascism was). However, we must remember, as Howard Zinn wrote, “World War II is not simply and purely a ‘good war.’ … There were too many betrayals of the principles for which the war was supposed to have been fought."

One specific part of this betrayal of principles is the treatment of people of color, soldiers and civilians, during the war. At the hands of the U.S. military and the civilian government, people of color faced imprisonment, segregation, discrimination, destruction of their homes and land, and, in some extreme cases, even scientific experimentation. The Black, Latino, Asian, and indigenous people's histories of the War, in many ways, contrasts the history we often read in textbooks or see in the media. Within communities of color, there were varying personal experiences and opinions of the War. While some American Indians felt an overwhelming sense of patriotism and volunteered to fight, others volunteered to simply leave the poor economic conditions of their reservations, and still others felt anger at the U.S. government for allowing the war to tear apart their communities and land. While over a million African Americans fought bravely for their country, they also felt the sting of segregation both at home and abroad. After the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in internment camps, many Asian Americans, regardless of their ethnicity, were forced to routinely demonstrate their patriotism for fear of being labeled the enemy. For Latinos, while the war effort helped many Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, and others groups feel patriotism and civic inclusion, for others it was a reminder that the color of their skin and their language prevented them from being treated like full citizens.

These histories are often left out of the larger World War II narrative. Yet, they are incredibly important part of the War's history and should be addressed along side other more traditional topics, such as D-Day or the contributions of citizens on the Home Front. Below is a list of 11 important race-related events, with brief descriptions, that should be taught in any World War II curriculum. In the links, teachers can find many primary sources that can be used to frame historical inquiries.


1. Japanese Internment and the 442nd Regiment

After the Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor, the U.S.government began swift arrests of Japanese American males in Terminal Island, California. It was a premonition of what was to come. Although more than 2/3rd of all Japanese Americans were U.S. citizens, Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which imprisoned 120,000 people of Japanese descent in 10 internment camps, called “war relocation camps” at the time. There were many resisters to internment, including Fred Korematsu, the No-No Boys and Girls, and other acts of civil disobedience. Despite their treatment, many Japanese Americans, who were imprisoned or had family imprisoned, chose to fight for the U.S. military, of which the 442nd Regiment is the most well known. For other Asian American groups, in particular Chinese Americans, it was a time to express their patriotism and transcend stereotypes, but also a time to display their loyalty to avoid being treated like the Japanese Americans.

2. Workforce Discrimination in the War Industries

In the early years of the war, industrial production was increased. Factories were often running 24 hours a day to produce armaments, tanks, planes, and other types of military equipment. Women played an important role filling in for many of the men who were shipped abroad. Yet, people of color were often excluded from these factories and faced significant discrimination in hiring. In many places, the war industry was for “Whites only.”

3. Anti-Japanese Propaganda

Even before the U.S. entered the war, the government began to turn out military propaganda. While much of this was tailored to garner support for ally nations and to raise funds for an impending war, the propaganda that focused on Japan had obvious embedded racial stereotypes. While this was intended to arouse patriotism and support for the war, it also sent a powerful negative message to Japanese Americans about how White America viewed them and motivated prejudice and hate crimes toward Asian Americans.

4. The Role of Race in Chemical Experiments on Soldiers

During World War II, the U.S. military experimented on soldiers in an attempt to improve their ability to fight the Axis Powers. Recently, NPR uncovered secret testing of chemical warfare, including mustard gas, on Black, Puerto Rican, and Japanese American soldiers to determine if certain ethnic groups were more resistant to chemical warfare that could be used by Germany or Japan. Many of these veterans faced life long health effects and premature deaths as a result.

5. The Impact of World War II on Indian Reservations

In recent years, many students have learned about the important contributions that American Indians made at home and abroad (including the famed Navajo Code Talkers), but little is taught about the impact that the war had on Indian reservations. The U.S. government used Indian lands as internment camps (Poston in Arizona and Gila River in Colorado) and military bombing ranges (Pine Ridge). In Alaska, the government imprisoned many Unangan people in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, because they lived in what the U.S. government declared a war zone. With over 25,000 American Indians served in the military during the war, this caused a massive exodus of young Indian males from reservations, with many never returning after the war, which devastated many indigenous communities.

6. Racial Segregation and the Military

While the United States was fighting a war against fascism, it continued to practice Jim Crow-era racial segregation at home and in the military. Many soldiers of color were relegated to labor roles during the war, were never appointed to the highest leadership roles, and, when they did see combat, were often sent on some of the most dangerous missions (as many people know from the experiences of the infamous Tuskegee Airmen). In reaction to the racial discrimination, many soldiers of color stood up this this through different forms of protest, including Jackie Robinson (the future baseball player), who faced a court marshal trial for refusing to move to the back of a segregated military bus.

