Thursday, March 11, 2010

No "buts" about it...

I heard a wonderful talk at church last month given by a colleague from my school district. I have always admired her gentle spirit and concern for others. Her message centered around the skepticism that she had encountered about a missions trip to Costa Rica. She heard various “But” comments about her trip and she had formulated a great message in response. Comments such as “BUT why don’t you just send that money to Costa Rica” or “BUT why don’t you use that money for local food pantries?”. She went on to eloquently explain that she likes to look at the benefit she gained from experiencing the hands on work of actually helping AND she made incredible relationships. AND she has helped at local food pantries AND will continue to help verses focusing on the “buts”. This really hit home with me in regards to several situations that I have encountered throughout my life, namely with my passion for Holocaust education. I have often encountered questions such as “BUT why do you study that depressing subject?” or “BUT what about learning more about our own domestic atrocities?” or, as far as expanding the Holocaust to its own semester course, “BUT is that relevant for today’s students? Is it practical? You should include other genocides as well.” These are just a few of the “BUTS” that I have responded to in various manners. After hearing my friend’s message, I feel I have an even better response to share. I hope that this will help those of you who have encountered “BUTS” or who have fought hard to justify time for Holocaust education in your classroom, school or simply your passion to learn more about the Holocaust.

Teaching the lessons of the Holocaust benefits young (actually all ages but since this is to support Holocaust education at the secondary level, I’ll leave it as is) adults in a multitude of ways. The Holocaust is an important history with lessons that extend far beyond the actual events that occurred. The actual events themselves are frightening. The Holocaust occurred in a cultured, modern society. Educated businessmen, bureaucrats, politicians and physicians knowingly placed themselves in positions to contribute to state sanctioned murder and as a result millions perished. This is not worthy of our time? Are you kidding me? The real danger is if we do not find or make the time to share this with our young adults. Share with them the truth. Honor those who perished by paying tribute to their memory. Personalize it with the amazing stories of Holocaust survivors….what a great way to add to their lessons of forgiveness.

Regardless if it is examining the impact of post World War I recovery (great for an economics lesson), Hitler’s rise to power (great for World history, Psychology, and Sociology), or debating how legislation such as the Nuremberg Laws were enacted (great for Government classes), the Holocaust effortlessly fits most current day Social Studies curriculums. Beyond easily tying the Holocaust to local, state and even NCSS standards, it more importantly provides a vast venue to explore moral and ethical issues. Universal lessons of valuing human life, tolerance and justice (or in this case the lack there of) are the best cases to teach the need for character education than any curriculum I have been presented with thus far. Teaching our young adults to treasure and act on the freedoms guaranteed by our democratic society are only strengthened when reading about the dangers of the Nazi totalitarian regime with its lack of personal liberties.

Teaching the history of the Holocaust illustrates to students the danger of apathy, the need to stay abreast of current events as well as making your voice heard - that one person can make a difference. The Holocaust exemplifies the gamut of human character, from the most heroic and selfless acts of resistance and rescue to the inhumanity of how leaders, educated politicians and bureaucrats, doctors, etc, were able to create a system of mass murder. No other subject can broaden a student’s perspective and horizons like the study of the Holocaust.
There are ‘no buts about it’. The Holocaust is an excellent history to teach the importance of tolerance AND combating prejudice as well as discrimination which applies to modern day domestic and foreign issues. AND it is an excellent study to establish a framework to examine modern day genocides such as Rwanda and Darfur. AND there exist numerous Holocaust related memoirs, novels, poems, artwork and other documents that trump any coverage a textbook could provide. AND it provides a great framework for examining other genocides. AND the list goes on…..

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