A school district in Bellevue, WA this year introduced a third-grade social studies course that focuses on the local Japanese American community which endured Japanese internment during World War II.
The class covers a range of Japanese American experiences during World War II ranging from rampant racism to local exclusionary policies. Students are asked to analyze “change over time” by using documents from ten different Bellevue pioneer families, according to the Bellevue School District website.
“All too often, difficult stories are ignored because they are considered too uncomfortable to teach or to learn, especially in the elementary grades,” stated the website. “The new lessons include the experiences of several Japanese American families in Bellevue before, during, and after World War II, to strengthen traditionally silenced narratives.”
The Bellevue Reporter noted that oral histories, newspaper articles, maps, school yearbooks, photographs, property records, census records, and letters will be assessed by students.
Additionally, the unit will be supported by the Eastside Heritage Center and a 4Culture Heritage Grant.
Elementary Curriculum Developer Amber Anderson said the unit will allow students to learn about the “vast contributions” of Japanese Americans to the Bellevue community and economy, while also providing a more complete and accurate portrayal of Bellevue’s history.
Growing up in Bellevue, K-12 Social Studies Developer Patty Shelton heard stories about the effect of Japanese internment in her area, according to the Bellevue Reporter.
“A lot of families didn’t go back after, they didn’t feel welcome,” Shelton said.
Shelton added that she believes third graders will still be able to recognize the injustices Japanese Americans faced throughout the course of the war, despite their young age.
Such lessons, Anderson added, will “breed” compassion and connection towards different people and communities.
“Our curriculum reveals some of the untold stories of panic, discrimination, exclusion, resilience, and allyship by having students respond to the compelling question: How did Bellevue Japanese American families respond to discrimination and exclusionary practices brought on by war and resulting in hysteria and racism?” the Bellevue School District website writes.
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