7. Detroit Race Riots

In summer of 1942, the Detroit Race Riots began at Belle Isle amusement park, when “a fight erupted between a total of 200 African Americans and white sailors. Soon, a crowd of 5,000 white residents gathered at the mainland entrance to the bridge ready to attack black vacationers wishing to cross. By midnight, a ragged and understaffed police force attempted to retain the situation, but the rioting had already spread too far into the city." Days of rioting by Whites and Blacks occurred. In the end 25 Black residents and 9 White residents had been killed.

8. The Zoot Suit Riots

Two years later in 1944, following the Sleepy Lagoon murder, the city of Los Angeles would also erupt in race-related violence often labeled the Zoot Suit Riots. What started as a turf battle between Mexican American teenagers and White sailors, who were stationed on their edge of their neighborhood, would result in sailors and other White residents attacking Latinos (as well as, Filipinos and African Americans) throughout the city, often stripping the young men of their Zoot Suits (which were culturally significant, but seen by Whites as excess in a time of textile rations).

9. The Double-V Campaign and Sedition

Often taught today as an act of patriotism, the Double V campaign (victory over fascism abroad and victory over racism at home) waged by African American civil rights activists during the war, connected segregation to the inequality and lack of democracy existed in fascist nations. However, this was seen by some in power, including J. Edgar Hoover, as an act of sedition and disloyalty.

10. Treatment of Veterans of Color on Their Return Home from War

We often think of the scenes of Time Square on V-J Day, where Americans greeted returning soldiers with ticker-tape parades. While nearly 2 million people of color served in the U.S. military during World War II, many did not face the same fanfare as returning White soldiers. In fact, a large percentage returned home to segregation and discrimination. Blacks, Latinos, and American Indians returned to higher rates of unemployment to Whites, segregated housing through redlining practices, and inability to secure bank loans, and refused service in stores and restaurants. Many returning Japanese American soldiers not only lost their homes and possessions when their families were interned in prison camps, but they were often treated as if they were “the enemy” by many Whites.

11. The Use of the Atomic Bomb

The last issue that should be addressed when examining the role of race in World War II is the use of the atomic bomb on Japan. In his book “Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb,” historian Ronald Takaki argued that beside a desire to reduce U.S. causalities and end the war quickly, Harry Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb twice on Japan was motivated by American’s “racial rage” toward the Japanese. These were not military targets that were bombed. Rather, they were major cities with large civilian populations. It is an event that had a profound impact not only on the people of Japan, but Japanese Americans, some of whom had family and friends in the bombed cities.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Teaching the U.S. Occupation of the Dominican Republic

Above: Protests opposing and supporting the U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic. The top picture reads, "July 12th, Get Out Yankees" in Spanish, while the other sign reads in English, "Yankees Come Back."

Fifty years ago, the United States invaded and occupied the Dominican Republic (this was actually the second U.S. occupation, with the first lasting from 1916 to 1924). The 1965 occupation coincided with the early days of Operation Rolling Thunder, which was the first major American bombardment of Vietnam War and longest air campaign in U.S. history, and was one of the most important events in Dominican Republic history. However, this historical event is rarely taught in history classrooms, as it is usually overshadowed in curriculum by other events of the era, including the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.

Above: (left) Rafael Trujillo, (right) Juan Bosch, and (bottom) Elías Wessin y Wessin

The Back Story
In 1961, the Dominican Republic's military dictator Rafael Trujillo was assassinated. After a democratic election, Juan Bosch, the leader of the Dominican Revolutionary Party, took office. Bosch pushed for a series of economic and social reforms, which received widespread support from the rural and urban poor and working classes, but also strong push back from both the military leadership and wealthy Dominicans. In September 1963, there was a coup d'état and Elías Wessin y Wessin would eventually take power while a civil war broke out in the streets of Santo Domingo. During months of fighting, the pro-Bosch forces gained control of the capital city. Fearing another Cuban-styled revolution, Lyndon Baines Johnson ordered the U.S. Marines into Santo Domingo (named Operation Power Pack). The Dominican people remained divided in their support of the U.S. invasion. In 1966 election, running on a platform of peace and stability and with the endorsement of the U.S. government, Joaquín Balaguer (a former official under Trujillo) defeated Juan Bosch. Balaguer would rule the Dominican Republic of-and-on for the next 22 years, with many people considering him a puppet of the U.S. government. 

The U.S. Occupation of the Dominican Republic should be an essential component of any Cold War unit in U.S. or world history. First, there are over 1.5 million Dominican Americans in the United States. Dominicans have had a particularly important influence on many communities in New England, New York, New Jersey, and Florida. In fact, the 1965 turbulence and civil war was a major influence on Dominican immigration to the U.S., which dramatically increased from the 1960s through the 80s. In many ways, Dominican Republic history is U.S. history. Second, this is an important place in the curriculum to connect the Cold War to the Latino experience. It is typical that Cuba is the only Latin American country that plays a prominent role in Cold War curriculum units (i.e. Cuban Revolution, Bay of Pigs Invasion, Cuban Missile Crisis). By teaching the U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic, it allows students to see other incidences of U.S. intervention. Finally, the occupation is an important side story of the Vietnam War. Much like Vietnam, LBJ and the U.S. government used the fear of spreading communism (and a plea to protect American citizens abroad) to justify another use of military force. It is also a prime example of American imperialism during this period and should be taught in conjunction with the first U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic (1916-1924) and rooted in the long history of military force used by the U.S. in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Cuba (1898/1961), Puerto Rico (1898), Panama (1908/1912/1989), Haiti (1915/1994), Guatemala (1954/1966), Nicaragua (1981), El Salvador (1981), and Grenada (1983).

