Heritage, History, and Identity
by Sara A. Levy - 2014
Background/Context: Prior research indicates that students’ ethnic, religious, national, and racial identities often impact their interest in, emotional connection to, and knowledge about histories specific to those groups with which they identify.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: (a) What meaning do students attach to events with which they have a heritage connection? (b) How do students’ identities impact their connection to, interest in, and understanding of events with which they have a heritage connection?
Population/Participants/Subjects: This study focuses on three groups of secondary students (Hmong, Chinese, and Jewish) that studied a seminal event (respectively, the Vietnam War, the Cultural Revolution, and the Holocaust) with which they may be considered to have a heritage connection. Therefore, the students could not have been involved in the event itself, but their parents, grandparents, other family members, or other members of an affinity group (racial, ethnic, national, or religious) to which they belong were involved.
Research Design: This qualitative study uses a multiple-case study design to interrogate the ways in which students (n=17) identify with heritage histories.
Findings/Results: Findings reveal that students who have heard about family members’ experiences during these events identify strongly with the events prior to learning about them in school. However, school knowledge was a powerful tool that enabled the students to create more lasting connections to the past.
Conclusions/Recommendations: This study revealed that students connect with and understand heritage histories in multiple ways. Students whose families share personal stories about their own experiences during a specific time seem to have strong connections to heritage histories. However, some of their peers may have a strong connection to their heritage without access to the narratives associated with that heritage, leading to feelings of embarrassment or confusion. Other students’ connections to heritage histories may be enhanced by the inclusion of the heritage history in the official knowledge of the classroom, which may also lead them to develop a stronger sense of identification with more multidimensional historical actors.
This study examines the idea that a students identity impacts how that student understands and engages with the content presented in history class. It explores the relationships between how students see themselves and how that image impacts, mediates, confuses, complicates, and enhances the way they see the past. This idea stems both from research (An, 2009; Epstein, 2009; Peck, 2010; Wills, 1996) and from personal experience. As a Holocaust educator, I was often asked by students if I was Jewish. When I responded in the affirmative, they unfurrowed their brows, smiled, and moved on. My identity as a Jewish person seemed to answer myriad unasked questions about both my interest in and my knowledge about the history of the Holocaust. Research shows that students ethnic, religious, national, and racial identities often impact their interest in, emotional connection to, and knowledge about histories specific to those groups with which they identify.
This study seeks to examine these relationships in more detail, and to perhaps unravel some of the complex strands linking us to the past. I do this by working with three groups of secondary students (Hmong, Chinese, and Jewish) that each studied a seminal event (respectively, the Vietnam War, the Cultural Revolution, and the Holocaust) with which they may be considered to have a heritage connection. By this, I mean that the students could not have been involved in the event itself, but that their parents, grandparents, other family members, or other members of an affinity group (racial, ethnic, national, or religious) to which they belong were involved. In particular, I am interested in events that hold defining moments for that group. Understanding how students mediate the relationship between history and heritage in and out of the classroom is a complex undertaking that necessitates an investigation of the multiple contexts and influences in and with which students construct the past.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
HERITAGE AND COLLECTIVE MEMORY
Collective memory provides a clear and cohesive story that can be passed from one generation to the next about the important moments, people, and places of any society (Halbwachs, 1952/1992; Wertsch, 2002), and is often specific to one particular ethnic, national, or religious group. Another way to look at the memories formed between and about members of a particular group is through the lens of heritage. Heritage, in the words of Lowenthal, starts with what individuals inherit and bequeath (1998, p. 31). However, heritagethe passing down of stories, mementos, legends, pictures, and other pieces of the past in order to not only preserve memories of the past but also to shape the way those pieces are interpreted by people in the present and futurecan also be collective. In this way, different groupsbased not only on ethnic or racial identification, but extending to any way in which we join together, including politics, trades, and common interestscollectively engage in creating and disseminating their heritage not only to members of the group but to other members of society as well.
Heritage can take many forms and be used for many purposes. Some heritage stories focus on the ways in which a group is superior to others, some focus on the perpetual victimhood of the group, others focus on a single event or person as the focal point of the heritage story. No matter the form, though, it is important to note that heritage does not demand factual accuracyheritage and collective memory are more concerned with creating a clear, linear story than with ensuring historical accuracy.
For this reason, heritage and collective memory are sometimes positioned in opposition to history (Nora, 1989; Novick, 1999; Wertsch, 2002):
To understand something historically is to be aware of its complexity, to have sufficient detachment to see it from multiple perspectives, to accept the ambiguities, including moral ambiguities, of protagonists motives and behavior. Collective memory simplifies; sees events from a single, committed perspective, is impatient with ambiguities of any kind; reduces events to mythic archetypes. (Novick, 1999, p. 34)
Lowenthal (1998) characterized the relationship between the two similarly:
History tells all who will listen what has happened and how things came to be as they are. Heritage passes on exclusive myths of origin and continuance, endowing a select group with prestige and common purpose. History is enlarged by being disseminated; heritage is diminished and despoiled by export. (p. 128)
Lowenthal and Novick made clear distinctions between history and heritage, and Lowenthals point about the owners of history and heritage is particularly relevant to this study. Heritage belongs to a particular group and is a way in which a group can sustain itself through generations. History, on the other hand, belongs to a multitude of groups. While a heritage story about a particular event, such as the Great Depression, passes a particular viewpoint and understanding of that event down through generations, the history of that event would allow for multiple perspectives in the recounting of the event. Using the Great Depression as an example, a heritage story told by Democrats and progressives would contend that the Great Depression was ended by the reforms enacted by President Roosevelt as part of the New Deal. This story would not have room for other factors that contributed to the end of the Great Depression, such as the start of World War II. The present study seeks to develop an understanding of how students make sense of the past when they must contend with both history and heritage.
HISTORICAL THINKING, UNDERSTANDING, AND EMPATHY
Students interactions with history have been conceptualized through a variety of lenses. There are those who have looked specifically at students historical thinking (VanSledright, 2002), historical understanding (Seixas, 1993), and historical empathy (Foster & Yeager, 1998). These conceptualizations are necessarily interrelated, as elucidated by Grant (2001). Their commonalities involve asking students to interrogate a variety of sources, question bias and authorship, and consider multiple perspectives in the pursuit of a full and complex interpretation of history. Further research has complicated the ways in which we view students interactions with history by investigating how the racial, ethnic, national, and religious backgrounds of students impact these interactions (Barton & Levstik, 1998; Epstein, 1998, 2009; Schweber, 2008; Wills, 1996). These studies have revealed the importance of considering students backgrounds when looking at their interpretations of national histories.
STUDENTS CONSTRUCTIONS OF HISTORICAL NARRATIVES
While there is a significant body of research about students historical understanding, the majority of it focuses on students understanding of the history of the country in which they live. The U.S. narrative is well documented (Barton & Levstik, 1998, 2004; VanSledright, 2008; Wineburg & Monte-Sano, 2008) as being focused on progress, with a continuous quest for freedom and equality. Importantly, some of this work (Epstein, 1998; Wineburg, Mosborg, Porat, & Duncan, 2007) has looked into the impact students racial, cultural, social, and religious backgrounds have on their understanding and interpretation of history. Epstein (1998, 2009) examined the different ways in which African American students interpret U.S. history and which knowledge (family vs. school) they favor in these constructions. Epstein noted that African-American students favored their family members interpretations of history over those they heard in school. Sohyun An (2009) found that the migration background of U.S. Korean students was a powerful factor in the development of students understanding of U.S. history. Peck (2010) examined narratives developed by Canadian students, and discovered that students ethnic identities shaped and influenced the way they interpreted and understood their place within Canadas past. What is striking about these studies is that they have all focused on national (either U.S. or Canadian) history, and the impact the students backgrounds have had on their understanding of this history. However, few studies have looked at how students understand histories with which they have a heritage connection, but which may be only tangentially related to the history of the nations in which they live. This study continues the line of research into students historical understanding by investigating how U.S. students construct these heritage narratives. As with previous studies in this vein, this study takes students racial, ethnic, social, and religious backgrounds into consideration, as they are often quite influential on students historical understanding.
