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January 22, 2015 0

Bittersweet Freedom

“After Auschwitz, the human con­di­tion is not the same, noth­ing will be the same.“
– Elie Wiesel

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Credit: Yad Vashem

Jan­u­ary 27th marks the 70th anniver­sary of the lib­er­a­tion of Auschwitz Birke­nau Con­cen­tra­tion Camp by the Russ­ian army at the end of World War II.  For those who were able to sur­vive the hor­rors of Auschwitz, finally hear­ing the words “We’re free! We’re free!” echo­ing across the camp bar­racks must have seemed almost too good to be true. We often hear sto­ries of the ini­tial encounter between camp sur­vivors and the lib­er­at­ing army, recounted by one child sur­vivor, “They gave us hugs, cook­ies, and choco­late. Being so alone, a hug meant more than any­body could imag­ine because that replaced the human worth that we were starv­ing for. We were not only starved for food but we were starved for human kindness.”

Peo­ple rarely con­sider what hap­pened to the anti-Semitism that was at the root of the Holo­caust once the war ended. There is some­times an assump­tion that anti-Semitism ended with the war or that it was greatly dimin­ished. In fact, this is never the case when geno­cide occurs. The hatred and prej­u­dice still exist, but their man­i­fes­ta­tion is not always bla­tantly obvi­ous.  In the case of the Holo­caust, the world felt a col­lec­tive sense of shame in fac­ing the images of sur­vivors, which was a strong inhibit­ing force against the bla­tant expres­sion of anti-Semitism. Today, decades later and with new gen­er­a­tions ris­ing, the ero­sion of that sense of shame has become a key fac­tor in the surge of anti-Semitism. That’s why edu­ca­tion is more impor­tant now than ever.

After lib­er­a­tion, the sur­vivors of Auschwitz were free to walk out of the camp, and were essen­tially on their own to make their way back to their com­mu­ni­ties and learn if their for­mer homes and val­ued pos­ses­sions were still there.  Many of the young women who sur­vived the camp trav­elled together in small groups, some­times for long dis­tances. Sleep­ing in barns, sheds or out­side in the woods, they were fre­quent vic­tims of vio­lent sex­ual assaults from maraud­ing sol­diers, attacks from which some did not sur­vive. They were tar­geted for two rea­sons – because they were women and because they were Jewish.

The lib­er­a­tion of Auschwitz is clearly a crit­i­cally impor­tant event in the his­tory of the Holo­caust and one that should hold an impor­tant place in our col­lec­tive mem­o­ries.  But we also need to be mind­ful that anti-Semitism did not mag­i­cally dis­ap­pear with the lib­er­a­tion of the camps or the sign­ing of the peace treaties.  Today, anti-Semitism has reached to all-time highs across Europe and our mem­o­ries need to be tem­pered with a renewed vig­i­lance to con­tinue to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of prej­u­dice, from sub­tle stereo­types and Holo­caust “jokes” to vio­lent hate crimes against peo­ple per­pe­trated because of who they are.  Only then, will the man­date of “Never Again” become a reality.

How do we bring the lessons of the Holo­caust to stu­dents today in ways that are rel­e­vant to their lives?  The Anti-Defamation League pro­vides pro­grams and resources that help edu­ca­tors and stu­dents study the his­tory of the Holo­caust and apply its lessons to con­tem­po­rary issues of respon­si­ble cit­i­zen­ship, moral deci­sion mak­ing, prej­u­dice, hate, and geno­cide.  Teach­ers can inte­grate mul­ti­me­dia cur­ric­ula into their class­rooms through Echoes and Reflec­tions.

