Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A student's tribute to a WWII liberator

While showing seventh-grade students MCHE’s survivor testimony about the Holocaust last spring, one of my students stated that her neighbor is in the video. All students’ ears honed in on the message of the four Holocaust survivors and the liberator, Col. Keith Schmedemann. Students continued to delve into the testimony. However, Col. Schmedemann spoke with the seventh-grade students last spring about the Holocaust and World War II. His story of liberating people in the Buchenwald concentration camp was a once in a lifetime experience for the middle school students.

When brainstorming for articles for this fall’s issue of our middle school newspaper, The Vellum, students wanted to interview and write about veterans. Col. Schmedemann came to the minds of current eighth-grade students as he imprinted a strong message to our future leaders. Thus, the following student article appeared in our fall issue. We are thankful for the gift of time, knowledge, and treasures of the many people who make meaningful connections of their history to our students, the future leaders. Thank you, Col. Schmedemann and many other speakers who share their story.

By Katie Donaldson

Hearts beating by the second these courageous heroes wait cautiously for the next gunfire. And when its shot, 1, 2, or maybe even 10 donate their life to save our country. Not only do they use their brain for strategies, they use their heart for determination. These champions are willing to sacrifice their lives for us. November is the month we honor saints and veterans. According to America, veterans are saints; saints for our country. They overcame their deepest darkest obstacles and dominated the impossible.

We recognize these advocates that may date back a while ago during the Holocaust or maybe recently in Afghanistan. Last year the fellow eighth graders witnessed an experience of a lifetime, they had the privilege to talk to a liberator in the Holocaust, Col. Keith Schmedemann. He was one of the protagonists that put his worries and selfish needs aside and focused on others. This man and several others are greatly admired for their work to our fellow brothers and sisters. God called him to offer up his life to the vulnerable. Col. Schmedemann remembers every little detail in the years he fought; from the anguish he saw thrust upon the victims in the concentration camps to the arrogant feeling he sensed when he felt victory. His words traveled on a journey, and the students felt every hill he had to climb.

He talked about how fate brought him into war. His father was in World War 1 and he happened to be born 1 year after that war; time after he would be matured enough to fight in his footsteps. Col. Keith Schmedemann started his presentation by making the statement, “We quit making automobiles, and started making tanks.” This point in history was when airplanes were modeled and new technology was being created. Soon enough he dug deeper and discussed his work in the army. With years after years of practice and training, and with the help of K-State, he accelerated from level 1 to the highest level. This hero was an infantry officer; which is a branch of army that is in the action and fighting. He was also involved in liberating a concentration camp called Buchenwald. “I crawled through the mud, dodged bullets, and leaped over creaks,” this is what this idol said about the things you see in movies that he did every day.

“I pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America……” Does this sound familiar? This patriotic leader honors these words every time they are said. He believes in respecting the flag and the country because that shows your pride. Sometimes when he says these words tears form in his eyes because it reminds him of the sacrifices his colleagues and other veterans faced to free lives. He admires all the soldiers and their love for their country. Col. Schmedemann declares, “I don’t think there are wars, it is simply a conflict between beliefs. There is never going to be a winner or loser, but there will be defeats and achievements, like our achievement in defeating Hitler.”

If he could give the students at Cure’ of Ars and the rest of the children of God one advice, it would be to make the most of your time and opportunities that are available to you and to realize that school and family are giving you these advantages. This earthly saint said, “If I could change one thing in my life, I would have jumped back in time and developed a hobby or skill that would stay with me the rest of my life. I practiced piano and wrote hymns, that I know all the words by heart to this day. I wish I would’ve taken the time to learn how to play the violin or be a wood carver.” During his work in the army he took pictures and wrote about his experience, soon he developed this into his story and delivered it to all of his children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren. It took him about five years to complete this book!

To sum up is life in three words it would be: God, Country, and Family. A few years ago his second wife created a collage that depicted him. It had these three words on it along with sunflowers to represent his love for Kansas and three signatures that were his grandfathers, his fathers, and him. Mr. Schmedemann still has this collage hanging on his wall with other photos and memories of his life. He has lived life to the fullest and says that his greatest achievement was bringing humanitarian assistance to the Holocaust survivors.