STUDENTS IDENTITY CONSTRUCTION
Scholars interpretations and explications of the term identity have taken many forms; most recently, identity has been compellingly and convincingly described as being fluid, dynamic, and context-based. Identities are socially constructed and constantly changing given any number of contextual factors, including a persons heritage, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and primary language, as well as the demographics of the people with whom the person interacts. Additionally, the space and place of particular interactions may impact how a student constructs her/his identity at a specific moment in time. As Hall (1996) elucidated, Identities are never unified and, in late modern times, increasingly fragmented and fractured; never singular but multiply constructed across different, often intersecting and antagonistic, discourses, practices and positions (p. 17). This is particularly true for the students in this study because they are constructing identities as members of specific ethnic, national, or religious groups while participating in multiple discourses about specific historical events that have impacted those groups.
Specifically relevant to the present study is literature related to ethnic identity. As Nagel (1994), drawing on the work of Barth, noted, One's ethnic identity is a composite of the view one has of oneself as well as the views held by others about ones ethnic identity (p. 154). In other words, students ethnic identities are constructed and reconstructed by both the students themselves and the people (parents, friends, and teachers) with whom the students interact. Using Halls terms, the students ethnic identities are multiply constructed. Cornell (1996) contributed to a deeper understanding of ethnic identity by further examining how and, importantly, by whom the boundaries of ethnic identity are constructed. Cornell posited that previous conceptions of ethnic identity focused on the circumstantial (in which ethnic identity is bounded by external social, political, and economic circumstances) or the constructivist (in which the identity is constructed and bounded by the people who count themselves members of the ethnicity) views of ethnic identity. He offered a hybrid conception in his exploration of how the interests, institutions, and cultures of people who claim the same ethnic identities impact the identities of both the ethnic groups and the individuals who claim membership within the boundaries of those groups. Cornells and Nagels conceptions of ethnic identity are helpful, in that they explicate how the multiple contexts in which the students function (home, school, extracurricular activities, and public spaces), the people with whom the students are interacting, and the students own shifting, evolving, internal identification with the ethnic labels that have been both claimed and assigned impact the students identity construction.
Halagaos (2004) phenomenological study foreshadowed some of the complex ways in which the students in the present study might react to learning heritage histories within a space (the public school history classroom) usually associated with official knowledge (Apple, 2000). The six students in Halagaos study were Filipino and Filipino American college students who participated in a seven-week course (Pinoy Teach) devoted to Filipino and Filipino American history, with the intent that the students in the course would subsequently teach the curriculum to middle school students. This course elicited a variety of student reactions that demonstrated the diverse ways in which students encounter heritage histories in the classroom. Some of the students learned information about Filipino history that filled holes in the students existing narratives, while others appropriated the narratives of the Pinoy Teach curriculum wholesale. Halagaos findings revealed a complex interplay among [the students] prior knowledge, historical and racial identity, and a transformative curriculum about their ethnic history and culture (p. 473). This study demonstrated that students from one ethnic group studying a heritage history reacted to and understood that history in different ways, which is informative and instructional for the present study.
This study examines the following research questions: (a) What meaning do students attach to events with which they have a heritage connection? (b) How do students identities impact their connection to, interest in, and understanding of events with which they have a heritage connection?
These research questions stem from a larger study that sought to understand how and why students construct narratives about heritage histories. A multiple-case study design was used to develop an in-depth understanding of how students mediate the various stories they hear about the past. One set of cases includes and is bounded by the focal topics (the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, and the Cultural Revolution). The second set of cases involves looking at each student participant as a separate and distinct case. The student-as-case is bounded by the people (parents, community leader, and teacher) and materials (homework, class assignments, and other curricular materials) that directly impact each students narrative construction. That is, each student case includes not only the students words and actions, but also the words and actions of the teacher, parents, and community leader as they pertain to that particular student.
I chose three classrooms in which the focal topics were taught, one topic in each classroom. The Hmong students spent two 90-minute class periods studying the Vietnam War, the Chinese students spent five 50-minute class periods studying the Cultural Revolution and Modern China more broadly, and the Jewish students spent ten 50-minute periods studying the Holocaust.1 I chose these groups (Chinese, Hmong, and Jewish) and topics (Cultural Revolution, Vietnam War, and Holocaust) for several reasons. First, the topics are included in the national and state history standards for grades 712. Second, and most importantly, students are at least one generation removed from the events such that the collective memories about the events had similar amounts of time to coalesce, and they can be categorized as defining moments within these communities. I focused on the Jewish community in suburban Chicago, IL (Washington High School2), the Hmong community in St. Paul, MN (Garfield High School), and the Chinese community in suburban Los Angeles, CA (Franklin High School).
Seventeen high school students participated in this study8 Chinese, 4 Hmong, and 5 Jewish students. While the students parents, the three teachers, and relevant community leaders3 also took part in the larger study, their voices are not represented here. See Table 1 for more detailed information about the participating students. In order to participate in this study, students had to self-identify with the focal group in question. In other words, when I presented the study to the students at Garfield High School, I stated that I was interested in working with students who identified themselves as Hmong. Therefore, all seventeen students clearly identified with their specific heritage group in some way.
Table 1. Participating Students
I conducted semistructured interviews with the students twice (before and after they studied the topic in school). Sample interview questions include, How would you explain [focal topic] to someone who had never heard of it? and What does [focal topic] mean to you? (See Appendix A for the complete interview protocol.) A written prompt, followed by verbal interview questions, served as starting points for my conversations with the participants; I probed their answers, followed up on their statements, and asked them to reflect on their choices. Interestingly, while the interview protocols allowed students to consider sources of information such as books, movies, the Internet, etc., most participants focused on knowledge gleaned either from their family members or from school. Those who mentioned books, films, or websites did so in the context of information learned at home. For example, during Deborahs first interview, she noted: I mean, we have some books about [the Holocaust] at home, so . . . Ive read some of those. All interviews lasted approximately 20 minutes and were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. I observed the classes throughout the focal topic units and collected copies of materials (homework assignments, readings, videos, essays, and pictures) used or created during the units. These observations and materials served as important data sources with which to triangulate the stories students told in their interviews, and informed the interviews themselves.
I used grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) to guide my data analysis. Grounded theory allowed me to generate themes and categories from the various sources of data (interview transcripts, observation field notes, and collected materials) that were directly related to my research questions. I began the coding process by reading the interview transcripts and looking for the different ways in which the students talked about the focal event in relation to their identification with the focal group. For example, when reading the Chinese students transcripts, I looked at the ways in which they talked about their connection to the Cultural Revolution and/or the Tiananmen Square protests. I would underline in blue pen any words or phrases that were directly connected to my interview and research questions. For example, one of the interview questions asked students if they felt connected to the focal event. Therefore, I underlined and noted the students response to this question, as well as any other instances in which they discussed identifying with or connecting to the event. The following example from the transcript of Lins first interview demonstrates this process. The transcript read:
Lin: Well, I didnt really know any important events; I just know the basic summary of it. And then some people were like, the Chairman Mao? And then the Gang of Four, I think, and the Red Guards. And, I think people should take from the Cultural Revolution that they should learn not to place all their trust in just one person. And, my parents lived through this time period, so I think I have a connection to it. Cause, yeah.