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January 14, 2015 1

Beyond the Dream, Teaching King in Context

Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. Day is Mon­day, Jan­u­ary 19, and many edu­ca­tors will take the oppor­tu­nity to teach about King and his enor­mous con­tri­bu­tions to our soci­ety. As edu­ca­tors, how we approach the teach­ing of this hol­i­day makes an impact on how stu­dents under­stand the larger con­text of the Civil Rights Move­ment and whether they make a con­nec­tion between the past strug­gles to the cur­rent day and their own lives. Here are some thoughts about teach­ing the topic in a mean­ing­ful way:

Courtesy of the Library of Congress, New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, LC-USZ62-126559

Cour­tesy of the Library of Con­gress, New York World-Telegram & Sun Col­lec­tion, LC-USZ62-126559

Focus on what Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. rep­re­sents.  King is an icon, a larger than life fig­ure and a tremen­dous ora­tor. These char­ac­ter­is­tics can lead stu­dents to believe that he sin­gle­hand­edly accom­plished the goals of the Civil Rights Move­ment or that they could never be like King.  It’s impor­tant to put King’s work into the con­text of the larger move­ment of peo­ple that he rep­re­sented.  Stu­dents need to know about King’s life, that he was a leader of all types of “ordi­nary” peo­ple, and it was them – peo­ple of all ages, all walks of life, all dif­fer­ent races and reli­gions – that made the Civil Rights Move­ment possible.

It is impor­tant to under­stand and teach that the Civil Rights Move­ment was a strate­gic, on-going  move­ment with spe­cific objec­tives.  Author Bryan Steven­son talks about the idea that peo­ple today often think of the civil rights move­ment as a 3 day event; “Day One, Rosa Parks gave up her seat on a bus; Day Two, Dr. King led a march on Wash­ing­ton; and Day Three, we signed all these laws.”  This sim­plis­tic view of the Civil Rights Move­ment leaves out all of the impor­tant ele­ments of strat­egy, strug­gle and the actual “move­ment” of the Civil Rights Movement.

Sim­i­larly, it is impor­tant to be spe­cific when talk­ing about King and the Civil Rights Move­ment. Dr. King’s legacy can­not be under­stood with­out talk­ing about big­otry, race and racism.  That may seem obvi­ous, but often edu­ca­tors are hes­i­tant to talk about race.  With thought­ful prepa­ra­tion, how­ever, these issues can be raised in a devel­op­men­tally appro­pri­ate way.  It’s also really use­ful to be spe­cific about the aims of the Civil Rights Move­ment– not just a vague notion of “equal­ity” but a social jus­tice move­ment that was seek­ing to end seg­re­ga­tion, secure vot­ing rights, advo­cate for worker’s rights, and address eco­nomic disparities.

In this way, we have teach­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties that con­nect the past to cur­rent events.  Stu­dents can see both the suc­cess of the Civil Rights Move­ment while also con­nect­ing to what forms of sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion and unequal treat­ment exist today.  For exam­ple, exam­in­ing the Vot­ing Rights Act allows for an oppor­tu­nity to ana­lyze the 2013 Supreme Court deci­sion which gut­ted the heart of that law or explore tac­tics like Voter ID laws which sup­press the abil­ity to vote.  Sim­i­larly, focus­ing on the impor­tance of youth involve­ment and lead­er­ship in all aspects of the Civil Rights Move­ment allows for an oppor­tu­nity to learn about cur­rent activism led by youth.  

We know that no edu­ca­tor has the lux­ury or time to focus on all aspects of King’s life and the work of the Civil Rights Move­ment. Choos­ing one spe­cific aspect of King’s life or the Civil Rights Move­ment can give stu­dents more oppor­tu­nity to under­stand and explore, whether focus­ing on Selma or The Children’s Cru­sade or the San­i­ta­tion Work­ers’ Strike in Memphis.

These are just a few exam­ples of the many dif­fer­ent entry points for learn­ing about Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. and the work of the Civil Rights Move­ment.  For many, the “go to” entry point is to focus on King’s most famous and most quoted “I Have a Dream” speech, specif­i­cally the end with its lyri­cal, mov­ing rep­e­ti­tion. Because this speech has vivid imagery and phrases that make it easy to teach, it can also be over­sim­pli­fied. We need to go beyond “the Dream” for stu­dents to truly make mean­ing of King’s legacy.  King’s dream was deeply rooted not just in “the Amer­i­can Dream,” but also in that time’s con­text of dis­crim­i­na­tion, racism and big­otry.  How­ever we choose to honor King’s legacy this year, stu­dents’ learn­ing should also be rooted in those con­cepts of injustice.