Col. Schmedemann and all the other veterans teach each and every one of us to follow God’s call and put others in front of us. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule. Not only do these words warm his heart, he fulfills them every day. Our journey reaches a point in life when all of our worries dissolve, when our tears are cleared, and when God takes us to his kingdom. This day will come, and the only way to get through the narrow gates is to love one another as yourself. And that’s just what these veterans did.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Making a difference

This has been a challenging school year. I am at a new school, again, and my district, the Kansas City MO School District, is facing a state takeover. Getting to this point has been a combination of many things, yet it’s fashionable to blame teachers for the ills of society -- even the ills of the school district. Even teachers in my region shudder at the thought of having to possibly take “those Kansas City” students. Not many teachers can do what we Kansas City teachers do- we look poverty, abuse, neglect, and ignorance in the face every day. I wouldn’t trade shoes with any suburban teacher- my students need me, and I change lives every day. My students readily grasp Holocaust lessons- they live with the ignorance and disdain that the Jews living during the Holocaust faced. They know life is tenuous, and they comprehend how important it is to understand and accept others.

The state of Missouri has been exploring options for improving the educational outcomes for my students, and one option is allowing students to attend suburban districts bordering our district. I was astounded when an area teacher who claims an interest in the Holocaust outright told me that she didn’t want “those" students. Her ignorance made me ill. In order to have a healthy society, we must view all children as ours. Didn't the core of being a bystander during the Holocaust involve thinking of society as an “us” and “them” proposition?

I know teachers who would die of shame if they had my job. I am proud of what I do. Kansas City teachers work many more hours than our suburban counterparts, and spend much more of our own money to ensure our students have what many suburban children take for granted. We work in neighborhoods most would not venture into. We comfort children who are homeless, whose parents are incarcerated. And yet our students are compassionate, accepting of others, and learn despite worries most children never face.

I have begun teaching the Holocaust to my new students. It is always astounding to experience the disbelief of what transpired during the Holocaust with a new group of students. I am always humbled by their unique insights, and know that I will learn as much from them as they learn from me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Choosing resources that don't romanticize

This is one of the ten guidelines for teaching the Holocaust recommended by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In my opinion, this is one of the most difficult of the Museum’s guidelines to follow, but nonetheless, very important.

This is difficult for several reasons. Teachers are natural storytellers. We are constantly thinking of ways to present the information in a manner that grabs our student’s attention. Sometimes, because of that, we can be tempted to focus much of our attention on dramatic and/or gruesome details that do not capture the realities of an event, including the Holocaust. One such topic is rescue during the Holocaust. Many of these stories are compelling and do approach the topic of taking action, a social justice lesson many of us hope students take away from studying the Holocaust.

Teaching about rescue should be a part of a Holocaust curriculum, but not romanticized in a way that over emphasizes its part in the history. Less than one half of once percent of European non-Jews were involved in rescue efforts during the Holocaust. “Schindler’s List” is an excellent movie, and I show it for extra credit each year, but it should not be the only instruction students receive on the Holocaust, therefore giving students the idea that this is the typical story of the Holocaust.

As educators, we need to be cognizant of the films we show to our students. In our society, which is inundated with media and entertainment, there are many movies and pieces of historical fiction that tell a great story, but fail to tell all of the history or misrepresent it. Before showing a movie, we should ask ourselves “Why am I showing this? What do I want students to get out of this?” There might be a time and a place for “Life is Beautiful”, but as a Hollywood movie that misrepresents the history, it should not be used in an historical nature. The same can be said for movies like “The Boy in Stripped Pajamas” and “Jakob the Liar”.

There are many engaging and compelling stories that are historically correct. If you are looking for suggestions, feel free to refer to this list of movies and books and also MCHE 's annotated film list.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Accuracy of fact along with a balanced perspective on the history must be a priority.” I firmly believe that we owe this to our students in all studies of history and especially when educating about the Holocaust.