Lin made this statement at the beginning of her first interview using the notes she had made in response to the writing prompt. As I was interested in her connection to the event, I underlined the phrase and, my parents lived through this time period, so I think I have a connection to it and wrote connection through family in the margin of the printed transcript because she described her connection to the event in relation to her family members who had experienced it.
After completing this initial open coding with all student, parent, and teacher interviews, I engaged in axial coding, where I generated new, broader codes that encompassed the original codes. Throughout this process, I constantly compared (Miles & Huberman, 1994) the initial codes with the new, broader codes to ensure that the participants words and thoughts were accurately reflected in the codes. For instance, after reviewing Lins comments and the comments of her peers, I developed the code family stories that encompassed all of the students who described their connections to the focal events in relation to family members who experienced the events. During this process, I constantly referred to the students words in order to make sure that the codes were truly representative of the students ideas and understandings.
Finally, I engaged in selective coding from the axial codes and again, compared the themes that I identified during this final round of coding with both sets of prior codes to ensure that the themes accurately and honestly represented the ideas of the participants. As the analysis progressed, I was vigilant in continuing to compare students words between and among cases as I built themes from the axial and open codes. To aid in this process in the cross-case analysis, I created a table that made it easier to compare the themes across cases (see Table 2 below).
Table 2. Excerpt of Selective Coding Cross-Case Comparison
Note. Light GrayImportance of family stories; Dark GrayRole of official knowledge
Once I was able to see the themes side by side, I color-coded the themes that seemed similar and then returned to the interview transcripts to make sure that the cross-case themes I had developed were representative of the students words. For example, after looking at the themes across cases, I could see that the theme of family storytelling was important across cases. I then reread my within-case analyses of these themes and returned to the students transcripts and reread my initial coding notes to make sure that this cross-case finding was truly representative of the students thoughts. This constant comparison throughout the analytic process ensured that the themes are representative of the thoughts of the participants, and that the themes continue to be directly related to the research questions.
Throughout the course of this study, students heritage identities mediated their historical understanding in several ways. For some, the knowledge they gleaned from school enhanced their understanding of the experiences of their parents, grandparents, other family members, and other members of the heritage group. These students then used this knowledge to construct new understandings of and connections to their own heritage. For other students, school knowledge had little or no impact on their identity construction, understanding of the heritage event, or connection to their heritage histories more generally.
Two interrelated themes emerged that encompass the ways in which students link their heritage group identities and their understanding of or interest in the heritage event. These themes appeared across the three heritage groups. They involve the impact of school knowledge on their connection to the heritage event and the importance of storytelling within their families about the heritage event.
The inclusion of the heritage histories in the official curriculum impacted each focal group differently. For the Hmong students, the knowledge they gained in school augmented their understanding of the Vietnam War in some way. However, they also felt that the war could have been discussed further in the classroom, and that the links between the Vietnam War and Hmong people could have been explicated more fully. The Chinese students, meanwhile, did not have a cohesive response to the inclusion of the Cultural Revolution in their history class. For some, it stimulated interest in a topic they had previously found boring or unrelated to their own lives. For others, it complicated their understanding of the past and what it means to be Chinese. The Jewish students were the group least likely to be impacted by the inclusion of the heritage event in their history class. While several of the Jewish students did learn new details about the Holocaust, and a few had their understandings of the Jewish experience during the Holocaust complicated by what they learned in school, their overall understanding of and connection to the event was not altered.
Hmong students and the Vietnam War
First, it is important to remember that the Hmong students connected to the Vietnam War because their parents had lived through, fought in, and escaped from the Secret War as children and young adults. The Secret War was waged in Laos as an extension of the Vietnam War, and it involved a partnership between the CIA and Hmong people under the leadership of General Vang Pao. The Hmong who fought for and with the United States in this war were persecuted during and after their service by the communist Pathet Lao who, like the Viet Minh and Viet Cong in Vietnam, ultimately gained control over Laos. Unlike students in the other two heritage groups, the Hmong students were the children of refugees who had been forced to flee a country they had come to call home. Therefore, not only did the Hmong students identify themselves as Hmong or Hmong American, but also as refugees or the children of refugees. Importantly, all four of the Hmong students had parents or relatives who had fought in the Secret War, and all of their parents had journeyed as refugees from Laos to Thailand to the United States in their teens and early twenties. Therefore, the history of the Secret War and the Vietnam War is necessarily entwined with the family histories of these students.
The students spoke about the prejudice and racism their parents had encountered when they had first moved to the United States, and about the need for non-Hmong people to understand why Hmong people moved to the United States. The Hmong students felt it would be beneficial for their non-Hmong classmatesand non-Hmong people in generalto learn about the work and sacrifice of Hmong people on behalf of the U.S. government during the Secret War. The Hmong students believed that if people understood what Hmong people had done for the country, it would lessen the prejudice Hmong people often still face in the United States. While Theresa did not discuss experiencing racism herself, during her first interview she noted, I know theres lots of racismlike, why are all the Hmong people here, why are they taking over . . . our city, taking all the food, so . . . I think its good for them to know why were here. Brandon discussed both his own and his fathers experiences with racism, but did not make an explicit connection between these incidents and the importance of people who are not Hmong knowing about the Vietnam War. However, it seems that he may see a connection between the two. When asked during his second interview why he thought it was important for people who are not Hmong to know about the Vietnam War, Brandon focused on the idea that knowing about Hmong experiences during the war explains the Hmong presence in the United States:
Its a pretty big change, immigrants of Hmong people coming here, its like growing. So [if] people in the future ask, whered they come from? If they learn about this, then I think they will know . . . what happened. From the Vietnam War.
In this comment, Brandon echoes Theresa by noting that knowledge of the Hmong peoples roles in the Vietnam War and Secret War would help people understand why Hmong people sought refuge in the United States and, therefore, perhaps why its citizens have a responsibility to welcome Hmong people. For Brandon and Theresa, their identities as the children of refugees who had experienced prejudice and racism influenced both how they saw and how they would like others to see this history.
While their teacher, Ms. Adams, did not spend much time discussing the Secret War or the contributions and sacrifices made by Hmong people during that time, the Hmong students were still able to make connections between stories they had heard from their families and the information they learned in school. In fact, a few key points made by Ms. Adams seemed to help students better understand the connection between the Vietnam War, the Secret War, the U.S. government, and Hmong people. During the first day of the two-day unit, Ms. Adams used a PowerPoint presentation to guide her lecture about the Vietnam War. At one point, while displaying a map of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, she mentioned that it was North Vietnams use of this trail to route soldiers and supplies to South Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia that pulls Laos into the war. This was the first time Ms. Adams mentioned Laos, which was home to the Hmong people who later allied themselves with the United States and from where the families of the focal students emigrated. The second, and final, time Ms. Adams discussed Laos or the Secret War in class was later in the first class period, while discussing President Nixons decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Southeast Asia. She explained that the CIA hired Hmong soldiers and that most people in the United States knew nothing about the Secret War until Hmong refugees started arriving in the 1980s, and that some people still know nothing about this event. It was during this very brief explanation that the sole inclusion of students prior knowledge of this event occurred in Ms. Adams classroom. She prompted the Hmong students to contribute by saying that Nixon employed as you know, the Hmong under the direction of . . . at which point she waited for a student to say General Vang Pao. Brandon, one of the four focal students, was the first student to speak and correctly identify the Hmong leader. After receiving the answer for which she was looking, Ms. Adams continued with her lecture. While neither of these parts of the lecture was further discussed in class, it did impact the way the Hmong students understood the connection between the Vietnam War and the Secret War and, therefore, between themselves and the history they were learning in school.
