Stuff I didn’t know: Fred Korematsu, civil liberties, and those very cool 10 amendments
There are so many things that I don’t know. I don’t know how the KC Chiefs lost a playoff game to the Tennessee Titans. I don’t know why people eat brussel sprouts. I have no idea how to tie a bowtie.
And that’s just the stuff that doesn’t really matter. There’s always tons of stuff that I should know but don’t.
Need an example? I didn’t know until today that there is an official Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. Yup. Should have known that. I do know who Fred Korematsu is. But I didn’t know there was a special day set aside just for him and civil liberties.
How cool is that? I love this. We need as many days as we can get that celebrate civil rights and the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution.
Quick review. Korematsu was a Japanese American born in California who was ordered to enter an internment camp in 1942. He refused, was arrested, charged with violating military orders, and later transported to a camp at Topaz, Utah. He appealed his conviction and eventually the case made its way to the US Supreme Court in 1944. The Court decided 6-3 in favor of the government – a decision later overturned in 1983.
Following the war, Korematsu continued fighting for civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution and on January 30, 2011, what would have been his 92nd birthday, California celebrated the first Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. Earlier in 2009, Korematsu’s daughter and others founded the Fred T. Korematsu Institute to honor his legacy as well as other civil rights heroes and movements, World War II, the Constitution, global human rights, and Asian American history.
It was the Institute that brought the day to my attention by sending me a copy of their Korematsu curriculum kit. The kit focuses a variety of civil rights issues with Fred’s story as the anchor event.
- The kit is free.
- It includes a 175 page Teacher’s Guide, videos, and accompanying lesson plans, books, graphic novels, and posters.
- The Teacher’s Guide has a ton of primary sources.
- The kit gives you access to their digital materials on the website, including the entire Korematsu Institute Teacher’s Guide and multiple videos, available to download or stream, free-of-charge. (You’ll need to order the print version – the cover letter includes the password needed to access these very cool digital materials.)
I especially like that the Teacher’s Guide doesn’t just have useful lessons and activities, it also has an extensive bibliography of other resources including books, websites, and articles.
So you need to order the kit. Seriously. Some very cool stuff here that aligns to all sorts of history, civics, and government topics that we all teach. Fred’s story seems perfect as the hook for introducing broader topics. Don Gifford, the Kansas State Department of Education social studies consultant said something once that I repeat over and over:
. . . the historical content is the vehicle for demonstrating mastery, not the destination.
In other words, use stories like Fred’s to help kids understand bigger concepts such as choices have consequences, citizens have rights and responsibilities. or small actions can make a big difference. Use stories like Fred’s to help kids do history rather than simply memorize it.
Why is it important that I know this? In a 2004 article, Korematsu expressed concern about the direction the United States seemed to be taking. His last paragraph is especially powerful – even 14 years later:
There are other handy resources and groups out there that specifically address Japanese American history and civil rights in general:
- Japanese American Citizens League
- Anti-Defamation League
- Teaching Tolerance
- List of Civil Rights organizations
And now we both know.