Friday, January 12, 2007

So Far So Good for "So Far from the Bamboo Grove"

Kudos to Perry Davis, Superintendent of the Dover-Sherborn School Board for finding a better way.

The Dover-Sherborn Community Newspaper, in Massachusetts, reports that the Dover-Sherborn Regional School committee has reversed its decision to remove So Far from the Bamboo Grove from the grade six curriculum.

Opponents of the book leveled criticisms that the book was biased in its look at the occupation of Korea by Japan and alleged atrocities committed against the occupying Japanese.

A synopsis, according to The Glenco Literature Library, which also includes a study guide,
Although she is Japanese, eleven-year-old Yoko Kawashima has lived all her life in Korea. So Far from the Bamboo Grove follows the experiences of young Yoko as World War II comes to an end and Korea is engulfed in turmoil as Koreans revolt to take back their homeland. Yoko and her family are forced to leave their tranquil home in Korea and to flee back to Japan in this story of heartbreak, cruelty, survival, and courage.

According to Davis, there were a number of issues to address including:
"...concern for the banning or censorship of a book...support for the use of the book and its author because of the positive experience of the students when coming to understand a personal struggle to survive; concern for the content of the book and questioning the maturity of students in the sixth grade to understand issues of rape and war; concern that the book is not balanced in its reporting of events at the end of World War II and the occupation of Korea by Japan.

The decision was made to keep the book in the curriculum but to bring balance to the unit on survival through the use of additional texts to provide background.

15 comments:

heeki said...

I'm sure that a well-written, emotional, sympathetic book can be written about Hitler's sister too. Would you support such a book also? Yoko's father was a high-level official in Manchuria where Camp Ishii(Unit 731) was located. This is where bio weapons were tested on koreans and chinese as well as vivasection performed on civilians and pregnant women. As a high offical, Yoko's father also oversaw forced conscription of Korean workers to perform slave labor in death mining camps in Japan. He also probably oversaw the collection of rice and other harvest in the fall from the Koreans farmers to ship to Japan. He also had to oversee dealing with beheading North Korean Christians who refused to bow to the emperor of the master race. What a sad, sad tragedy this has all become... Perhaps a "balanced" approach to the Holocaust and the Civil Right Movement should be offered next.

fahrenheit451moderator said...

Despite what Yoko's father may have done, I understand that this is her story, not his. By discussing it openly in this forum, we are not hiding the issues. The same points that you brought up can also be brought up in a classroom. I support your right to speak against the book as vigorously as I support the right for students to read the book.

In theory, I would support a book about Hitler's sister as well, even if it was sympathetic towards her or even him. The key is providing enough background that people (especially students) are able to make intelligent decisions about where the truth lies. Reading a book written from the German point of view with regard to the Holocaust or from the white point of view during the Civil Rights Movement doesn't nullify the evils that occurred. Neither does it mean that one has to agree with that view.

It is not my understanding that the schools are teaching this as history but as literature. As literature many books, even those with skewed "facts" have much to teach us about the human condition.

damien said...

If anyone seriously thinks a school could get away with teaching a Nazi-sympathetic book on Hitler's sister, they haven't been living in America recently. Anything is possible "in theory," that doesn't really justify anything. In theory, there is something to learn about the human condition from anti-semitic books. But we are not concerned with "theory" here.

heeki said...

I'm sorry but it’s hard for me to believe that you’re being intellectually honest if you really think that a pro-Nazi children's book or a pro-KKK children's book really needs to be taught in our classrooms for children to discover where "the truth lies" with Nazi Germany or the Civil Rights Movement. And you're watering down what's really going on in Yoko's narrative by comparing her perspective with "white" or "German" perspectives.. it's more like KKK and Nazi perspectives. This book is akin to a story of an SS officer's daughter and her family fleeing Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland while freed Jewish prisoners and angry Polish civilians are out to do horrible things to them. Middleschool English is not the appropriate place for presenting views sympathetic to pro-Nazi, pro-KKK and pro-Imperial Japan perspectives. In any case discovering "truths" about Nazism, KKK, Imperial Japan are not what’s going on here and not why this book is taught. You said it yourself that this book is being taught as literature and not history. So what "truth" are we talking about here? Seems to me that whatever literary and "truth" value there is in teaching this book is GROSSLY overshadowed by the historically false and horrid revisionist perspective from which this book has been written. By that I mean that Yoko's narrative(maybe unknowingly) distorts and manipulates the moral, emotional and historical truths and revictimizes and traumatizes children of Korean decent as well offending nations that were victimized during WWII. It also seems like people are not aware of the situation in Asia. In Germany it's illegal to deny the Holocaust. Japan has taken a "conservative" turn some time ago and revisionism abounds and Japanese war atrocities are openly and freely denied by academics and politicians. In fact, such academics and politicians enjoy immense popularity fueling a resurgence of old-time racism against Koreans and white-washing of Japan's wrongs while glorifying Imperial sentiments that saw Japan as being the "master race". All of this has been documented by a UN humanitarian mission sent to Japan last year which concluded Japan still suffers from "deep and profound" racism. I wonder if the teachers and the school administrators even educated or aware of historical, political, social issues behind this book.

