Seventy-four days after the Japanese military’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The order allowed military commanders to set up an Exclusion Area where Japanese and Japanese Americans could not be present to guard “against espionage and against sabotage.” This area encompassed all of California, southern Arizona, and western Washington and Oregon. In this area resided 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans who were eventually detained in War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps. The camps were consistently referred to as “resettlement camps” and “havens of refuge” by the Army public relations agency. Over half of the detainees were below the voting age.
Prior to WRA detention, Japanese Americans were held in Assembly Centers, where many camp residents had established makeshift nurseries, small libraries, and kindergarten, history, current events, and English classes. However, when the detainees were moved to the WRA camps, these community educational initiatives were essentially scrapped. Schooling for detainees of high school age and under was provided at all ten of the Relocation Centers by the WRA. Part of the mission of the schools devised by civilian planners was rooted in the philosophy of New Deal social programs—to give detainees stability during a catastrophic situation and reintegrate them into society after it had passed. The camp schools in Jerome, Arkansas, had a stated mission shared by other schools managed by the WRA, to “develop an educational program which would promote an understanding of American ideals: loyalty to American institutions and training for the responsibilities of citizenship and of family.”
This mission was to be accomplished under armed military guard, in tarpaper barracks in camps located in far-flung swamplands, deserts, and prairies west of the Mississippi River. The average student-to-teacher ratio of these schools was 48:1 in elementary schools and 35:1 in high schools, compared to the national average student-to-teacher ratio of 28:1. Over 90 percent of the certified teachers were European American. Much of what constituted the “loyalty” portion in the planning of this education program consisted of discouraging the traditions of Japanese families in favor of assimilation into roles in mainstream society for when the war ended. Nevertheless, Japanese parents’ involvement in their children’s education and cultural life was high, despite the coercive nature of camp life and their conflicts with teachers representing camp policies.
- Ito, L. A. (2000). Japanese American women and the student relocation movement, 1942–1945. Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, 21(3), 1–24.
- James, T. (1987). Exile within: The schooling of Japanese Americans, 1942—1945. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Weber, M. (1980). The Japanese camps in California. Journal for Historical Review, 2(1), 45.
- Weglyn, M. (1976). Years of infamy: The untold story of America’s concentration camps. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
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