On April 3, 1948 a protest on Jeju Island, in South Korea triggered a retaliatory reaction. This massacre is known as the Jeju 4.3 incident. Last summer, Career High School Social Studies teachers Bob Osborne, Mark Osenko, Ben Werth, and Chris Brennan, and Hyde/Creed teacher Robert Rhone, along with several other teachers, and New Haven district Social Studies supervisor Sandra Clark attended the East Rock Institute Teacher’s Workshop on Korean Culture and History.
Modern World history teachers Osenko, Werth, and Rhone, along with Max Comando who teaches at Metropolitan Business academy became excited to try to weave the lessons from Jeju 4.3 into their courses, especially within a unit on genocide. From this origin, Comando and Rhone created a unit that was based on Jeju 4.3. This work was enthusiastically supported by Professor Hesung Koh of the East Rock Institute, Professor Changhoon Ko of Jeju National University, and Peter Herndon, a long time New Haven educator, who provided the organizational force to keep the whole process moving.
In September, Comando and Brennan were invited to present the unit at the Jeju 4.3 Reconciliation Colloquium, in Washington D.C. The conference was organized to help call attention to the Jeju 4.3 incident and featured historical background, international rights leaders and philosophic and
spiritual leaders hoping to express the Korean concept of turning troubles into opportunities. Jeju island is now known as an international peace island, and survivors of the troubles of the 1940s and their kin, have worked very hard to preserve the beauty and unique status of a place of peace and possibilities. Brennan and Comando’s presentation was well received in Washington as a practical way to allow the lessons of Jeju 4.3 to become more widely known. From this presentation, and through the hard work of Herndon, Koh, and Ko the two teachers were invited to an International Peace Forum on Jeju island.
On March 9, Brennan and Comando participated in the 17th Peace Island Forum hosted by Jeju University. Each teacher presented strategies for teaching Jeju 4.3 to an audience of Korean educators, college students, and various other entities with ties to Jeju 4.3 peace initiative. Since being invited to Korea in November, Brennan has been working on an elective course called “The Power of Culture in a Multicultural World.” Brennan explains, “ the idea is to use social studies tools to investigate the meaning and importance of culture. Jeju offers an excellent opportunity to explore a culture that few of our students are familiar with. It is my ambition that this will allow students to better understand culture in general, and their own culture in particular. I am hoping the culminating activity in the course will be for students to use the Jeju idea of turning troubles into opportunities, as a vehicle for addressing local issues”.
The unit that was developed by Comando and Rhone was meant to serve as a case study for students to understand the different components of genocide. “Although the Jeju 4.3 events are not deemed genocide by the international community, using this as a lens to understand broader concepts seemed really exciting” explains Comando. He continues, “The emphasis on healing and reconciliation was really important for Robert and me when we were writing these lessons. Teaching genocide and the inhumanity that we as humans can show towards each other is upsetting, especially so for students who we know are already bringing trauma with them into the classroom.
Instead, Jeju offers us as educators an opportunity to teach the curriculum but instead of gratuitous death and violence, we have a legacy of hope, healing, reconciliation and remembrance.” The new Modern World History curriculum was first implemented in 2016 and overseen by Social Studies department head Sandra Clarke. The curriculum offers required content but also allows teachers the flexibility to teach to their strengths within each unit. Mr. Comando talked about this new flexibility, “The new curriculum that Mrs. Clark has ushered in really allows teachers to be experts in their content area. When Robert and I sat down over the summer with his emerging scholarship on 4.3, we were amazed by how well it could be adapted to the existing curriculum. It fit right into the larger concepts created by the district curriculum writers.”
In the spirit of reconciliation and remembrance, Rhone and Comando end the unit by asking students to complete an independent research project on a 20th century genocide of their choice. After compiling a “field journal” that reflects their research, students will also be asked to create an artistic memorial project to honor the victims of each event in a way that relates to what they learned.
The conference produced a minor sensation as Brennan and Comando were featured on the local TV News, and were in articles in twelve different newspapers.
“It was a trip of a lifetime, and I cannot wait to use this experience to help our students have more meaningful education experiences,” said Brennan.
“It was such an incredible opportunity to learn about this historic event first hand. My students are really excited to learn about it,” said Comando.