My students are fantastic and have kept me focused on my real priorities. Now that my coworkers have figured out I have disengaged from any interaction with them and I have posted the LAUSD anti-bullying memo on my door, they are leaving me alone. These past two days have been magical teaching days. The students are calm and into the lessons. maybe because they see land- June 10th- on the horizon.
My juvenile justice unit has promoted much discussion in class and a lesson on Hitler’s mass murders hit home in an uncomfortable way. My 4th period, which is reading The Man in the High Castle and watching the Amazon Prime series read an intro to our lesson yesterday. It discussed the publication of a 1920 book by two German “intellectuals” titled The Release of the Destruction of Life Devoid of Human Value. I then posed the question,”What kind of life has no human value?” One student replied that there was no life that didn’t have any value but within 5 seconds, someone else spoke up. “Murderers.” Another student chimed in: “Rapists.” Soon they were falling all over each other to add to the list. Within 60 seconds the list had grown to about 10. At first, it included the type of people that most people think should be locked away but then the discussion took an odd turn. “Corrupt journalists” was mentioned by a student whose family are French Jews and who had ancestors who were victims of Hitler. I pointed out that one man’s corrupt journalist was another man’s investigative reporter. Another student mentioned gang members and more students participated: “Murderous parents.” “Extreme racists.” “Dictators.” “Crooked politicians.”
I asked them if they now understood how the Holocaust happened and whether they would be willing to protect any of the above groups. I also pointed out that the book by the so-called “intellectuals” was published a full 13 years before Hitler took power and that many Germans in the targeted groups had a false sense of security. After all, Berlin was a liberal and cosmopolitan city. Who could imagine what would become of it just a few short years later. I impressed upon them that when someone says what they will do to a targeted group. you best believe them and that includes Donald Trump, who some write off as a buffoon. Yet, he has endorsed everything from wall building to murder. He’s stating it- out loud. I warned my students that anyone willing to say it out loud is willing to carry it out.
My 2nd period is reading A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Solder by Ishmael Beah who survived several years as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. We are at the part where Beah and some fellow child soldiers are rescued by UNICEF and have to try to readjust to lives as civilians. I posed the question for my students’ journals,”Describe a time in your life when you felt like you had no control.” It is for their notebook checks but one student insisted I read his immediately. In his journal, he stated he had a stepfather when he was little who was cruel and never let him go outside or play. One of my coworkers says she doesn’t do “feelings” or “feelings lessons,” yet they are an integral outlet for students to make connections and let out their emotions in a safe way. I know it’s not the LAUSD way which is to ask students to compare text structure and language and other such detached modes of analysis. I’m really glad I don’t have to do such lessons. I’m feeling the good vibrations today. This is the best teaching I’ve done since Fremont.