GOOD

Learning From the Uncomfortable Lessons of History


A surprising lesson that one teacher learns in teaching about genocide.

Images of the Holocaust are projected onto my blackboard. The piles of bodies stacked inside of the concentration camp elicit dropped jaws and utter disbelief. Almost immediately, as if on cue, hands pop into the air.

From the back row, Jarvis asks, “But why would they take babies and kill them? Why couldn’t they stay with their mothers?”

Shanta wants to know: “How did Hitler get all of the Nazis to go through with his plan?”

Even Diamond, a normally introverted student pipes in with a question, asking, “How did the Jews that survived in the concentration camps live without much food and bad places to stay”

I field the questions as best I can, but I can tell that my meager answers don't provide much in the way of clarity or resolve for many of the children, still processing the awful horrors that human beings can cause to one another.

As the questions continue, students’ frustrations with my answers only mount. No longer are hands raised; instead they are now shouting out: “But I don’t get it…” or “Wait, couldn’t they fight back…” or “I swear if I ever meet a German I will….” My students have become overwhelmed with the feelings that genocide brings out.

Each time I teach the Holocaust to a different group of students, I tend to get similar responses from them. Because of that, teaching this lesson, while incredibly gut wrenching, is also one of the more comforting lessons I teach.

I almost feel dirty using the word “comforting” alongside genocide. In no way, shape, or form do the actual events of the Holocaust provide me with relief. What I am comforted by is that whenever the concept of genocide is introduced, my students' reactions never waver.

The shock, disbelief, and anger that students display when I speak about what happened to the Jews in Europe during World War II is rarely seen when I teach other lessons. I am not quite sure why that is, but I think it is because many of the other themes that go along with historical events—things like conflict, poverty, culture—have already entered into many of their lives.

A great number of my students have personally experienced the woes of poverty, the injustices of society, and the loss of life during their short time. So, when I teach lessons on topics such as the Great Depression, a majority of my students barely react when they hear about things such as bread lines, hunger, or unemployment. A lot of them are already seasoned on how to process (constructively or destructively) this sort of information. Even at 11 years old, I can tell that a coping mechanism already exists in their brains that prevents them from feeling emotions.

The events that a lot of children would consider traumatic are normal for these students. It is normal to experience an unexpected loss in the family. It is normal to go to sleep hungry at night. It is normal to be wary of a person who has a different skin color or background.

Therefore, teaching the Holocaust (as weird as this may sound) is one of the few opportunities that I have to get students to process uncomfortable thoughts in a constructive way. It also gives me the chance bring trauma outside their realm of normalcy. Together as a class we get to confront and process feelings that only arise when we're exposed to shocking information. My hope is that through various lessons and conversations, students will learn how to process the shock that learning about the Holocaust engenders and in this way, enable them to think differently about events that may arise in both their personal lives and society at large.

Of all the lessons I teach, I know this one will stick with them.

Photo (cc) via Flickr user kamart8354.

Randy Friedland teaches fifth grade at an elementary school in Atlanta.


Articles
via YouTube / Real Time with Bill Maher

Two great thinkers who agree America has it wrong about race appeared on the October 18th episode of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher," philosopher Thomas Chatterton Williams and astrophysicist, author, and "Cosmos" host Neil deGrasse Tyson.

While both people come from separate disciplines, each agreed that the basic concepts of race that are deeply ingrained into American culture are inherently wrong.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Asim Bharwani / Flickr and Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Isn't it rather arbitrary that men and women both have nipples and a man's can be seen in public but a woman's cannot?

Is it because women's nipples have a function and men's are essentially useless that we can see one and not the other? Or is it because since the beginning of time men have policed women's bodies and have decided that they are sexual in nature?

Yep, that's the reason.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Shoshi Parks

Climate change means our future is uncertain, but in the meantime, it's telling us a lot about our past. The Earth's glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, but as the ice dwindles, ancient artifacts are being uncovered. The Secrets of the Ice project has been surveying the glaciers on Norway's highest mountains in Oppland since 2011. They have found a slew of treasures, frozen in time and ice, making glacier archeologists, as Lars Pilø, co-director of Secrets of the Ice, put it when talking to CNN, the "unlikely beneficiaries of global warming."

Instead of digging, glacier archeologists survey the areas of melting ice, seeing which artifacts have been revealed by the thaw. "It's a very different world from regular archaeological sites," Pilø told National Geographic. "It's really rewarding work.

Keep Reading Show less
via Law and Crime News / Twitter

In August, Anne Sacoolas, 42, the wife of and American intelligence official, collided with motorcyclist Harry Dunn on the road outside the Royal Air Force base in Northamptonshire, England.

Sacoolas was driving on the wrong side of the road and said she had "no time to react" to Dunn coming down the hill. The teenager died at the scene of the accident.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

On Tuesday morning, President Trump tweeted about some favorable economic numbers, claiming that annual household income is up, unemployment is low, and housing prices are high.

Now, just imagine how much better those numbers would be if the country wasn't mired in an economy-killing trade war with China, bleeding out trillion-dollar-a-year debts, and didn't suffer from chaotic leadership in the Oval Office?

At the end of tweet, came an odd sentence, "Impeach the Pres."

Keep Reading Show less
Politics