Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights’


Student civil rights activists join hands and sing as they prepare to leave Ohio to register black voters in Mississippi. The 1964 voter registration campaign was known as Freedom Summer. {Ted Polumbaum/Newseum} link

Sometimes you wonder, after a class, if anyone really gets it, or really thinks about the points you are trying to make. I’ve been teaching the civil rights movement in the United States as of late. What strikes me is how this movement was led by young people who were passionate. Young people who were willing to shed their own blood, even to the point of taking the risk of laying down their lives for an idea, a principle that MATTERED to them. And so this is my thesis, and this is my point, to my young charges, not much younger than the college kids that sparked a revolution because they cared enough to do the RIGHT.

It all starts with the young. 

Of course, they got their ideas from somewhere. So when I think about the Freedom Riders, who crossed state lines to force the federal government to do something about segregated busing, and got their heads split open because of it, or the young people who went to Mississippi to register black voters in the summer of 1964, where some of them were murdered, I think about the passionate teachers and parents who instilled such values in the young. And I whisper a prayer of gratitude for all of them.

This past Sunday I attended the interfaith celebration of the life of Martin Luther King Jr right here in our own community. And what struck me again, was the passion of the young. Students from three local districts, including Hudson Falls, lit the fire and led the way.

What brings this post on now, after the fact, is a nice email letter today from a former student. Here are young people who fight for the folks who can’t fight for themselves, who rose above their own trying circumstances to engage the system to make the world a better place.

Sometimes you wonder.

But maybe those teachers get across after all.


How are you?   I hope your books are coming well.  
On MLK day, I, like many others, take time to appreciate seminal movements for social justice in American history.  However, I make the effort to recall not just the parts that collectively most Americans seem aware of, but instead, the rest of it. The parts that are poignant, harrowing and, deeply disturbing and that seem all but forgotten from our collective memory, even though, they create, define or inform the events that dominate the national news cycles of late.  
Reflecting on this yesterday made me think of you, not because of what you taught me about social justice movements in high school (though you certainly did peek my interest), but for two other reasons.
First, because of your premise that teaching history matters and the of importance you put on drawing connections to the past. 
Second, because you inspired me to love history to the point that I got a degree in it.  In college I concentrated on studying the history of women and people of color in the United States, and liberation movements in the third world, and I absolutely loved it and on MLK Day, I am particularly thankful for this education.
These two points are of course related.  Studying history (for me) was the type of learning that feeds one’s soul.  However, it also shapes the lens through which I see the world.
For example, women’s suffrage; Alice Paul. I think about these things a lot in the course my daily life.  100 years ago, if I were alive, I would not legally have the right to vote.  Women died for me to have this right.  Women who fought for it were put in jail and were forced fed while on hunger strike.  So I exercise it.  For every election I am eligible to do so. I also deeply appreciate the individuals that came before me whose struggles would allow me to become an attorney.  I understand and work through the vehicles that I choose to deconstruct the deep seeded patriarchy, sexism and classism that would have previously shut these doors for me and other forms of oppression that would have shut this and different doors for others.  
I also use my lessons on history to think about intersectionalities of different forms of injustice on a regular basis.  I’m still struck by the fact that movements for social change repeatedly have worked in silos, failing to make connections between how different forms of oppression co-exist and are related.  On MLK Day I think about how MLK made some (but not all) of these connections in his public advocacy and fought for more than just racial justice but is rarely remembered for that.  And that the racial justice that he fought for is for a “color blind” society but not the kind where being “color blind” means being blind to the disadvantages people of color face in the United States today as a result of our collective past. 
My husband and I both are passionate about social justice and feel rooted in the history of these movements.  When I am frustrated with why we are so busy, I try to stop and remember that it is because we are both fighting in our own ways (while trying to be the best parents that we can be) for that bigger purpose and that our efforts are a very small part of a much bigger picture.  
I share this with you now to support your thesis on the value of history education (not to argue any of my opinions listed above).  As on MLK Day I acknowledge how thankful I am for having my history education, how the connections I list above shape my life and how excited I am to teach my daughter these lessons as she grows.
Lastly, I’m surprised by how much I wrote in this email.  I had more to say on this than expected.  
As always, be well, best wishes and many thanks,


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This past Friday, I spoke to scores of educators interested in the Holocaust and genocide, people who were also attempting to teach about these crimes against humanity. As a teacher, you have to be very committed to do this seriously- just to try to attempt to understand these events, let alone teach about them to young people.

