Most units on the Vietnam War in American classrooms concentrate almost solely upon the American experience in Vietnam from 1965-1972. This lesson provides an alternative perspective to the “American” war and its aftermath. Using Quyen Truong’s work as a tool, students should come away with the knowledge that the war and the suffering in Vietnam did not end with American withdrawal from the conflict.
Students should have completed study on the Vietnam War before beginning this lesson.
- Explore visual art as a medium for telling history.
- Use reflective writing to explore responses to disturbing images.
- Gain a basic understanding of Vietnamese reeducation camps.
Reading—Vietnamese Re-Education Camps: A Brief History by Quyen Truong
This reading provides an introduction to the Vietnamese re-education camps, to Truong’s father, and to Truong’s artistic process.
Paintings by Quyen Truong
In the Classroom
1. Introducing the Paintings
Project the paintings on a screen or distribute copies of them to students. Ask students to look at them in silence at first. Have students write down words that come to mind as they are viewing the paintings.
2. Guiding Discussion
Open the floor for discussion regarding which images the students found the most compelling and why. Have them share the words they came up with, and write those words on the board. Encourage students to ask questions about the images or each other’s words to clarify them.
3. Reflective Writing
Ask students to pick three of the words from the board and write a longer reflective piece. Have students find, and describe in detail, an image which best represents each word. The students should explain their choices by describing them in the context of the images chosen, e.g. the characters in the image, what is taking place in the image, facial expressions, physical conditions of the camp, etc., to indicate why they feel the word and the image fit one another. Tell students they are not limited to an entire painting, but can associate a word with a single or a number of individual aspects of that image.
4. Making Connections
In the large group setting, ask students to discuss what they wrote, or ask a few students to share their pieces. Were there particular images that resonated with the class? What did students learn about Vietnam in the post-war era from the paintings?
Quyen Truong is a 2005 graduate of Brown University. She presented her work to teachers participating in the Choices Program’s 2005 Teaching American History Summer Institute, “Vietnam: Other Voices, Other Perspectives.”
This lesson was developed by Russel Olson—Meridian High School, Haslett, Michigan. Mr. Olson participated in the 2005 summer institute.