fahrenheit451moderator said...

I think the value in this book and its truths have little to do with one country or another. It has to do with how an eleven-year-old girl in a "survival mode" views the world. A good teacher would be sure to place this book within a proper context. Perhaps that is more the issue. You bring up a good point that teachers, school administrators, etc. may not be aware of historical, political, and social issues behind this book.

Anonymous said...

Truths? Korean weather is too cold for a bamboo tree to be grown. Bamboo grove in northernmost Korea? Pathetic lie. Korean Communist Party was formed in 1948. Please do the math. American bombers flying from pacific islands could hardly reach southern tip of Korean peninsula. What did Yoko hear? Didn't she say 'BOMBIMG'? What bombing?????

Anonymous said...

I read this book, and I agree that this book reads well. You wouldn't have a problem reading Hitler's sister's memoir because you, like everyone else in the whole wide world, are well taught about what Hitler did. If what Japanese people did to Korean for those 36 years are well known, or at least if Japanese goverment placed any word of appologies, it might have been a little less sad story. Whether or not this book is telling the truth about her own experience, it is lying by omission, which is a worse than simple lying often times. Did you mention rape and war somewhere in your comments? During WW II, 200,000 middle school aged girls were forced to become sex slaves to comfort Japanese soldiers. I wonder if the teachers knew this fact when they chose this book. I wonder if they told the students about this historic background when they taught students. It is sad that you do not see what you're doing to the minds of young students. I feel sorry for you and your students.

heeki said...

Hey mod, you really think historical, social, political, moral context of this story somehow vanishes into thin air when you say that this book is valuable bc it's a story of an "eleven-year-old girl in a "survival mode""??? That makes sense... if you're ignorant of the relevant context or you create an artificial moral, historical vacuum. Come on. And people wonder what they'll do when faced with injustice or immorality...

fahrenheit451moderator said...

heeki said..."Hey mod, you really think historical, social, political, moral context of this story somehow vanishes into thin air..."

What I am saying is that it is important to give the readers the historical, social, political, and moral context of the story. I have learned more about what the Japanese did in Korea in reading about this book over the past two weeks than I had learned previously in my lifetime.

Anonymous said...

"I read this book, and I agree that this book reads well. You wouldn't have a problem reading Hitler's sister's memoir because you, like everyone else in the whole wide world, are well taught about what Hitler did. If what Japanese people did to Korean for those 36 years are well known, or at least if Japanese goverment placed any word of appologies, it might have been a little less sad story."

That is my point exactly. The west does know what went on in Germany. But honestly, when I read The Diary of a Young Girl, I didn't have that background. But as I grew up, I became aware. We learn over a lifetime and I think we have to give people a little more credit for having critical thinking skills.

Just because something is in print, does not mean that people swallow it whole. And I stress once more that I believe teachers need to provide a context for this book. Rather than banning the book, it is more valuable to consider it a jumping off point for a discussion on what the Koreans suffered as well. I reiterate my concern that teachers and school board officials do not have the background they need but a good teacher will do as I did and find the information to educate themselves first.

I am curious to know why the controversy over this book did not erupt until 13 years after it had been included in the curriculum.

heeki said...

How the heck are teachers and school admins who obviously know nothing about these issues going to teach the "context"??? It's like teachers who know nothing about Nazi Germany and WWII who are in love with a sympathetic hero book about an SS officer's daughter fleeing Auswitz where the antagonists are freed Jews and Polish locals trying to teach "context of Germany and Nazism and WWII.... Do you seriously not see the problem with this????? People are enamored with the emotional and well-written narrative of this book while burying their heads to the historical, nationalistic context of this book. You want to know why no one's complained for 13 years??? BC, people like yourself(I'm sure normally decent and good) are oblivious to the historical and political context behind this insidious book and never learned Asian history. And because the people who are hurt directly and personally by this book are people of Korean descent. This is just all really sad.

mypointis said...

