We’re studying the Holocaust in my classroom right now. I knew it was coming….middle school kids are in that developmental phase where they mimic what they see in the media. They parrot their parents or family members, not always realizing what is coming out of their mouth.
Very often, that can be problematic at best.
At worst, it can show the hate that is simmering in our country. It can spew the language of division, and mimic the actions of those adults who should know better, but don’t.
I’m sure you know who I’m talking about.
In the last three weeks, it’s happened at my peaceful little school. Anti-LGBTQ language. Symbols of hate carved into bathroom stalls. Girls coming to me sharing stories of sexual harassment from male classmates…all this simmering beneath the surface of our children.
They look to us for guidance, but we don’t always know the right or appropriate thing to say. They look at the news, the media, and see people in their country showing hate, bringing guns to schools, using words to demean and disregard and dismiss behaviors. They want us to find the villain, to get back to ‘normal’.
And so somehow, inside my tiny classroom, I need to shift course. I need to model more love and acceptance without showing my own anger or fear or disgust at the actions of people around me and in our government.
So I teach and weave in lessons of history, of courage, of love, and yes, of the power of hate. The power of hope, and helpers, and believing that deep down, people really are good at heart.
Teaching The Diary of Anne Frank at the end of the year always makes me a bit uneasy. It’s not a ‘light’ story by any means, and as we are heading towards celebrating a year of learning together, it often seems out of place in the May curriculum.
Until this year. I need my students to understand the power of hate.
I want them to know why the Nazi symbol holds such venom and what the Star of David, identifying Jews and ultimately bringing millions to a horrific death, teaches us about faith.
I want them to know when they see these images that there is a backstory – and to understand why we must lock bathrooms and be vigilant and intolerant of hate and violence against each other.
Some of you might think that they’re just kids – they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re just mimicking what they see on social media, or repeating what they hear without processing.
And I’d say you’re right – and that’s precisely the problem. Why are they seeing these images and hearing language of hate and intolerance in 2018, decades after we should have learned this lesson? Why are they watching leaders and decision makers act with disregard for those that aren’t in the 1%? Why are they seeing images of citizens of the world herded into temporary shelters, or no shelter at all, simply because they seek a life without persecution for living their authentic selves?
I want them to ponder the big questions the Holocaust brings to mind – questions like “What do you gain when you stand up under adversity?” and “Who is worse – the attacker or the bystander?”
I want them to learn about the unknown heroes of the Holocaust – those folks who aren’t famous for their actions, except to those they helped.
I want my students to talk about why we sometimes feel superior to others. I want them to think about their legacy – even though they’re only 13.
This is our time to rise up, teachers. Don’t dismiss the last few weeks of the school year – leverage them. You’ve spent months developing relationships with your students. Take advantage of that. Use these days, weeks, or hours with your young people to explore what’s happening in their world – our world. Talk to them about what they see and hear. Ask them to think critically about local, national, and global issues. Guide them to meaningful media to learn about the world and then communicate their beliefs to an audience. Do a podcast. Write a blog. Shoot a video clip. Give them a voice.
We already know we’re not solving the problems. We already know that the hatred and gun violence and #metoo movements were formed on the backs of our inability to make change happen.
And we already know that we still have a chance, still have an obligation to our children.
So parents, teachers….do something. Teach someone. Talk to the young people in your life. And most importantly, LISTEN.
If you’d like a copy of my Diary of Anne Frank hyperdoc, including text sets about the Holocaust and Judaism, click here. Share it. You don’t have to be a teacher (or a student) to learn from it. You just need to have a desire to make change happen.
We are really better together. We really should be better.