I was invited by the New Jersey Council of Holocaust Educators in cooperation with the Center for the Holocaust, Human Rights, and Genocide Education at Brookdale College. I have my take on things, and that is what I am working on now, in my new book. I was also in some pretty good company.

My good friend and fellow educator Alan Bush, who drove two hours on his own time to come out and support me (even though he told me I was not as attractive as the previous speakers).

My good friend and fellow educator Alan Bush, who drove two hours on his own time to come out and support me (even though he told me I was not as attractive as the previous speakers).

In the morning Alexandra Zapruder engaged with the teachers by reading excerpts from her seminal work, Savaged Pages, Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust, creating a dialogue about how the young people who left behind diaries left so much more than just the written word of their time of horror and oppression. This was not Anne Frank, but a deeper dialogue about attempting to make sense of the senseless, and the conflicting emotions that really encourage us to look into the abyss, beyond the standard narrative of what we think we know about the Holocaust- powerfully, from teenager to teenager. And Alex is the perfect vessel.

Meline Toumani read from her book, There Was and There Was Not: A Journey Through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond, about growing up in the Armenian Diaspora community and her process of discovery in the context of the conflicting narratives of Armenian genocide of 1915 and her attempt to get to the root of her own self identity. Her book came out on the eve of the 100th anniversary, and the topic resonates especially as we try to make sense of the larger picture of genocide and the ripples that these actions, and our own re-actions, create. She spent her entire 30s in the process, and this is what also fascinated me, as her book is classified as a memoir. I am now tearing through her work, making notes, highlighting certain passages. For the passionate, writing indeed becomes a huge part of your life.

Then it was my turn.

I fumbled a bit, looking up this website to display for the crowd and typing in misspelling after misspelling for the Jumbotron, but quickly won them over by simply showing the teachers a photo of my classroom

the last generationand reminding them that I was also missing a day of school today,  but what were were all doing together had a meaning and importance that really transcended our normal daily routine. It was okay- we were in this together, and I would show them how one person could make a difference and that one person is YOU, the teacher.

So I began to tell my story, the one that I will be detailing in my upcoming book, about how I had no intention of becoming a teacher, in fact, NO intention of ever returning to my hometown after high school–and how seven years later I was living in a room off my parents’ garage, and working on the other side of the desk in the high school I swore I would never return to.  And it was survival mode for the first few years. If someone had shown me the easy way out, I would have jumped. But I did not, *for some reason*, and because I stuck with it I was standing before them that day, about to tell my story.

So I did. They laughed, and they got emotional. There were powerful messages imbedded in the narrative that followed, though I tried not to point them out. I didn’t have to-they got it. Some people teared up. I think I did too, when I showed the videos and remembered the people that I have lost over the course of this wonderful journey. So I share it here again for the benefit of those who maybe would like to see it again, or might like to use it in their own classrooms.

It is the story of my main character, the “liberator” Carrol “Red” Walsh, who passed three years ago this month, and Steve Barry, the 20 year old survivor who graphically describes his Holocaust experience, his day of liberation, and searching for so many years and finally finding his liberators, due to my teacher project. I forgot to tell my attentive audience that after Steve made it to the USA, he was drafted and served as a US Army Ranger in Korea- and that he called himself the “Happiest Korean Conflict Draftee”. Or that after he passed, his daughters boxed up his library of Holocaust-related books, and sent them to me. But I did tell them that forevermore, his words will remain inscribed in granite at the Donors’ Wall of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum- “It’s not for my sake that people should remember the Holocaust, it is FOR THE SAKE OF HUMANITY”.

Steve's name on the wall of donors, USHMM, unveiled April 29, 2014.

Steve’s name on the wall of donors, USHMM, unveiled April 29, 2014.

When I was finished, there was no real time for a Q and A session left-but people streamed over to me, taking my hand in many instances, and thanked me for something really simple-inspiration. And that is what meant the most, that these people were TEACHERS, like me. I drove the next the five hours on a cloud, just thinking about the day.

We have so much power to change the world, so much responsibility. Especially those of us who take on these topics. We get so caught up in the day to day milieu- we don’t see the forest. Today, thanks to the program and its organizers and speakers, we all at least caught a glimpse of it. The chief architect and MC, Colleen Tambuscio, radiated the collaborative enthusiasm that really carried the day and tied everything, and everyone, together.

*So, the ripples continue, and the generations go forth. Somebody said it was like pebbles being tossed into the still water. This may sound strange, but I have become keenly aware of the cosmic element-

We have the power to trip the wires of the cosmos.


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