Two Holocaust Museums Rethink Their Missions

At a time when there are increasingly fewer Holocaust survivors and witnesses, the last year has seen a surge in anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and bigotry (such as White Nationalismon the rise. Of even greater concern, these forms of bias and hate are moving from the fringes to the mainstream. The Washington Post recently called on Congress to take action. These worrisome trends have had at least two Holocaust museums re-examine how they present their collections. The first involves a young girl, a name world famous but a history often misunderstood. The second commemorates the ghetto uprising in Korczak’s home of Warsaw.

 

The Anne Frank House, Amsterdam

Although attendance at this Amsterdam landmark has increased sharply over the past seven years, the curators have noticed that many of the younger and foreign visitors have a limited knowledge of the Holocaust and Anne Frank. The challenge, according to and article in the New York Times, is how to make this history relevant to today without trivializing it. The museum has expanded both its exhibition space in an building adjoining the old house and its educational outreach efforts, especially to enable these audiences to experience the what happened in the house. The museum also has traveling exhibitions, such as the new “Let Me Be Myself.” Anne Frank has long been a metaphor for hope and the belief in the inherent goodness of people even in the worst of circumstances.

Anne Frank Card Stamps with Korczak

 

Lohamei Hagetaot – Ghetto Fighters House Museum, Israel

In another recent New York Times article, the Ghetto Fighters House Museum, which commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and honors notable people of the city during the Holocaust, including Janusz Korczak. Yad Layeled commemorates the children. According to the article, “…instead of dealing with the Holocaust as a static historical event, and only a Jewish tragedy, the museum is advocating a more dynamic approach with a focus on the moral lessons for all of humanity.”

Ghetto Fighters House 50

The Day After: “What Do We Tell the Children”?

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A very strange party (if one can call it that) went into the wee hours of the morning after Election Day 2016.  Many adults have been behaving very badly.  And, soon, the children will be up, getting ready for another day of school in the middle of the week.  Oh no!  What do we tell the children?  And embarrassment should be the least of our emotional worries.

As this blog covers issues pertaining to the welfare of children, the extraordinarily hurtful dialogue (if one can call it that) and public commentary has been a notable concern for the actual harm it has been doing on children.  This concern was discussed in a Southern Poverty Law Center report, “The Trump Effect,” and addressed in a May 30 post here and revisited in an editorial by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times.

To be clear, this is not a comment on politics or an ideology.  Those topics are off topic here and, anyway, have been discussed elsewhere.  The purveying of fear and hate by public and private figures, and its effect on children are not Republican or Democratic, conservative or liberal.

Teaching Tolerance, via the Southern Poverty Law Center, has always offered civics curricula for teaching the election and the importance of voting.  This year, for the reason just mentioned,  is not at all like the other ones.  How do teachers tell students about something that will have a profound effect on them, yet something in which they had no say?  In other words, what do teachers do on “The Day After”?

First, “keep politics out and values in.”  That starts with the teacher.  How do current events make me feel?  How am I coping with them?  Keeping a journal and talking with others are good ways to process feelings.  After that, it is time to think about how to make “core values and democratic ideals” a part of the classroom culture.  Suggestions from Teaching Tolerance include:

  • Defend equal voice.  Every student gets to speak and deserves to be heard.
  • Teach democracy.  This is a classroom of, by and for the students.
  • Make my classroom cafe. We will establish norms that create a safe environment for all students.
  • Ensure fairness.  I will speak up when I hear or see bias, exclusion, prejudice and injustice.

The organization urges teachers to “Publicly commit to these values in your classroom and encourage students and colleagues to commit to them, too.”  Offered are contracts for civility in the classroom and civility in the school.  In addition, further resources are available for teaching the facts about current events, civics, and history.  Above all, “let the students speak.”  

It should be noted that the parent organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center, reported an unprecedented surge in hate incidents over the first two days of the election, with anti-Black and anti-immigrant in the lead, followed by anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ.

Rethinking Schools, part of the Zinn Education Project, also offers resources that can be used in constructing lesson plans.  It should be noted that this organization also fosters an activist teachers view; that type of involvement is up to the individual teacher.

