Archive for February, 2023

My Request is This.

I recently returned from speaking engagements to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. A good friend and her dedicated staff hosted my talk at the Holocaust Center for Hope and Humanity in Orlando. Liberator son Frank Towers Jr. was in attendance and even was invited to light one of the six candles in our International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony with honored survivors and guests. It was quite a meaningful day, with a lot of thought and dedication put into its planning.

The next day I was at a local high school. The kids, for the most part, were great. I held their attention for 80 minutes. Been a while since I did that.

Now, the first new thing for me in the ‘school talk circuit world’ was that the administration, through my original hosts, asked to see my presentation in advance, in the expectation of flagging any Florida defined partial ‘woke’ or triggering content that might upset the young adults I would be speaking to. (I’m speaking about the Holocaust, people. Everyone should be disturbed about it, but I bring a message of hope for humanity, too.)

Turns out they were ok with 99% of it. They didn’t care for some of the WWII soldier-slang lingo I had used in previously recorded presentations for adult audiences, but I wasn’t going to use that anyway.

SIDEBAR: In this ‘hot news cycle’, the local NPR affiliate was excited to do a telephone interview with me, I guess mainly to show support for teachers besieged with this new state legislation that is terrifying many of them in the classroom. (You can look it up, if you are not familiar. ‘Missteps’, parent complaints, can cost you your job-or worse.) I spoke to the reporter for fifteen minutes about my project, my work, but she seemed to want to get to if I would like to comment on the new legislation. In her rush she got some of my important background facts wrong, and my twenty second comment on my take on the legislation was the only focus she included in her soundbite.

Paraphrasing, I said I just wasn’t all that familiar with the laws but that I also thought I might be getting into ‘trouble’ if I was a teacher in that state. She took that comment for her agenda, so I gave my Florida Holocaust education outreach sponsors a head’s up, after the reporter sent me the link to her story; I didn’t want to embarrass their efforts to reach out to their local educators. When they asked me if I wanted to do it, they had thought the interview was supposed to be about honoring the victims of the Holocaust-instead the word of my appearance was reduced to somehow another soundbite in the culture wars of the day.

For sure, I have no problem with supporting my fellow educators. Our host liaison Stephen did a fantastic job of arranging the speaking engagement with the coordinating Advanced Placement and IB instructor. The auditorium filled with maybe 600 advanced high schoolers, aged grade 10 through 12. I think it went well; I asked a lot of questions, as many as I ‘answered’, and I got some good questions back, and ‘knuckles’, high fives from kids near the front row. The technologist and the booking teacher were impressed and just wonderfully welcoming and later profuse in their thanks. They saw it all. My education liaison Stephen was also very happy with the talk. I appeared to have reached my target audience, which after all was the students, and that felt good. I still ‘got it’, after five years away from daily student contact. And I am grateful for the opportunity to engage with them.

What didn’t feel so good, though, was the lack of response, or even overt presence, of my fellow educators and/or the administration that granted permission for the talk in the first place. There were maybe a handful of adults in the back of the auditorium, and I don’t even have any idea who they were. I didn’t notice any teachers sitting with their students. I was the one who had to gently remind the less mature kids to put the cellphones away. Not one teacher came up to meet me afterwards, to greet me or chat or offer feedback, outside of the gracious host teacher and tech guy.

Later, I mentioned that for me, this was seemingly a more-often-than-not pattern to a new acquaintance/colleague with similar school performance experience. He commented, “Without fail – absolutely 100% of the time – the teachers used the performances as a break. They never attended, not once.” I’m not saying teachers did not attend the presentation, but darned if I could pick them out.

Okay, so I didn’t write this to knock the teaching profession. I’m a champion of you, was one of you for thirty-plus years. I get the part where teachers resent having instructional time pulled, being told once again they have to attend an out of classroom happening not of their own making or choice. But come on. You’re supposed to be setting an example here. At least make the effort to sit though it with your kids. Attentive. Especially given the topic.

And what to make of no-show administrators? Since I’ve retired, with the exception of my own former school district and university, “without fail”, I can’t recall any administrator greeting my appearance with a show of ‘welcome to our school’ or taking the time to introduce me at the podium.

Not one.

What are we supposed to be teaching to our students? It’s ironic because I added this slide specifically for that target audience.

Maybe it’s my ego, or I’m overreacting, but it seems to me if you’re going to have a speaker or performer at your school to inspire young minds, maybe remember that your kids look to you to set the example. Dignify the subject and the message you vetted out of your concern with job security with the respect it deserves.

We’re all busy. But maybe just show up for the next person who takes hours out of their life to bring an important message to your kids, a warning to humanity, but also of hope. Introduce yourself. Stay for a while.

And let the kids see it.

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