Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The power of first person testimony.

Do I need to begin by saying that I believe the Holocaust along with other atrocities such as what is taking place in the Sudan, took place in Uganda and Cambodia and other such places are despicable and are important subjects for students to know about? I think students should be encouraged to stand up for injustice and freedom. However, to spend three and a half weeks on this subject complete with visuals that will imprint in their minds and may be quite traumatic seems very excessive to me. My mother's heart says these are just 12 year old children and this information is overwhelming for adults let alone the tender minds and hearts of children to be focused on for nearly a month.

"Teaching a three-and-a-half week unit on the Holocaust to seventh graders has been Newman’s passion for nearly 20 years." Smyrna Middle School teacher Linda Newman.


Reactions to the activity become the first entry in a daily journal they must keep as an outlet for their feelings and thoughts throughout the Holocaust study. From Nashville City Paper.

I pity the child who cannot process this information and the attendant emotion through the written word. I certainly hope that parents will be pre-warned that this discussion will take place so that they can aid their children in working through the horrors of man's cruelty. I hope the next class they go to after these lessons is aware that these students may still be deeply distracted by what they've heard and seen and make accomodations for what may be an altered state.

Recently my children (ranging in age from 17 to 8) and I attended a lecture where a couple of holocaust survivors and a liberator shared their testimony. They didn't have any audio visual backup to jazz up their testimony. They didn't bring in any artifacts for show and tell. However, the simple sharing of their own personal experiences was tremendously powerful and impacting and something I don't think they'll every forget. This is a subject that has come up regularly in our home and I've had the opportunity to share with them the stories of heros of the effort. I've had the chance to let them ask why and how. They've had a chance to process all of this information slowly and piece by piece. They've had the advantage of having a guide through this maze of information and emotions that knows them and knows how much they can absorb without harming them in the effort. They can freely ask questions that won't be hindered by what classmates may think. I'm very thankful for that opportunity and I believe they understand "never again."

A resource we'll be using this summer is a radio theatre production of Corrie Ten Boom's "The Hiding Place" produced by Focus on the Family.


Ron said...

I had a tough time even finishing reading the post. My wife's grandfather is British and he served there during WW II. Definitely, no graphical portrayal is needed. What I find the worst about this practice is the fact that by the time the kids are that age, most operate under the premise that they can't leave such a presentation whatever emotional recoil they have to it. If it were me, nothing written in a journal would alleviate the strain it put on me.

Kay Brooks said...

You're exactly right, Ron. These children are a captive audience and will be denied permission to leave if they feel uncomfortable--and I'd be seriously concerned about anyone that wouldn't feel uncomfortable.

To me this reads like the teacher has a passionate interest in the subject and probably sincerely wants to share that with the children in an effort to make a better world. However, this is a misguided reason to subject children to such an extended examination of these horrors. When you're dealing with other people's children and a large group where you cannot possibly discern let alone meet the emotional needs of them all, you're treading in dangerous territory. Parents really must be informed of her plans for their children.

I hope she reconsiders and chooses to reach into the adult community instead.