Perhaps the best example of this impact can be seen in Isabelles second interview. Isabelle is the student who did not feel particularly connected to the Vietnam War during her first interview. During her second interview, after hearing Ms. Adams lecture on the Vietnam War, Isabelle talked about learning that [President Nixon] . . . did that one thing where all the American soldiers could go back to the United States and so thatthats how the Secret War kind of formed. Later, in her second interview, she mused that [what I learned in school] changed the way I was thinking about [the Vietnam War], because (laughs), ok, lastthe last time we did the interview, I was only talking about the Vietnam War, I did not mention the Secret War at all. While she seemed to be struggling to explain exactly how her thinking changed to include the Secret War in her understanding of the Vietnam War, it is quite possible that this shift was prompted by Ms. Adams explanation of how, in Isabelles words, the Secret War kind of formed. Isabelle also discussed how the Ho Chi Minh Trail related to both the Vietnam War and Secret War. Clearly, these two moments helped Isabelle link what she learned in school with what she knew from home, which not only expanded her understanding of this complex history, but also helped her to see how her familys past related to the official story told in her history classroom.
While Isabelles case is an excellent example of the power of even a brief mention of a heritage history in her history class, it also shows the missed opportunities for deeper, more rigorous investigations of these histories within this context. Ms. Adams did not further invite or allow students to share stories of their families or other prior knowledge of the wars in classroom discussion, though the students were to interview someone who had lived through one of the stories weve learned this quarter, which covered the period of 19301990, and then write about that person in a 250500 word essay. Three of the four Hmong students chose to interview a parent about experiences during the Secret War. The students were then to read the essays of two classmates for homework. In this way, Ms. Adams did invite the family stories into the official curriculum, though it is unclear how the students interpreted this inclusion. In her interview, Ms. Adams noted that she expected her Hmong students to be well versed in their familys stories based on her readings of previous students interviews. Therefore, it is possible that Ms. Adams was unaware of some of her students confusion about this history or their desire for it to be included within the formal curriculum.
Chinese Students and the Cultural Revolution
Mr. Larson taught about the Cultural Revolution within the context of a week-long unit on modern China that spanned from Maos assumption of power to the 1989 student protests in Tiananmen Square. Therefore, the students spoke about the Cultural Revolution as well as other events and government campaigns during that era. In particular, the students were intrigued by the 1989 protests, and, therefore, this event became a secondary focal event within this case. The Chinese students sense of connection to and identification with the Cultural Revolution was almost entirely based on their families experiences during that time. Just as the Hmong students were the only refugees in this study, the Chinese students were the only group in which both the persecutors and the persecuted all belonged to the same heritage group. Therefore, for those students whose families had been greatly affected by the Cultural Revolution, this event held great meaning and significance. For those whose families had either not been greatly impacted, or who had not related that impact to their children, the Cultural Revolution was simply another part of Chinese history. It is also important to note that half of the Chinese students were born in China, three of whom (Joseph, Naomi, and Olivia) had moved to the United States around the age of 10. Grace had moved with her family when she was five years old. These four students, as well as most of the other Chinese students, were from families with close personal and professional ties to China. All but one of the students had been to China to visit family members at least once, and, for some, it was an annual trip. The varying ways in which the Chinese students associated or identified with modern China and constructed their own Chinese or Chinese American identities impacted and influenced how the students related to and understood Chinese history.
Mr. Larson contextualized his lessons on the Cultural Revolution within a six-day unit on modern China. Beginning with the post-World War II battle for power between Mao Zedongs communists and Chiang Kai-sheks nationalists and ending with the pro-democracy movement of the late 1980s, Mr. Larson created a space for students to contemplate the advances and challenges China faced during this volatile period. In different ways, this unit was eye-opening for all the focal students. Of particular interest is the fact that all eight students were riveted by The Tank Man,4 a documentary they watched that chronicled the student protests and subsequent government crackdown in Tiananmen Square in June, 1989. The focal students were horrified by the brutality of the Chinese government. Several students had not heard this story before, and those who were familiar with it had not all seen the disturbing, iconic video of the man who stared down the oncoming tank, nor had they seen the blurry, chaotic, bloody images of Chinese soldiers and police clearing Tiananmen Square of student protestors. This film had a profound impact on the students.
Some, like Naomi and Olivia, were disturbed and saddened by the images. Both Naomi and Olivia were born in China and had immigrated to the United States around the age of 10. Naomi had previously heard about Tiananmen Square but had not seen pictures or videos of the violence that occurred when the government put an end to the pro-democracy protests. She said the images made her sad but also that I didnt never learn that stuff in China; they wont teach us that stuff. So, it seems that while Naomi was saddened and disturbed by the violent imagery, she was also interested in knowing what really happened in Tiananmen Square. Naomis family had been persecuted during the Cultural Revolution and she had been raised by her grandparents to distrust official Chinese history. Therefore, she was predisposed to believe that the film was a more accurate depiction of the event and to trust the history portrayed in her history classroom in the United States. Her familys experiences colored and shaped her identification as a Chinese person who did not identity with or trust the Chinese government. Olivia said she was not only sad, but also ashamed because, uh, they need democracy . . . It just makes me really mad! Here, Olivia names three emotionssad, ashamed, and madthat encompass her empathy for the students who were killed during the Tiananmen Square protests and her frustration with the lack of change in Chinese society. Unlike Naomi, Olivia had not heard her familys stories about the Cultural Revolution, yet she still viewed Mr. Larsons classroom as a place where the truth may be found. Both Olivia and Naomi identified strongly as Chinese while having little faith or trust in the Chinese government. They demonstrate how students construct heritage identities in light of upsetting heritage histories or distrust in other members of the heritage group. Olivia and Naomi seemed to have embraced this dichotomy, though Naomi still hoped for future change in the Chinese government.
Unlike Naomi and Olivia, Lin was born in the United States. She had heard many stories from her parents about the Cultural Revolution, and had also been told about Tiananmen Square. However, when considering the ways in which these events were portrayed in class, Lin said in her second interview, I was kind of embarrassed about it because the massacres and the Cultural Revolution are like the lowest point in Chinese history Ive learned about. And, I dont know, it made me feel embarrassed . . . to be Chinese. Lin very much identifies as Chinese and takes pride in maintaining her culture, and her image of China seems to have been slightly disturbed during this unit of study. Though she mentioned the censorship that still exists in Chinese society, she was not as impacted or influenced by it as her peers who were born in China. Lin seems more concerned with the way in which China was portrayed in her history class, going so far as to muse, I think it was mostly accurate. But, I guess some of it could have been, like, American propaganda as well . . . to portray China in a bad light. But Im not sure. For a student like Lin, who takes great pride in her heritage and whose family stories about the Cultural Revolution seemed to center on her familys ingenuity in surviving that period, these images and stories that show China in a bad light are embarrassing and disconcerting. While she is able to ultimately reconcile these images with her pride in her heritage, she cannot help but be personally affected by them. Perhaps because she had not grown up in China and had not lived the dichotomy of constructing a Chinese identity around a government she distrusted, Lin had a more difficult time making sense of her ethnic pride and what she had seen on the film.