For a while, I've had a view just like mod's view here...

"Rather than banning the book, it is more valuable to consider it a jumping off point for a discussion on what the Koreans suffered as well."

Thought to myself, that is a 'strategic thinking.' But..

Mod said...

"It is not my understanding that the schools are teaching this as history but as literature. As literature many books, even those with skewed "facts" have much to teach us about the human condition."

"I think the value in this book and its truths have little to do with one country or another. It has to do with how an eleven-year-old girl in a "survival mode" views the world."

Comments after comments like these, especially from teachers, made me wonder if my thought was indeed strategic at all. I've lost my confidence that a good teacher(literature) will do even a reasonable job of covering East Asian history of early 20th century. They'd care little because, well, after all, this is not a history class! Or perhaps they will do a good job of putting it in the 'balanced context,' but their concept/understanding of 'balanced context' may not be 'balanced' at all, because, well who cares, that's not the point and value of this book!

So, the argument seems pretty weird to me as it can lead to a funny conclusion like #5 below. It goes like,

1. The book has so much value to ban from classrooms (by the way, who said the book should be banned? The claim is we should not force every single student to read this book.)
2. We understand the importance of the historical context
3. So, we will make sure the balance is brought in when we teach this book
4. However, the point and true message of this book has nothing to do with the historical facts, and thus should not be obscured by the historical context
5. Therefore, there is no real merit of spending too much time and energy on teaching the historical context. But, still, please trust us, we will make sure the 'balance' will be there. Point #3 reiterated.

I see something like this happening when the concept of "balance" is finally brought in to the classroom.

"... so, what did we learn from Mrs. Watkins' story? Last couple of months, we learned what kind of suffering even the most innocent, 11-yr old girl had to go through, how cruel a war can be to anyone, and thus how important it is to strive for peace on earth. You forget everything else about this book, but I want you to remember those messages from this beutifully written book.

Oh, by the way, there is a subtle historical background I want you all to be aware of. The time and place this story took place was, well, as you know, Korea in 1945. Korea was a colony of Japan for 36 years up until 1945, and naturally there were some unfortunate things done by Japanese government to Korean people. So, please do not bully any of your Korean friends because of what you read about Koreans from the book.

Anyway, the point of this book, and the reason why we learned this book during the course of past couple of months is to share the message of peace and how cruel a war can be to anyone who has to live through it.

Next week, we will have an honor to have Mrs. Watkins coming to talk to you folks more about the true stories and her lifelong endeaver to bring peace to humanity.

Class dismissed."

Balanced?

James said...

If there is proof that Kawashima Watkin's father was involved in the actions of Unit 731, no one has managed to provide it. Why don't these ultra-nationalist Koreans back up their claims?

Anonymous said...

Chinese or Koreans often/easily use words like Nazi or Hitler to Americans when they want to hide something from Americans because they know these words/names are pretty effective to make Americans(and Europeans) upset but they really don't know meanings of these words other than that.

If they know what kind of words they are using then how can they describe these? (Chinese are also not far from Koreans)

http://blog.naver.com/stu2217?Redirect=Log&logNo=80034330254

or

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXTPNYXDwqY&eurl=

fahrenheit451moderator said...

Anonymous said...

Chinese or Koreans often/easily use words like Nazi or Hitler to Americans when they want to hide something from Americans because they know these words/names are pretty effective to make Americans(and Europeans) upset but they really don't know meanings of these words other than that.


I have allowed this comment to be published since I do not like to censor the views of other people. However, I have to say that I do not like its tone, nor its generalizations. It reveals a lack of tolerance towards the Chinese and Korean people that I would not stay silent about if spoken in my presence.

It seems to me that this is less about the censorship of a book and more about what your personal agenda is.

By the way, this site is moderated by a Canadian. Canadians are as different from Americans (and Europeans for that matter) as Japanese are from Koreans.

In future, please try to keep your comments on the topic of the book.

heeki said...

Backing this book only undermines the anti-censorship efforts of this website. I'm against censorship of any book. However, teachers and schools have to discern which books are best for our children's education. The debate that surrounds this book is regarding that discerning process.

The real backstory behind what happened with this book is that the big money corporate publishers of this book got a sniff of the grassroots campaigning that Korean parents were starting up and used their lobbying resources to rally anti-censorship groups, school boards, civic organizations.