Christopher H. Roberts
“I want to hear the stories from Vietnamese voices to complement the stories that I know,” said Bethany Wood, who teaches American literature of the Vietnam conflict as part of her 11th grade curriculum at Another Course to College in Brighton.
Wood currently uses works by Tim O’Brien and other Americans who have been in Vietnam in her class, but she is unsatisfied with the limited scope that the American perspective allows, she said.
“Because of my own limited knowledge about Vietnam, when I present these works by American writers I present a stagnant and stale history,” she said. “The story is one dimensional, beginning and ending with the war and told only through American voices.”
“I have come to realize that I am not telling the whole story. I am not telling the Vietnamese story,” she said.
This summer Wood will tour Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand in order to craft her own, first hand understanding of the region’s culture and people, she said.
Over the course of her month-long stay, Wood will visit dozens of historical and cultural sites, both to learn and to gather materials. She will go off the beaten tourist path in order to shop, dine and live where the locals do. Particularly, she will focus on works by Vietnamese authors to accentuate her course, she said.
The Vietnam experience is a difficult story to teach to current high school students, but it is vitally important to do so, Wood said.
“My students don’t have as strong feelings about the Vietnam War as they do about the first Gulf war or the current Iraq war. One can’t look beyond the fact that the Vietnam War is a major part of our history and it plays heavily on our consciousness,” she said.
Wood also wants to fulfill the needs of her own students who are of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian descent. “Their story is going untold,” she said. “I want to understand Vietnam beyond just thinking of it in context of the war.”
Wood’s journey will start in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City. From there, she will take excursions to My Son and My Lai. She will travel from south to north, making stops in the Imperial City of Hue and the former Demilitarized Zone on her way to Hanoi, she said.
She will make a stop at the Truong Son National Cemetery, where 11,000 Vietnamese war dead are buried; she will also stay with a Vietnamese family in the Mekong Delta, she said.
She is particularly excited about her home stay, she said. “I especially want to see firsthand the landscape of the Mekong Delta, vividly described by so many American soldiers,” she said. “A home stay there is very important to me.”
Wood said she will be part of a tour group for part of her tour, but her trip will also include solo travel. “I am deliberately stepping out of my comfort zone and I expect to feel some disequilibrium in this new culture,” she said.
“But, I also expect the experience will challenge my thinking as a teacher and as a woman, test my own limits, and make me contemplate my life from a new direction,” she said.
She will also stay connected to her students, despite being thousands of miles away. “I’m going to create a multi-media scrapbook on the Web chronicling my trip, so that my students can follow along with me as I make my journey,” she said. “I want my students to see what it’s like, to question every stage of the trip.”
Wood said she received her grant from a Fund for Teachers/Boston, a joint project of the Boston Plan for Excellence and the Boston Public Schools system. This is the second year that the partnership has awarded grants to teachers in the city’s public schools.
For summer of 2005, the project has awarded $172,500 to 47 teachers for travel in 24 foreign countries and 20 states. Fund for Teaches/Boston is administered by the Boston Plan for Excellence, and is affiliated with the national Fund for Teachers Foundation, she said.