from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Friday, January 21, 2005

and again the snows will come 

I sit on a Friday night in my neighborhood Starbucks, blooging courtesy of the T-Mobile connection. We had one day day this week starting late because of snow. Tomorrow we will probably get in excess of 5 inches, perhaps as many as 8, which almost certainly means another delayed opening on Monday. Meanwhile Washingtonians crowd the supermarkets as if we were facing a recurrence of Noah's Flood. And I reflect on the week past, especially in my classroom.

Today my students took a test on World War II and related material. It is amazing how poorly some did, although it was a deliberately difficult test, to refocuse their attention at the start of a new semester. This is the first time we have ended the first semester prior to winter break, so many do not really know how to organize their time and their study. In the past they would have come back from Christmas to review before exams, rather than embarking as we did on a major unit of study.

Still, I must admit surprise as well as laughter, at some of the responses I encountered. It is hard to believe that even my lowest level student could truly believe that Hitler was the US President during the war. And I now wonder about the social encounters of the student who answered that the term used to mark the end of the war with Japan was V-D Day! These were two of the more memorable answers I encountered.

Does it matter that many did poorly on the test? Perhaps. But I am not sure the test was a full measure of what they had absorbed. On Wednesday I did an intensive day on the Holocaust. It was difficult for some of them, and here I mean not just my few students of Jewish background. On the board were the names of the 6 biggest killing camps with the number of deaths in each. Also up was a list of European nations in decreasing rank of percentage of Jewish population killed. And with that as a backdrop, I spent the period reading selectively from a chronology of the Nazi era, beginning with Hitler taking office on Jan 30, 1933 and ending in 1945. The had to take notice that the first concentration camp, Dachau, opened for business within two months of Htiler coming into office. Those who were pro-life learned about the forced sterilizations and forced abortions. They learned that the story of the 1936 Berlin Olympics should not be viewed as the triumph of Jesse Owens, since he got his 4th Gold medal (and Mac Robinson his second medal) because Avery Brundage didn't want to embarrass Hitler further, so he replaced Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, two Jews, with two Blacks who had already won medals.

They learned that the Einsatzgruppen killed over 1.5 million by shooting them, and that turning to camps and gassing was as much to spare the feelings of those poor killers as it was for efficiency. They learned that when the NY Times first published in 1942 that over 400,000 had already been killed, it was on an inside page of the paper of record. And they learned about the Wannsee Conference, the detailed planning of the Final Solution, a meeting attended by a German Secretary of State named Martin Luther.

That was on Wednesday, January 19. We did not watch the Inaugural, because Thursday was the day to review for the test. it was also, as I reminded them, the 64th anniversary of that same Wannsee Conference, an event not at all commemorated or even mention in the various news reports of the events of the day.

On Wednesday my students learned that I took this personally, not just be cause I have a Jewish name, not just because I had many relatives killed in the liquidation of the Jewish community of Bialystok. They learned that the camps killed Gypsies, the crippled, the mentally weak, the chronically ill, Jehovah's Witnesses, Homosexuals, political opponents of the regime. They learned that the GeStaPo was placed above the law. They heard my belief that to even tolerate demeaning language used towards any group is to take the first step down the slippery slope that inevitably leads to Auschwitz.

So far no one has complained about my lesson on the Holocaust. And this year I can still teach like that. But I can well conceive that I may be barred from doing so in the future, as this country remains at serious risk of losing its democratic basis. My students know that I believe it is absolutely necessary to speak up and protest the violation of the rights of anyone lest we, like Pastor Niemoller, one day turn around to discover there is no one left to speak up at the violation of our rights.

And again the snows will come. I do not ask as did Villon, "Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?" For now a deep snow will cover this city with a whitedness that will bespeak a purity that it does not have. For underneath is the moral decay of so many who seek only to remain in office or position, unwilling to challenge those who pervert our constitution, who are destroying the Republic and the very fabric of our society.

Now when the the snows come they are white, seemingly clean and fresh. Someday, perhaps soon, they will perhaps be the sooty gray of the old industrial heartland cities. Only that gray came from somehwat honest work. This discoloration will be that of corruption, of decay...

and again the snows will come ........

FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME OFFLINE at kber@earthlink.net Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed! Preface any messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.
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