PBS talked to teachers and other education professionals around the country to ascertain their reactions and, more important, how the election has affected their students.

Finally, Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, presented in her Child Watch column her views on “bringing America together for our children’s sake.”   

A future column will be devoted to children and young people with disabilities.

 

 

Some other thoughts:

A father, Dana Milbank, of the Washington Post, pens a letter of fear and hope to his daughter.

Says Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, what Abraham and Sarah can best teach us is that parenthood is a means of imparting goodness and justice, one of our greatest blessings.

We need to strengthen communities, say The Huffington Post and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

Children around the understand the power of love, singing the Beatles’ famous classic, as well as the one day in December 2009, when children were joined with adults in 156 countries.

A Veteran Teacher Talks About Being a Champion for Every Child

Rita Pierson talks of teacher advocate advocacy child welfare

Rita Pierson gave a powerful TED talk on why every child needs a champion.

Rita Pierson, a veteran of 40 years, recently gave an impassioned talk about the need for teachers to make a connection with every student, that “every child deserves a champion.”  Even small gestures such as marking a failing paper with “+2” rather than “-18” can have a huge impact on how a student views himself.

Here is Rita Pierson’s TED Talk.

International Literacy Day, 2013 – Literacy Is a Fundamental Human Right!

According to UNESCO, “Literacy is a right and a foundation for lifelong learning, better well-being and livelihoods. As such it is a driver for sustainable and inclusive development.”  The right to an education was espoused by Dr. Korczak and enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  UNESCO’s 2013 statement continues, “Literacy is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development. Educational opportunities depend on literacy.”

The general Web site with links is here:  http://bit.ly/14H2DH3
With another article: http://bit.ly/18Qsbmf
And an informative infographic: http://bit.ly/17SvkAY

The latter shows that the literacy rates in nations around the world.  While there has been progress, 57 million children out of school face a life of illiteracy and poverty.  This would have been a major concern to Janusz Korczak and will
continue to be in the minds of dedicated educators and child advocates everywhere.

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The Man Who Created Light to Overcome Darkness – A Review of The Gate of Light, by Adir Cohen

Though Betty Jean Lifton has written the definitive English-language biography of Janusz Korczak in the form of her excellent The King of Children:  The Life and Death of Janusz Korczak, Adir Cohen here offers an in-depth and insightful portrait of the Polish educator who devoted his life – and ultimately perished for his love of children. He thoroughly covers this beloved children’s advocate’s philosophy of life and learning, as well as how his writings and practices reflect the man, his thoughts, and his personal, ethical, and religious values.

The book starts out with Dr. Korczak’s background and early childhood, both of which were formative in his declaration of his desire to change the world, first as a doctor and later as an educator. The new orphanage at 92 Krochmalna (Warsaw, Poland) is discussed, as is the life of the orphans there. Cohen also chronicles Korczak’s later years – his visits to Kibbutz Ein Harod in Palestine and the increasingly difficult life for Jews under the ominous dark clouds of the rise of Nazism – culminating with the hell that was the Warsaw Ghetto. The primary sources are How to Love a Child and The Ghetto Dairy.

The second chapter explores Korczak’s religious life. Though Korczak was not a member of a temple or other religious institution, Cohen portrays him as a man with an intense religious longing an acute seeker of perfect justice and ideal moral values and behavior. He postulated that one’s perception of God is highly personal, especially as God lies within the soul of each living person, which includes every child. Jewish ritual was a very important part of life at the orphanage, but prayers were always kept in silence, allowing each child and teacher to express or her religious belief individually.

The third chapter discusses his early work in children’s camps and how, though intense reflection, sought to learn from his mistakes as a new teacher. Korczak himself discussed these experiences in a separate chapter of How to Love a Child and how listening to the voice within would become central to his ways as an educator.

