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.
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.