I first was introduced to the novel Lost Names during a recent postgraduate fellowship I participated in entitled Imperial Japan— Expansion and War, 1892 to 1945. Sponsored by the Five College Center for East Asian Studies, the seminar was conducted at Mount Holyoke College. Our preconference assignment included reading this novel, and we actually had the opportunity to meet its author, Richard E. Kim, during the conference. He helped us analyze our feelings and reactions to his powerful story. In announcing its reprinting, scheduled for 1998, he previewed our group with his own Author’s Note for this new edition in which he states that he is proud of the fact that his work is often taken as a factual memoir, not fiction.
Fast-forward one year, and I am now teaching Seventh Grade Social Studies at the Brimmer and May School in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Brimmer is a small, coed private school and a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools. The philosophy of this coalition promotes a collaborative education encompassing the values of independent thinking with group oriented problem solving and analytical skills, community, individual responsibility, citizenship, and respect.
In this collaborative setting, I found myself team teaching these students with Joseph Iuliano, who taught English in addition to being Head of the Middle School. Interestingly enough, when we met over the summer, we were both new teachers to the Brimmer community. Our initial course curriculum goal was to meld writing skills with the study of geography and culture of the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. We also planned to incorporate a student project entitled “Family History—A Short Story.” Questions to be addressed included: what resources can students use to learn about their ancestors and other cultures; and how can factual events be used to enhance a fictional work? For this project, we required both accurate historical and cultural information, along with a solid narrative model, which the students could relate to and emulate. We also wanted to ensure that this experience would be academically enriching for them as well as being personally satisfying.