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Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

Learned Humanity


While in DC a couple of weeks ago for the Bammy Awards I had the chance to tour the Holocaust Museum with a few colleagues. It was powerful, moving, and saddening. I left convinced more than ever that what we do matters, and matters mightily.

Wandering the beautifully and hauntingly constructed museum, the visceral taste of blind bigotry seared images of horrific suffering deep in my brain and heart. I wept for the children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, friendships, communities, and cultures torn asunder by cold-blooded intolerance and ignorance. I wept for the pain of the survivors,  and more for the fear and suffering of the mothers and grandmothers, shorn of clothes, holding their babes and children, and crammed into gas chambers where choking, noxious, claustrophobic death awaited.

We can be horrible, us humans.

It is no wonder that we as a race continue to grapple with the genocide of the Holocaust–to understand humankind in the absence of humanity and hopefully cull from it what wisdom we can.

As we explored the hallowed monument to a people’s suffering, I was reminded of a quote from Haim Ginott, Holocaust survivor.

Dear Teacher,

I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness. Gas chambers built by LEARNED engineers, children poisoned by EDUCATED physicians; infants killed by TRAINED nurses, women and babies shot and burned by HIGH SCHOOL and COLLEGE graduates.

So I am suspicious of education. My request is: help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmann’s.

Reading, writing and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more humane.

As we move forward and think about putting students first, I want to remember those who’ve suffered under the learned, the educated, and the unenlightened. If we endeavor for anything in our schools and learning communities, it seems imperative that we first and foremost strive for equity, equality, and justice.

Tolerance, compassion, and the steadfast cultivation of moral courage must be the common core of our learning communities, across the nation, and around the world, if we are to adequately remember those who’ve suffered such atrocities.

Image: Michael Brenenbaum

About Jason Flom

Teacher, advocate, father, husband, and learner with Polyannic tendencies. I daydream about bikes, climbs, and helping ensure curiosity survives education.


3 thoughts on “Learned Humanity

  1. Amen, my friend.

    Posted by Paul Freedman | October 4, 2012, 9:41 am
  2. It is beyond any comprehension how any of those learned people involved could know of or perceive of any threat to their or their families’ lives that would enable they to participate as they clearly did. It is also impossible for me to believe they had consciously bought into the goals and mission of Hitler and his henchmen. Of course, I must admit that I of course have never faced such a dilemma – and thus I can only react consistent with how I would hopefully respond.

    While in the car, I was listening to an interview of Alex Aggassi done by Bob Edwards. It was fascinating and one I can suggest anyone might locate. As the interview came to a close, Aggassi was talking about parenting. He noted that he believed it was his responsibility to his children to encourage and nurture their empathy; he believes that with that firmly at hand, whatever their life and career decisions might be, they will be honorable. I wonder what score I and everyone else would have if an empathy meter or test existed …

    Posted by John Bennett | October 4, 2012, 11:59 am
  3. Thanks for this reminder, Jason –

    Posted by Chad Sansing | October 4, 2012, 7:58 pm

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