The students identities as Chinese and Chinese American impacted their views of both modern and historical China. Some students were able to explain, as Lin did in the example cited above, any discrepancies between family and school histories without disrupting their sense of what it meant to be Chinese/Chinese American. Other students whose ideas about China were disrupted by what they learned in school, sometimes focused on the progress China has made since the events covered in class. Unlike Naomi and Olivia, recent immigrant Joseph made sure I knew that the China that was portrayed in the classroom was not the China he knew. Importantly, Josephs family did not suffer under Mao as Naomis family had and his view of modern China was significantly less pessimistic than hers. In his second interview, he said that there were bad parts and good parts to the history of China. When asked what those might be, he shared:
The Cultural Revolution was a mistake, I would say, and the [Tiananmen Square] massacre. But, I wouldnt make it . . . seem all too bad, because . . . [then] everybody [would] think that . . . the governments evil and Mao is massacring everybody, and that is not really what China is today, so . . . its just an event that happened, and theres lessons to be learned from [it].
Here, Joseph is acknowledging the stained parts of Chinas history that he learned in school but still emphasizing his own experiences growing up in China. While he is assimilating information in a different way, his process is not unlike Lin, Naomi, and Olivias, in that all four students sought to understand history in a way that made sense with their own image of China and what it means to be Chinese.
Mr. Larson spoke genuinely and passionately about the stories he heard from his students and their parents, calling them very valuable in his interview. However, during the week I spent in his classroom when the focus was on Chinese history after WWII, Mr. Larson did not seem to allow for many of these stories to enter the classroom discourse. He recruited students knowledge about China and Chinese history in much the same way Ms. Adams did with her Hmong studentshe asked declarative questions for which he expected certain answers. For example, after showing a movie about Mao Zedong, he asked the students what they noticed about Maos accent. Several of the students noted that it was not the accent of someone from a city. Mr. Larson elaborated, saying that Mao had a country accent. While this moment did allow students to display their knowledge of Chinese language in use, it did not allow for a deeper discussion involving students family stories.
Yet, one of the stories Mr. Larson enjoyed telling involved his meeting with a former students grandfather who had been Maos photographer. Mr. Larson showed off the book of photographs that had been signed by the grandfather and said that he shook the hand that shook Maos hand. He also enjoyed meeting the parents of the students who participated in this study, often opening his classroom as a space for the interviews to take place. During one parent interview, he began rummaging around in a desk drawer and produced several red star badges similar to those the parent was describing wearing as a young girl. The parent laughed when she saw the artifacts and explained how the one she had worn was slightly different, and both the parent and Mr. Larson seemed pleased that they were able to make this connection. Though it was clear that Mr. Larson enjoyed this moment, its not clear how or if he would find a way for a student or parent to share a similar story within the context of his history class.
Jewish Students and the Holocaust
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the students in the Jewish group were not greatly impacted by what they learned in school about the Holocaust. For the most part, the information they gleaned from school was similar to stories and history they already knew. While none of the students questioned their original ideas or felt that their understanding of or connection to the Holocaust had changed, there were a few moments of dissonance for some of the students. The bulk of the almost two-week unit on the Holocaust involved reading the memoir Night and learning about Jewish partisans.5 Each of these pieces of curriculum impacted how the focal students understood the ways in which Jewish people responded to their individual experiences during the Holocaust.
Three of the five students (Ryan, Sophia, and Michelle) had not read Night before, and so some of the descriptive content about concentration camps revealed new facets of these institutions to the students. In particular, the students were confronted with the idea that the Nazis deliberate attempts to starve and dehumanize Jews and other persecuted persons would result in people abandoning or turning on their family members. For Michelle and Ryan especially, this was a new and somewhat troubling idea. In his second interview, Ryan talked about how he thought this abandonment might happen:
I think actually seeing when they got [to the concentration camp], they were shocked, cause they see actually they could like die and everything, theyre in like a life or death situation. So theybefore, they didnt really know what was happening, like, OK, well stay together and everything, but then they see, Oh, its so hard, cause then you share your rations, everything, but thenlike, its easier to just be oneeveryone for themselves.
As Ryan expressed empathy and understanding for concentration camp inmates faced with the impossible choice between their own survival and that of their family members, he demonstrated that he was beginning to understand that there were many ways in which Jews responded to the Nazis program of persecution and dehumanization.
Four of the five Jewish students also developed more nuanced understanding of the Jewish experience during the Holocaust when they studied Jewish partisans. Jewish partisans, much like other partisan groups during World War II, operated primarily in Eastern Europe and were involved in the sabotage of German rail lines and infrastructure. Jewish partisans, however, also often engaged in rescue operations. The most famous of these groups, the Bielski group led by Tuvia Bielski, was chronicled in the film Defiance. JPEF developed curricular materials to support this film, and Ms. Harris used these materials as well as JPEF-selected clips from the film to teach about the Jewish partisans. Ryan, as well as Michelle and Deborah, had minimal knowledge of Jewish partisan groups. Both Ryan and Deborah, who identify themselves as Jewish though each has a parent they identify as Christian, found the stories of Jews rescuing other Jews and fighting back against the Nazis interesting and somewhat empowering. Deborah expressed a desire for these stories to be talked about more openly in her second interview:
I thought it was interesting that they dont seem to get as much attention, like, even though they were resisting the Nazis. It tends, like, I dont knowa lot of the stuff you read about tends to focus on the concentration camps rather than people who were fighting back, I guess.
Here, Deborah implies that the mainstream focus on Jews as victims does not allow for stories in which Jews are empowered actors in their own lives. As a Jewish person, she seems to be asking for a more multidimensional portrayal of Jews and for a new emphasis on stories such as those of the Jewish partisans.
While Ms. Harris classroom was fairly student-centered and involved activities such as gallery walks and web quests that involved active student participation, there was limited encouragement for students to share family stories during history class. On the first day of her unit on the Holocaust, Ms. Harris gave an interactive lecture about D-Day and the end of World War II as a means of transitioning into the unit on the Holocaust. She shared anecdotes about her grandfathers participation in WWII and asked if any students had any ties to the war. Some students shared that they knew family members had been involved, and Ms. Harris moved her lecture on to the next slide. Similarly, as the students were participating in a read-aloud of Elie Wiesels memoir Night, the students helped to answer each others questions about the book. One of the focal students, Aaron, had attended Jewish parochial school through eighth grade and knew a great deal about both the Holocaust and Judaism in general. Therefore, when his classmates were curious about the meaning or pronunciation of a Hebrew or Yiddish word in the book, Aaron often volunteered an answer. While this was a means of including students prior knowledge in the official knowledge of the classroom, it did not necessarily invite stories that students had heard from parents or other family members.
Several students reported hearing stories from their parents or grandparents about their families experiences during the event. Across all three groups, these stories seemed to have a similar effect on the students; they increased the students knowledge about, identification with, and interest in the event. For example, Sophia, a Jewish student, told stories she heard from her grandmother about her grandmothers journey from Hungary to the United States by way of Ellis Island and the Dominican Republic. Similarly, Lin, a Chinese student, heard stories from her parents and grandmother about how the family lived through the Cultural Revolution. Brandon, a Hmong student, had been told by both his grandfather and his father about their harrowing escape from Laos during the Secret War.6 For these three students, the tales they heard from both their parents and grandparents made deep impressions. The students made connections between the focal events and their identities through the telling of their families stories.
When Sophia was asked during her first interview if she felt a connection to the Holocaust, she replied that she did, and went on to describe that connection: I do feel a connection to the Holocaust because first of all, Im Jewish and a lot of Jewish people died, and I have familylike my Nanas family had to escape from Europe because of the Nazis. Sophia clearly believed that her identity as a Jew linked her to this history, and that this link was strengthened by her relationship with her grandmother. In a way, she constructed her Jewish identity around her grandmothers experiences. Sophia was eager to share several of the stories she heard from her grandmother about her grandmothers experiences and other stories that her grandmother told her about the Holocaust. Sophia clearly saw how the Holocaust impacted her life as it completely altered the lives of her maternal grandparents and spurred them to seek refuge in the United States. She was also one of the few students who shared anything about her family in her history class; when her teacher asked, What comes to mind when you think of the Holocaust? Sophia volunteered that she thought of her grandmothers family from Hungary and her grandfathers family from Ukraine who were killed. While this comment was not pursued further in class discussion, Sophias willingness to share her family history with her classmates demonstrated that she is proud of her familys past and that she very clearly connects that past with both her identity as a Jew and the history she is studying in school.