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December 17, 2014 0

Bring Malala, Ferguson, Unaccompanied Minors and Ebola into the Classroom

Malala.  Fer­gu­son. Immi­gra­tion. Ebola. Voter ID Laws. Cli­mate Change.  These are just a few of the top­ics teach­ers are reg­u­larly and actively bring­ing into their classrooms.

Unaccompanied Minors essay pic for blogWhether they teach Eng­lish, Social Stud­ies, Advi­sory or another sub­ject and whether they have five min­utes or decide to do a week– long study, teach­ers know that top­ics in the news will engage and inter­est stu­dents in a deep and mean­ing­ful way.  Research shows that cur­rent events instruc­tion has a long list of ben­e­fits for stu­dents includ­ing skill devel­op­ment in read­ing, writ­ing, vocab­u­lary, crit­i­cal think­ing, media lit­er­acy, speak­ing and lis­ten­ing.  It also helps to develop life­long informed cit­i­zens and inter­est in the news.

Young peo­ple want to be part of the pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion and talk about what’s cur­rent and in the news.  Cur­rent events instruc­tion pro­vides an oppor­tu­nity to con­nect the present with the past; address impor­tant top­ics like bias, bul­ly­ing, diver­sity and social jus­tice; and build crit­i­cal social and emo­tional skills like emo­tions man­age­ment, empa­thy and eth­i­cal decision-making.

Julie Mann is a high school teacher in New York City. She teaches a Human Rights class and brings a wide range of top­ics, events and sto­ries to her stu­dents, most of whom are recent arrivals to the United States and Eng­lish Lan­guage Learners.

Malala Quote for Blog

In Octo­ber when Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize, Julie decided Malala would be a great per­son for her stu­dents to learn more about, as a youth activist who advo­cates for girls’ edu­ca­tion.  Julie wrote a Donors Choose grant to pro­vide copies of I Am Malala for all of her stu­dents and taught ADL’s Who Is Malala Yousafzai? les­son with her stu­dents.  Stu­dents learned more about Malala’s back­ground, per­spec­tive and what she stands for by read­ing an arti­cle and watch­ing her 2013 speech at the United Nations.  Then, stu­dents read and reflected on some of Malala’s most sig­nif­i­cant quotes, talked about their mean­ings and made posters out of the quotes.

Because many of Julie’s stu­dents are from the three “North­ern Tri­an­gle” coun­tries in Cen­tral Amer­ica (Hon­duras, Guatemala and El Sal­vador) most impacted by the chil­dren on the bor­der cri­sis which peaked this sum­mer, Julie decided to teach the Who Are the Chil­dren At Our Bor­der? les­son.  Stu­dents read sto­ries of two chil­dren who recently trav­eled to the U.S. by them­selves, watched a news video about the sit­u­a­tion, explored their own thoughts and feel­ings and finally, wrote per­sua­sive let­ters to Pres­i­dent Obama to con­vey their per­spec­tives, using “evi­dence” they learned to sup­port their points of view.

Ferguson student picture for Blog

As Julie’s stu­dents were deeply moved and impacted by the recent non-indictments of the police offi­cers involved in the deaths of Mike Brown (Fer­gu­son, MO) and Eric Gar­ner (Staten Island, NY), Julie again turned to ADL’s teach­ing mate­ri­als: Teach­ing About Fer­gu­son and Beyond  to help stu­dents learn more about the issue and sort through their thoughts and feel­ings.  She pro­vided back­ground read­ing, showed a Jay Smooth video  and had them look at rel­e­vant pho­tos while respond­ing to ques­tion prompts such as: What do you see in the image?  How does the image make you feel and why?  What are your hopes and wishes?

In explor­ing these three cur­rent events, Julie is teach­ing her stu­dents to think crit­i­cally, under­stand impor­tant events that are hap­pen­ing in the world, express their thoughts and feel­ings about the issue and do some­thing about it. For more les­son plans and cur­ric­ula resources, check out ADL’s Cur­rent Events Class­room.

 

 

 

 

 

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