For my IB Higher Level English Literature course, we study the text In Pharaoh’s Army by Tobias Wolff. A memoir of the writer’s experiences during the Vietnam War, In Pharaoh’s Army poses the difficult question: what does it mean to be a hero? At times honest and self-deprecating, Wolff asks his readers to examine the true (often brutal) nature of war. The account is an exploration of the often blurred lines of war and the resulting ambiguities between the “winners” and “losers” of war.
The photo my teammate, Lindsay and I have selected is a Pulitzer Prize winner taken by Eddie Adams, circa 1968. The image is perhaps one of the most infamous photos from the Vietnam War and depicts the highly visceral moment before an apparent execution. The photo leaves the viewer with a profound sense of unease, as the circumstances of the photo are somewhat ambiguous and leave the viewer asking:
Who is the enemy here? Who should we be “vying” for?
Image Credit: Some Rights Reserved. Saigon Execution by Cliff
The prompt for the discussion of this photo: “See, Think, Wonder“. First students are asked to jot down notes on what they can physically see. In other words, just the facts on the surface. Then, they are asked to jot down ideas about what they think is going on. This is their turn to speculate and make inferences based on visual evidence. Finally, they are asked to wonder, writing down any questions they have about the photo.
A picture is worth quite a few words, if not at least 1,000. In my experience, incorporating visual aids into literature-based lessons adds a new dimension to discussions and ultimately, to student understanding and engagement with the content.