Education About Asia: Online Archives

Teaching Lost Names in an American High School

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In a currently popular world literature text of 1,442 pages, there are a total of four pages on Korean literature. An entire country’s literary heritage is condensed into two poems. Until I read Lost Names by Richard Kim, my only contact with Korea had been to watch my mother cry as my older brother set off for the Korean War. Then later I encountered some opinions and allusions to the country through study of Japanese language and culture. None of these led me any closer to what might be the heart and soul of the Korean people—the essential quality to which I wanted to expose my students in world literature. Then I read Lost Names. I knew immediately that this text would help my students discover that a small country across the world from America, with customs and traditions very different from theirs, is a place with warm, friendly people who share the same hopes and dreams as they do.

The student body at W. G. Enloe High School is very diverse. There might be a dozen different national backgrounds in any given classroom. A student sitting side-by-side with a friend who speaks English fluently may have no idea that his classmate’s home life is based on assumptions and ideas quite different from his own. Until they are introduced to world cultures and world literature in tenth grade, our students often have little idea of the value and richness of other cultural heritages.