Similar to Sophia, Lin laughingly described her familys discussion of the Cultural Revolution as like a dinner table conversation during her first interview. When asked what these conversations consisted of, she recounted family stories, [my grandmother] had to bury a lot of the familys jewelry, I think, in the mud, in her backyard, because if she was caught with it, she would be arrested and a more linear history of the era:
Chairman Mao wanted to reform China, so he basically thought to throw away all the old ideas, like the Confucius [sic] ideas . . . and he took land away from landlords and gave it to peasants and . . . he had these struggle meetings, where he told people basically . . . hit the rich people and torture them.
Also in her first interview, when asked about her connection to the Cultural Revolution, Lin very clearly related back to her familys experiences, And, my parents lived through this time period, so I think I have a connection to it and her Chinese heritage, I think its cause Im Chinese, so I like to know about it. Like Sophia, Lins connection to the Cultural Revolution was tied to both her identity as a Chinese person and her families experiences during this time.
Like Sophie and Lin, Brandon recounted family stories about the Vietnam War during his first interview. He focused on his familys experiences both during and after the war:
My dad told me a story about how . . . during the Vietnam War they were in the jungle . . . having a hard time just finding food and running away from, like people who was [sic] trying to kill them and stuff. So, it was a pretty scary moment for them, and I think it would be scary if anybody was in that situation . . . It changed . . . everything in Hmong families. Its not just some Hmong families, it changed everybodys family.
That his parents, along with the majority of Hmong people living in Laos, were forced to become refugees and immigrate to the United States had a deep impact on Brandon and his understanding of the Vietnam War. As he said during his first interview, its a part of who we are, and you know, it affected us . . . it means, like, everything, you know . . . if my parents didnt survive . . . I wouldnt be here . . . if they [werent] . . . refugees, we wouldnt have come to the U.S. Here, Brandon shows that he identifies with his Hmong heritage specifically as it relates to the Vietnam War, and he sees a direct link between the focal event and his own life through the stories he has heard from his parents.
While Sophia, Lin, and Brandon are representative of many of their peers, two students provided alternative examples of the ways in which family stories can impact students identification with and understanding of heritage histories. Zachary, a member of the Chinese focal group, was one of two Chinese students with a multiethnic background. Zacharys father is Polish and his mother is Chinese; she grew up in Hong Kong because her parents had fled China during the Cultural Revolution. When asked how he identified himself, Zachary said he was mixed and pointed to the embroidered nickname on his band jacket: Half-Half Decaf. His fathers family was involved in the Polish underground during World War II, during which time Zacharys paternal grandfather was killed as part of this work. Zacharys father had told Zachary many of the stories he learned from his parents about Poland during World War II, while Zacharys mother had told him relatively little about her familys history. His father, a history buff, had also told his son about the Cultural Revolution. Therefore, Zachary was able to discuss his understanding of and feelings about World War II and the Cultural Revolution. However, during his first interview, he described feeling more connected to Polish history than he did to Chinese history: I dont feel as connected [to the Cultural Revolution] as I do with my dads side of the family because my mom tends not to talk as much. Zacharys story is interesting for several reasons. First, it is important to note that his connection to his fathers familys history demonstrates the importance of family storytelling, which is similar to other students across cases. However, his ability to identify and name this as the primary difference between his feelings of connectedness to his fathers familys history and his mothers familys history provides perhaps the strongest example of the role family storytelling may play in students connection to and interest in heritage histories. Zachary demonstrates that, as seen with Sophia and Lin, identification with the heritage group accompanied by family storytelling about the heritage event seems to create a strong connection to the heritage history.
Michelle volunteered to participate as a member of the Jewish group. However, she stated during her first interview that though her maternal grandfather was Jewish and her mother was raised Jewish, both she and her mother now identify as agnostic. Her father is not Jewish. Michelles first interview began with a well-told and clearly memorable story about Michelles maternal great-grandparents work in the Resistance in the Netherlands during World War II. Her grandmother was three or four years old at the time, and her great-grandfather was involved in several aspects of resistance work, including working with the black market and hiding Jews in his own home. When Michelle related the following anecdote, I had to ask several follow-up questions in order to clearly understand what had transpired:
I feel a connection to [the Holocaust] cause my grandma used to . . . hide [Jewish] people in her room . . . she would hide them and one time, the Nazis found a family and they took her dad and [the Jewish] family, and as they were walking out, they saidthey pinched her cheeks and said cute baby. Just thinking, like, how is it possible that you could, like, be ruining one childs life and likegoing to bring them to a concentration camp and then, you look at a Christian baby, and youre like cute babylike, I dont know.
I came to understand that Michelles great-grandparents had hidden people in Michelles grandmothers bedroom. At some point, the Nazis discovered the Jews hiding there, and deported both the Jewish family and Michelles great-grandfather to concentration camps. Michelles story revolves around her incredulity about the Nazis ability to see the Jewish baby as worthless, while simultaneously seeing Michelles grandmothera toddler at the timeas cute. Michelles story is relevant to this study because it again shows a way in which a students family stories have significantly impacted a students interest in and understanding of a heritage history. While Michelle and her connection to the Holocaust do not necessarily fit within the parameters of this studyMichelle does not identify as Jewishher case remains a powerful example of the impact family storytelling can have on a student and serves as an important reminder that students identify with and feel connected to histories for myriad reasons. Hearing this specific story from her mother and grandmother has profoundly impacted how Michelle sees the world.
In addition to students who constructed heritage identities in relation to family stories, there were those students who had not been exposed to family stories. These students ideas about the connection between their sense of belonging to the heritage group and their understanding of the heritage event help to enhance and refine our understanding of the impact of family storytelling.
Isabelle was the only Hmong student who did not immediately mention stories, facts, or attitudes that she had heard from her family during her first interview, and did not discuss her family or Hmong history until she was asked if she felt a connection to the Vietnam War. In fact, she said that she [didnt] really, really care about [the Vietnam War] that much. However, she also provided an interesting insight that may lead to a deeper understanding of why Isabelle felt somewhat distanced from and dispassionate about the Vietnam War. After making the statement about not really caring about the history, I asked her what she thought would make someone care. She answered,
I think its probably through family, because, if your family really, really truly cares about it, then you would, too. And if they dont, then you dont. And so it just depends on who you, you know, are with.
Here, Isabelle seems to be saying that she doesnt care because she doesnt sense that her family cares. In a way, she seems a bit wistful, almost like she would want her family to care more than they do. She also echoes some of what Zachary noted in his explanation of his connection to his fathers familys history by noting that students are more likely to connect to and identify with heritage histories if their families talk about those histories and relate their importance and significance to their children.
Olivia, who was born in China and emigrated to the United States when she was nine, provides another compelling example of null storytelling. It is important to note that Olivias early childhood was somewhat dissimilar from her peers. Her parents divorced when she was young and she was left in her fathers care. However, her father was not able to be a full-time caregiver and Olivia lived with a teacher until she was sent to the United States to live with her mother. She explained her ignorance about the Cultural Revolution by saying, My mom never really talked about the Cultural Revolution, so . . . I dont know much about it. She shared that she knew that her mother or grandmother may have more knowledge, but that knowledge had not yet been passed on to her. During her first interview, she was able to give a bit more background about the Cultural Revolution: I know it has something to do with Mao . . . and . . . if youre in the country for a long time, like ten years. When I asked her what else she had heard about Mao, Olivia shared that He was a communist, and I think he started the revolution cause he was scared that people were gonna take his power away from him.
