In the world and U.S. history classes I teach at the high school level, the month of May—which is also Asian Pacific American Heritage Month—is time for World War II. Part of the challenge for me, as I have learned more about this turning point in the history of humankind, is to keep my instructional focus on student inquiry and critical thinking and to temper the urge to revert to a storyteller approach. When the transmission of facts dominates my class, students become passive learners and their thinking suffers. Instead, I ask myself, “In this unit, how can I use the events of the time to develop student’s thinking skills while also integrating literacy-based materials that require student inquiry and, eventually, judgment?” Starting from this perspective, the focus stays on what students must do and less on what I am going to do.
A strategy I have employed—in this unit as well as several others (listed below)—is to turn students into judges with the focus on a key, decision-making individual who helps to define the period of study. With the use of historical documents—including written accounts, political cartoons, photographs, and other available resources—students create a mock trial and analyze President Harry S. Truman’s decision to drop the bombs (codenamed “Fat Man” and “Little Boy”) on Japan in August of 1945. The question students investigate, and eventually must answer, is “Did President Truman make the right decision in dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?”