Israeli educational psychologist Haim Ginott writes about a letter that teachers would receive from their principal each year:
I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates.
So, I am suspicious of education.
My request is this: Help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.
This has become the mission statement and educational philosophy of some Holocaust education institutions and it really sums up what my mission as a teacher is all about. But please note below that I did not intend it that way. At all.
Today I will be a special guest for the Tennessee Days of Remembrance Ceremony at the State Capitol in Nashville with legislative members, the governor and the lieutenant governor. This evening I will give my first address to fellow Holocaust educators.
How does a kid from a small town with no experience in Holocaust education go on to add a new chapters to the stories of thousands of persons’ lives? To become a regarded figure in Holocaust and History education circles, nationwide?
The honest answer is, I just don’t know.
But it happened. This from a kid who distinctly remembers the purposeful slight given to his dad. Dad was a history teacher in Glens Falls, the next town over. He was good, and he loved the students. Everyday he came home happy and sometimes even humming a tune. Who delivered the purposeful slight? His first born son.
Our relationship, as I grew into the teenage years, was a bit strained. So when he asked me, as a junior or senior, in the car riding home from school one day down Main Street, the MAIN STREET of the town that produced him, what I would like to do someday after I graduated from high school, I told him, “I don’t know, but I won’t be in HUDSON FALLS anymore, and I SURE WON’T BE A TEACHER…..”- the desired effect was achieved by the angry teen, the wound deep, the twist of the knife distinct…
Yet there I was, eight years later, living in the room out back of the family homestead on that Main Street, fending my way on the other side of the desk in the classroom of my alma mater, and not just any classroom- a history classroom, teaching the exact same subject as the old man…
What if I had never come home, as planned? What if I had not gone back to school for a teaching certificate, after graduating with that “unmarketable” history degree? What if I had landed that job in the college town I called my new home, instead if coming in 2nd for it? I would have never met the tank commanders. Then, what if Walsh’s daughter had not said, after two exhausting hours of combat tales, just as we were about to turn the camera off, “Dad, did you tell Mr. Rozell about the train? ”
Things happen for a reason. I think there are no coincidences.
In the words of a former principal of mine, we are here “to make human beings out of them” (not that they were not before, but you get his point-the exact same point of the speaker noted above.)
I am suspicious of those who will dictate to me from ” on high” what I should be doing in the classroom. Perhaps Dr. Ginott would have agreed.