Last month we took the freshman class to the Museum of Science in Boston for an exhibit on the Dead Sea Scrolls. In thinking about it, we felt it would be a nice idea to sponsor field trips for all the other classes too. The juniors study American history and American literature and one of the books they read is "The Things They Carried" which is a memoir of the Vietnam War. The Currier Museum in Manchester has an exhibit on pictures of the Vietnam War so we decided to take the juniors to see it this morning. I teach AP US History to juniors so I was able to go too.
When we arrived, the students were broken into three groups: one group went to see the photos, another got a tour of the museum to discuss "What is art?" and another heard a panel discussion from three veterans of the war. The groups spent 45 minutes in each of these and rotated until they did all three.
The pictures were powerful and there were many that folks will recognize - the one of the naked girl running after a napalm blast, the man being shot in the head, the Buddhist monk who set himself on fire, etc. There were also many others that were powerful and striking. I was struck by one of the captions to a picture which referred to the Catholic South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem. The tour of the museum was a nice introduction to the artwork that is there. I particularly enjoyed the Van Gogh and Renoir that are on loan as well as a 14th century piece that used to be on a Catholic altar. The highlight, perhaps, was the panel discussion with the three veterans. The men called these talks their "therapy" and said they could never have talked about the war 10-15 years ago. They shared some stories, talked about their treatment when they returned home (one had urine and feces dumped on him), and what the kids can do today to help the veterans of the current wars. They enjoyed giving each other a hard time but you could tell they cared for each other deeply. At the end, I mentioned how these guys (and many of the veterans of the war) were never thanked when they came home and we would like to do that for them. We all then stood up and gave them a prolonged standing ovation.
I hope this was a powerful experience for our students. They all know about the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, etc. but never seem to get to study the Vietnam War in depth if at all. Ideally this is just the beginning.