I would suggest that students use the below sources to examine the following inquiry question: Was the United States justified in occupying the Dominican Republic in 1965?

Primary and Secondary Sources:

Overview: Dominican Republic Historical Timeline (2014):

Overview: The U.S. in the Caribbean, 1877-1920 by Jason Colby (2015):

Essay: Occupation by the United States, 1916-1924 by Richard A. Haggerty (1989):

Primary Source: TIME Magazine Article on Trujillo's Rule (1945):,9171,886652,00.html

Primary Sources: U.S. Occupation of the Dominican Republic:

Primary Source: U.S. Military Newsreel: Marines in Action (1965):

Primary Source: LBJ's Speech on the Dominican Republic (1965):

Primary Source: British Newsreel: Dominican Revolt (1965):

Primary Source: TIME Magazine Article on the Military Coup:,9171,898727,00.html

Report: LBJ on Dominican Republic by David Coleman (2015):

Report: Hope Denied: The U.S. Defeat of the 1965 Revolt in the Dominican Republic by Piero Gleijeses (2014):

Editorial: Dominican Republic 40 Years After U.S. Occupation by Juleyka Lantigua (2005):

Editorial: LBJ's Other War by Rory Fanning (2015):

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Case for Elementary Social Studies Specialists

Elementary schools have traditionally been organized into self-contained classrooms where one teacher has the responsibility for all subject-matter areas. Although some have made the argument for departmentalization, I continue to support the self-contained elementary classroom. Although the research is relatively thin, some studies do show positive effects of self-contained classroom, including benefits for child development, increased instructional time, and possibly an increase in student achievement on standardized tests.

As a teacher educator, I have found stark differences across schools in the amount of social studies instruction elementary students receive. In some elementary schools, students learn social studies at least 3-4 times a week. However, these schools are becoming a rarity. Numerous scholars have documented that social studies continues to be marginalized as a school subject, especially at the elementary-level. Several studies have shown elementary social studies instructional time has dramatically declined over the past two decades. I have been in many elementary schools (especially in urban districts) where students receive absolutely no social studies or only interact with social studies content during language arts time (for instance, they have a unit based on a historical biography or non-fiction history text).

The steep decline in elementary social studies is certainly a symptom of an overwhelming emphasis on math and literacy in U.S. schools. However, under these circumstance, is it still the best idea to include social studies as a subject within the self-contained elementary classroom? Elementary teachers are expected to be experts in several different content areas. Yet, across the nation, elementary teacher preparation programs now include less instruction in social studies methods. In elementary schools, principals are forced to focus their attention on students' math and literacy (and sometimes science) test scores. Professional development for elementary teachers rarely focuses on social studies. Is it fair to expect the elementary generalist to teach social studies with so little professional development and so much pressure to focus on math, reading, and writing?

As a result of the decline in elementary social studies, I argue there is a need for elementary social studies specialists in schools. When I say "elementary social studies specialist," I am referring to a teacher in an elementary school who teaches social studies as a separate or special subject. Elementary social studies specialists would have a content background in social studies (history, civics/government, geography, economics, etc.) and a substantial preparation and continuing professional development in social studies pedagogy (including inquiry and culturally relevant social studies teaching).

The elementary social studies specialist would not be unprecedented. In fact, for decades, art, music, computers, and physical education have been taught by specialists. More recently, the science specialist has become more common in some districts (such as the Boston Public Schools) to increase the quality and quantity of science instruction. Why not add social studies specialists (especially in districts were social studies is short-thrift)? This would ensure that students were getting consistent social studies from a content specialist and, in schools where math and literacy have become the main focus, free up generalist teachers to focus on those areas. It may even allow generalist teachers to have an additional preparation period for collaboration with peers. Moreover, generalist teachers would still be encouraged to teach social studies within their classrooms, but they would also have someone in the building, with a background in social studies, who could be a resource.

Finally, elementary social studies specialists are not the ultimate solution to this problem. We need more social studies in school and especially at the elementary level. I am hopeful that social studies will eventually re-emerge as an important component of the elementary curriculum. When it does, elementary teachers will again receive a strong preparation in social studies methods (as they still do in some teacher preparation programs), regular social studies time in their weekly schedule, and social studies-related professional development. For now, social studies specialists may be a necessary stopgap measure.