When asked to discuss her feelings of connectedness to the Cultural Revolution, Olivia echoed her peers comments about being connected simply by being Chinese. However, she also discussed how her lack of knowledge about the event interacted with her image of what it means to be Chinese:
I wanna learn more about my country, cause I dont really know much about it, and its embarrassing that Im Chinese and, they ask me about all this Chinese history, and I dont know anything about it, and it would be embarrassing, so I really wanna learn.
Olivias embarrassment about not knowing as much as she thinks she should about Chinese history shows that she also sees a connection between being Chinese and knowing Chinese history. Her construction of a Chinese identity seems to include developing a broader, deeper understanding of Chinese history. For Olivia and her peers, having knowledge of the heritage event was an important part of their heritage identity.
The findings of this small study illuminate the dynamic and complicated ways in which students strive to make sense of the past as it relates to their sense of self and belonging within several communities. It seems that, for almost all the students in this study, the combination of heritage knowledge and school/official knowledge provided a dynamic view of the past that enabled students to grapple with conflicting perspectives and deepened both their understanding of and their identification with these seminal events. What is revealed in the students words is the idea that students connect to and understand the past in myriad ways, and ways of understanding are oftenbut not alwaysmediated by their identification with people who experienced past events.
Importantly, the students in this study demonstrated the impact of small moments and stories as they worked to make sense of what it means to be a member of a group in light of or in relation to its historyand vice versa. In some cases, this work is more challenging than others. For example, Joseph was able to integrate the information he learned at schoolwhich conflicted with what he had learned at homeinto his existing narrative about Chinese history. And Isabelle, who did not initially feel particularly connected or attached to the Vietnam War, unexpectedly found threads of identification in her history classroom. The multidimensional portrayal of Jews in Ms. Harris class showed Ryan and Deborah that some Jews were able to fight back and make their own decisions, which perhaps allowed them to identify with this heritage history in a new and somewhat more empowering way.
It is clear that hearing family stories significantly impacted how the students identified with and understood the heritage events. Students like Lin, Brandon, and Sophia were able to recite their families stories without hesitation and their animated demeanor while telling the stories during their interviews indicated their interest and pride in their families pasts. However, it is the students who did not hear family stories who are more interesting when considering the impact of family storytelling on student identification with and understanding of the heritage histories. Zachary, Michelle, Isabelle, and Olivia all offer important insights into this complex internal process. Zacharys identity with his Polish heritage through his fathers story lies in stark contrast to his distant connection with his mothers Chinese heritage. For Isabelle, who understands that the heritage event is somehow connected to her own life without understanding those connections, the lack of family storytelling leads to a feeling of loss and distance from the heritage event. In addition, Isabelles statements about those who really, really truly care about the past indicate that those students whose families cannot or choose not to discuss the past are sometimes left adrift when trying to make sense of the past as it relates to their own lives. This sense of loss is also seen in Olivias embarrassment at her lack of knowledge about Chinese history.
Some prior research (Epstein, 1998, 2009; Peck, 2010; Wineburg et. al., 2007) has demonstrated that students incorporate or privilege family history or popular culture when constructing narratives about events in the students national histories. However, these prior studies have not explored the narratives of students who do not have heritage or other prior narratives at their disposal. Some of the students in Halagaos (2004) study also came to her class with little or no prior knowledge of the heritage history. Halagao noted that she did not expect this null storytelling and that, in some cases, students simply appropriated the narrative portrayed in the heritage history curriculum of the classroom. While this appropriation without a critical investigation of the narrative offered in the classroom is troubling, what Halagao did not explore was the impact of the official narrative on the students identification with their heritage. For the students in this study, the nature of the school narrative was less important than the fact that the heritage history was included within the official curriculum. For Isabelle, this was a brief mention of the Secret War in her A. P. U.S. History class. Olivia, Zachary, and Isabelle all developed a deeper interest in and connection to their histories through the inclusion of the histories in their history classrooms. Whether this will spark deeper, critical investigations of the histories is unknown, but would provide an interesting avenue for further research.
While Zachary, Isabelle, and Olivia had their interest in heritage history piqued by their history teachers, Michelles heritage connection remained outside the bounds of the classroom. Michelles connection to the Holocaust was through her maternal grandmothers familys actions as rescuers. Prior researchas well as this studyhas focused on more official or expected ways in which students might identify with history (e.g., race, ethnicity, and religion). Michelles story demonstrates the very real ways in which students identify strongly with histories that are often left uncovered and unexposed in the history classroom. Michelles case provides another important reminder for history teachers, as well as a path for future research. While teachers cannot always find room for each student to publicly make personal connections to the history being studied in the classroom, Michelles story provides a powerful example of the stories that get lost without these opportunities. Further research might reveal more stories such as Michelles, in which students make unexpected, powerful connections with histories presented in the classroom.
HERITAGE, IDENTITY, AND OFFICIAL KNOWLEDGE
As VanSledright (2008) noted, it is often the case that the history taught in schools is simply the passing down of collective memory in place of rigorous, disciplinary historical investigation. This official history is typically linear and relatively simplistic, and occludes a deeper investigation of those histories that do not align with the standard freedom and progress narrative closely associated with United States history (Barton & Levstik, 2004). It is important to remember that, when discussing the official knowledge (Apple, 2000) of the history classroom, the students may in fact be contending with another heritage or collective memory narrative, rather than engaging in true historical inquiry. It is also worth mentioning that these three teachers did not, by and large, include, invite, or accept family stories as part of the formal curriculum. However, it seems that the students were perhaps somewhat satisfied that the stories similar to their families were included and, perhaps, did not see family stories as having a place in the formal curriculum.
Given these parameters, it is refreshing to note that while the students were open to reconstructing their existing heritage narratives to incorporate information learned in school, they neither rejected nor appropriated the new narratives wholesale. In other words, they did not simply replace their existing heritage narratives with the official narratives of their history classes, as Halagao cautioned against (2004). All of the students considered and incorporated parts of the new narratives in relation to their existing understanding of the heritage events even when the new narratives conflicted with their existing narratives. Their identification with their heritage and/or their belief in their family members informed their integration of these narratives. Joseph, for example, whose pride in his Chinese heritage was evident in both of his interviews, considered the version of Chinese history presented in his history class and accommodated it within his original understanding of the reign of Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution. Importantly, this accommodation demonstrates that the power inherent in official knowledge is limited in this context; for Joseph and his peers who possessed prior narratives, official knowledge served to augmentbut not overpower or replacethe heritage narratives. This was particularly evident in the Cultural Revolution case, likely because the Chinese students held varying prior narratives about the event based on their families experiences during the Cultural Revolution.