Chapter 4 covers the orphanage as “a home and house of education.”  Janusz Korczak sought to discern three elements in the orphanage, namely fulfilling children’s immediate biological needs and protection from outside dangers; ensuring and environment in which each child will be able to develop his or her physical, social, academic, and spiritual talents (with the Alderian concept that each child is unique, with his or her similarly unique background which must be taken into consideration)

Chapter 5 goes into internalizing the father and mother as role models in building the personality of the child. Cohen also discusses the Children’s court, with its focus on education through forgiveness rather than punishment, and the importance of communication through the children’s newspapers and bulletin board, as detailed in How to Love a Child. This theme is explored further in Chapter 10.   Also central to Korczak’s philosophy was that one should not preach but, rather, express a generous (and forgiving) attitude, that corporal punishment in any of its manifestations is wrong, and that learning right from wrong is more important than any academic matter. In short, children must be viewed as persons worthy of respect who should be accorded full human rights.

In Chapter 6, Cohen discusses the importance Korczak placed on child’s play as a moment that belonged entirely to the child, a time in which he or she could realize childhood dreams, especially those they were not sure adults were willing to take seriously.

How Korczak incorporated his background in medicine in his teaching is the topic of Chapter 7, mainly in that he did his best to educate the child but realized he had little control in the child’s ultimate outcome beyond the positive moral values he sought to instill. He went on to show how “to do no harm,” or “to touch without burdening” in Chapter 8.  The educator is obliged to know the secret of giving, the secret of surrender, the secret of devotion.   Moreover, the educator must learn from his mistakes and extend that privilege to his students.  Korczak was very much a progressive educator, in the manner of John Dewey, whereby children are encouraged to learn from experience and free activity rather than being handed orders from above; here Chapter 9 is in a way an extension of Chapter 7, in that children are encouraged to take advantage of life’s opportunities now rather than prepare for some nebulous future. Moreover, children should be encourage to explore and search for new learning rather than rely on material handed down. In addition, Cohen reports that Korczak warned against following a single school of thought in teaching, something that corresponds to his warning not to rely on books – especially a single book – on child rearing.

The remainder of the book explores Korczak’s writings. The Drawing Room Kid exposes the hypocrisy and decadence of the Polish bourgeoisie, especially in their attitudes toward the poor.  Published in 1925, When I Shall Be Little Again, is Korczak’s description how he is able to relate to children on their terms, first imagining himself being little among the adults in his life and then himself as the adult and his peers as children, a feat of literary philosophy that has never been replicated with the skill that Korczak has shown. Korczak also devoted special attention to the relationships among the children, both their compassion and their malice (and how the two polar opposites could seemingly coexist). He has succeeded in showing both how adults view children and how children view adults. In The Senate of Madmen, Korczak explores insanity in multiple manifestations, including his autobiographical memory of his own father, who died in an institution. Cohen quotes other authors’ commentary on how this work is also a metaphor for the madness of institutions in society. Cohen’s chapter on the Ghetto Diary is surprisingly short, but it does a good job in exploring Korczak’s attempt to find meaning in the face of death – what it will mean to him, his orphans, the Jewish people, and humanity overall. This remarkable short book is deep on reflection, almost an abbreviated autobiography. Finally, Cohen explores Korczak’s two-part masterpiece of children’s fairy tale fiction, King Matt and , how these remarkable books have enchanted children and adults who can empathize with children for decades. Unlike most fairy tales, there is no happy ending, except for hope; perhaps that is where happiness ultimately lies. That was certainly true of Korczak himself, as Adir Cohen’s superb study so aptly shows.Image

Education for Girls Worldwide Must Become a Priority.

According to a group, A World at School, some 57 million children do not have access to a basic education. Women and girls are disproportionately affected. 

Remember Malala?  On July 12, less than a year after she was shot by the Taliban for her strong voice in this fight. Malala Yousafzai will mark her 16th birthday by delivering the highest leadership of the UN a set of education demands written by youth, for youth, to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  The child’s right to an education is central to the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child, that extraordinary document that was inspired by the teachings of Janusz Korczak, both in his life and his writings, especially The Child’s Right to Respect and How to Love a Child.

Here’s one way we can show our solidarity with Malala:  Please sign this letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to show your demand for emergency action in support for Malala’s education fight.

http://secure.aworldatschool.org/page/s/stand-with-malala