Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Helen Amerman Manning Interview
Narrator: Helen Amerman Manning
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: SeaTac, Washington
Date: August 2, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-mhelen-01-0009

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AI: Well, I wanted to ask a little bit about some of the challenges of teaching these core classes, especially in regard to the content. Some of the, I've done a little bit of reading on the education in the camps, and my understanding is that teaching the democratic principles of American government and American democracy was a big part of the goals of education. Was that true in Minidoka?

HM: Well, I read about that in the history paper. And I don't recall that teaching patriotism and democracy was the primary goal. We were to have democratic procedures, we encouraged student government, and the student activities were run by the students and that sort of thing. But no, I don't recall ever trying to teach "love of country" or democratic principles. I think that the plans reflected the fact that the people who were designing the program had very little understanding of the students that they would be confronting. And I never met a high school student that didn't consider himself an American, and didn't look forward to going back out, at least among the older kids the first year. Now, after three years in camp, it changed a little bit. But never, even in the third year, did I get the feeling that any student of mine considered himself anything but an American citizen. And when I think about it, the assignment that we should be teaching "love of country" to students who had been uprooted from their homes, transferred from the green Northwest to the Idaho desert, plunked down in primitive conditions and kept behind barbed wire, and their older brothers told, classified by the military as mentally or morally unfit for service, who were we to teach them "love of country"? We didn't need to, because when it came time for the "loyalty oaths" and volunteering, even the people who refused to volunteer for the military did it on American principles. And then there was the other side who said, "If we volunteer, we'll prove our loyalty." What could the teachers do that would be better than that?

AI: Well, as you were saying, that the, so many of the Nisei students felt their Americanism so deeply, I'm wondering if any of them ever spoke out in class about some disillusionment with their government, some disappointment that the government, in their case, was not following through with the ideals of Americanism. Do you recall any of that kind of discussion?

HM: No, I don't. By and large, the students were trying to create a typical American high school. And they were enjoying a new freedom, and because, with the communal dining halls, they were no longer eating meals with their parents, where there could be a certain amount of family solidarity built up. And I understand that the parents would be reluctant to correct the children in the front of other people who might very well be committing the same table manner infractions and that sort of thing. Also, because the apartments were so small and had no privacy, the teenagers found their social life outside the home. And so for many of the teenagers, I think as a student of mine who became a professor of sociology said, he was interviewed by a younger student, wanted to interview him 'cause he'd been in a relocation center, well, "What was life like in the relocation center?" Ted said, "Well, I had a ball." And this was such a shock to this younger fellow, who expected the civil rights sort of protest attitude, he just closed his notebook, "Thank you, that will be enough." [Laughs] And he wasn't interested in hearing, really, what it was all about. But I had, see, sixteen-, seventeen-year-old kids, and they were in the process of growing up, finding their grown-up roles, and there was also the philosophy, I think, "So this is what we're faced with, we have to make the best of it. Carry on." Now maybe some of it was because I was so ignorant that I didn't encourage any philosophizing about how the government had treated them. I really couldn't answer that question. But no, it, I didn't experience it in my classes. Really -- and I think this was probably true of most teachers -- we were confronted with teaching our assigned subject matter with very little to go on. And that was challenge enough.

AI: And I understand that the core classes were very large. That you were at some, in the beginning, rather overcrowded.

HM: I think I had about fifty in my senior class, probably in my eleventh-grade classes, somewhere in the thirties. But we had another advantage -- at least I did. I didn't have any problems with discipline. Not that they were all little angels, but no, the students were ready to get down to work. And sure, they got out of line once in a while and pulled pranks and did things like that. I remember I had a very bright student who I'm sure as a result of the evacuation, was so high-strung that he was just almost jittery. And he had great trouble sitting still and concentrating. And I had a table at the back of the room with a collection books which I had brought down from my own collection, and I guess we'd gotten some stray books from contributions to the library. And they were all good reading. And so I would allow him to go back and sit at the table and read since he couldn't concentrate on what we were doing. And somehow the class seemed to accept that. He didn't suffer from it. He kept up with his classwork. And that's how I handled it.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.