While the Chinese students attachment to their heritage and belief in their families may have lessened the impact of the official knowledge of their history classroom, the Hmong students hoped that the opposite would be true. Their concern about racism toward Hmong people and desire for their non-Hmong peers to know about Hmong peoples sacrifices during the Vietnam War led to their desire to have their heritage narratives included within the official narrative of their history classroom. While their understanding of and connection to the Vietnam War was somewhat strengthened by the information Ms. Adams shared about the genesis of the relationship between the CIA and General Vang Pao, they were more concerned with the ways in which this knowledge might impact their non-Hmong classmates. This desire for a heritage narrative to be included within the official narrative is a perspective that has not often appeared in prior literature. Students had previously expressed their opinions about the narratives they privilege (Epstein, 1998, 2009) and scholars (Seixas, 1993) have called for this type of integration, but few student voices have echoed these cries. In calling for an integration of heritage narratives and school knowledge, the Hmong students offer a compelling rationale for further study of how and why students advocate for the inclusion (or, potentially, exclusion) of heritage narratives in the official knowledge of the classroom. Traditional reasons for doing so have included mirroring students experiences and making students feel part of the curriculum (Gay, 2000; Style, 1996); however, the Hmong students reasons for doing so, which centered around a potential decrease in prejudice, indicate that students may have compelling and important reasons of their own.
The Jewish students present examples of students whose heritage narrative closely matches the official classroom narrative. Given the prevalence of Holocaust education in public schools over the past 20 years, this is unsurprising. Yet, several of the Jewish students learned new information about the Holocaust that served to alter and deepen their perception of what it meant to be a Jewish person during the Holocaust. For Ryan and Deborah, learning about Jewish partisans gave them a picture of Jews during the Holocaust that played against the more prevalent image of a people who went meekly and quietly to their deaths. This more multifaceted portrayal of Jews, as people with strength who chose to fight back against oppression when possible, allowed the students to identify with a stronger, less victimized Jewish identity. In a way, this finding echoes the words of the Hmong students; the Hmong students would like the presentation of Hmong people in their history class to not only exist, but to portray Hmong people as strong fighters and allies of the United States. Therefore, it is imperative that teachers present a multifaceted, dynamic picture of heritage groups during a period of victimization. Exploration of how and why students interpret historical agency, particularly when considering heritage connections between the students and historical actors, is a rich area for future research.
Finally, it is important to note that all 17 students volunteered to participate in a study that explicitly asked them to consider their connections to the past. Therefore, it is likely that their willingness to participate in this study indicates that they may have stronger ties to their heritage histories than their peers of similar backgrounds. I selected these three communities because the populations of the heritage group in each location was robust enough to provide a group of four, five, or even eight students who all identified themselves with the specific heritage group. This means that in each classroom, when I introduced this study and asked for volunteers, these students were by no means the only students who could have participated in this project. In other wordsit is likely that even the students who felt less connected to the heritage histories may have felt more connected than their classmates who chose not to participate in this study. Additionally, the small size of this study must be taken into consideration when contemplating the findings presented here.
Ultimately, this study reveals that there is no one way that students make sense of and identify with heritage histories. The students continual construction and reconstruction of their identities also involves figuring out how and why to consider the importance and impact of heritage histories in their own lives. This study revealed that students may have a strong connection to their heritage without access to the narratives associated with that heritage, as in the case of Olivia. Or, students connection to the heritage history may be enhanced by the inclusion of the heritage history in the official knowledge of the classroom, as in the case of Isabelle. The students may develop a stronger sense of identification with more multidimensional historical actors, as in the cases of Ryan and Deborah.
The stories of these students leave many paths for future research that have one common driver: they all require that researchers spend time talking with students. Michelles story about her familys experiences as rescuers during the Holocaust, Zacharys ability to connect his interest in Polish history directly to the stories told by his father, and Isabelles work to uncover her connection to the Vietnam War would not have surfaced without directly asking students what they think and why they think it. Future research should explore how students from different heritage backgrounds identify with historical actors around the concept of agency, how students continue their exploration of connections to heritage histories beyond the history classroom, and the connections students make to the narratives presented in their history classrooms. All of this work, however, must be centered around the idea that student voice is powerful, instructive, honest, and often silenced.
1. The history and English teachers co-taught part of the Holocaust unit by having students read the memoir Night by Elie Wiesel. Therefore, for three class periods, students in the class I observed (first period) were brought together with the class that met second period and the two classes read the memoir together. The reading and attendant discussions were led by Ms. Harris, her colleague, and her colleagues student teacher.
2. All schools names and names of participants are pseudonyms.
3. Community leaders may include the leader of a youth group to which the heritage connection students belong or leaders of extracurricular activities who are involved in the lives of the heritage connection students. These leaders will vary from site to site, and I will determine who they are as I get to know these three communities.
4. The Tank Man was produced for the PBS program Frontline in 2006. Information is available at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tankman/.
5. Ms. Harris used materials from the Jewish Partisan Education Foundation for this part of the unit. More information can be found at www.jewishpartisans.org.
6. The Secret War refers to the combat that occurred in Laos as an extension of the Vietnam War. Hmong people, under the leadership of a Hmong soldier named General Vang Pao, allied with the U.S. government through the CIA to fight the communist Pathet Lao. Ultimately, the communist forces regained control of Laos and Hmong people became targets of the new regime. They were forced to flee Laos, and many resided for years in Thai refugee camps before emigrating to the United States, Canada, France, and other locations around the world.
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STUDENT INTERVIEW PROTOCOL
Writing Prompt: In order to get us started today, Id like you to jot down some thoughts about the Holocaust. Think about what you know about the Holocaust. How would you explain it to someone who had never heard of it? You may write your ideas in sentences or bullet points, whatever works best for you. If you want, these are a few things to think about to get you started.
What do you think are the most important events related to the Holocaust? Why?
What do you think are the most important people related to the Holocaust? Why?
What should people learn from the Holocaust? (e.g., ideas, morals, values, lessons)
What connection do you feel to the Holocaust? What does it mean to you?
What did you write down?
Why did you choose the people and events that you did?
Do you think someone else would have picked other people or events? Why? If your parents or grandparents were asked the same questions, what do you think might be different about their choices? Why?
If your teacher was asked the same questions, what do you think might be different about her choices? Why?
What parts of the story of the Holocaust have you learned from family members that you have not learned about in school?
What parts of the story of the Holocaust have you learned about in school that you have not learned about from your family?
Do you think its important for people who arent Jewish to know about the Holocaust? Why or why not?
Who do you trust to tell this story? Why?
Does how you talk about the Holocaust change depending on if you are talking to someone who is Jewish or someone who isnt Jewish? How and why?
What does this event mean to you? Do you feel some sort of responsibility to this history?
What impact has the Holocaust had on your life?
PARENT INTERVIEW PROTOCOL
Tell me the story of the Holocaust.
Where does your knowledge of this event come from (personal experience, family stories, books or film, school, etc)?
What have you told your child about this event?
Do you think your child cares about this event?
Do you feel a connection to this event?
Do you think your child feels connected to this event?
Are there lessons to be learned from this event? What are they? Why?
Do you think its important for the Holocaust to be taught in your childs history class? Why/why not?
Who do you trust to tell this story?
Do you think its important for people who arent Jewish to know about the Holocaust? Why or why not?
Does the way you talk about the Holocaust change depending on if you are talking to someone who is Jewish or someone who isnt Jewish? How and why?
What does this event mean to you? Do you feel some sort of responsibility to this history?
What impact has the Holocaust had on your life?
TEACHER INTERVIEW PROTOCOL
Tell me the story of the Holocaust.
Where does your knowledge of this event come from (personal experience, family stories, books or film, school, etc.)?
Do you feel a connection to this event?
Would you teach this subject differently if you didnt have Jewish students? How and why?
How does your own heritage impact your teaching of this event?
Do you think your students care about this event?
Do you think your students feel connected to this event?
What lessons are to be learned from this event? Why?
Why do you think its important for this event to be taught in your history class?
Do you think its important for people who arent Jewish to know about the Holocaust? Why or why not?
Does the story of the Holocaust change depending on if you are talking to someone who is Jewish or someone who isnt Jewish?
Who do you trust to tell this story?
What impact has the Holocaust had on your life?