Note : This week I am participating in the Mission Possible Teacher Workshop in Washington D.C. The week is hosted by Model Classroom and Pearson. The focus for the week is project based learning centered around learning opportunities in Washington D.C. Projects will take place at NPR, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the United States Holocaust Museum.
Day two of the workshop featured a different venue but a similar thread from yesterday - the power of story. Yesterday we visited NPR and learned about the skills of interviewing. Today we visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington. Here the power of story will make a monument to the struggle of war speak.
I have visited the wall on previous visits to DC. My first visit to the wall was as a high school student on vacation with my family. I remember it was an emotional experience for my dad who was drafted to fight in the war but did not pass the pass the physical due to an injury. He felt the guilt of not participating in a conflict which took the lives of so many of his peers. Almost 20 years ago I brought high school juniors to DC and we always made a point to visit the wall. The design of the monument is simple, almost demanding that emotion take center stage.
Prior to visiting the wall we were organized into small groups and assigned a Vietnam veteran who would speak with us and give us a tour at the wall. My group was matched with Jerry Martin, a Marine who was awarded a Purple Heart and a Silver Star. Mr. Martin spoke of his comrades and friends that he knew in Vietnam and now are names on the wall. After spending an hour with Mr. , who is a retired history teacher, I felt that I knew much more about the Vietnam War than I had ever experienced through a textbook. The difference was the stories. The stories behind the names.
Our various groups did some activities after our time with the veterans and one group asked people at the wall if they had any emotions in visiting the wall. To everyone’s surprise, almost every person asked said they didn't have any emotions about visiting the wall. For many people it appeared that visiting the wall was a just something to check off a list of things to do when visiting DC. But here is the key - none of the people who said they really didn't have an emotional connection to visiting the wall had had a tour guide. The difference again was the stories. Without the stories the wall is just a list of names.
But as I reflect back on the experience at the wall today there is a bright hope for the future. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is currently in the planning and fundraising stages of a future education center. This educational center will be a facility located next to the wall. A place where people can go to build a connection to those names, through stories and experiences. I can’t wait to come back in the future when more people walk away from the wall with a similar experience to the one I experienced today. It was an emotional day and one that I will think of in the future every time I discuss the Vietnam War with students.