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.”

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Revisited: What Do We Tell the Children – and Immigrants (as Well as Refugees)

Playful boy in the expansive courtyard of the Great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, Syria

Photo by James Gordon, Los Angeles, California, USA: “Playful boy in the expansive courtyard of the Great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, Syria” Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. This mosque, the fourth holiest place in Islam, is now in ruins.

It’s time to revisit two themes: “What do we tell the children?” and “What do we teach the children?”  In other words, v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha, “Love your neighbor (or stranger) as yourself.”
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On Saturday, January 27, Trump issued his now-famous executive order banning residents of seven designated predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States. Noteworthy is the fact that the order contains the phrase “foreign terrorist” but not “refugees.” Among these foreign terrorists detained was a four-month-old infant in need of open-heart surgery, and a one-year-old with cancer. In fact, world wide, children, already among the most vulnerable, are suffering in disproportionate numbers.
What do we mean by “extreme vetting”? A Homeland Security official explains that refugees have been been vetted thoroughly all along.

Teaching and Supporting the Children

Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, offers a comprehensive guide for educators and school support staff in dealing with the many complex issues of immigrants and refugees. Says the report,
“Schools should be safe havens that embrace all students and families, regardless of citizenship and national origin, and that includes unaccompanied and refugee children. The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe ruled that undocumented children have a constitutional right to receive a free public K–12 education, which provides the means to becoming a “self-reliant and self-sufficient participant in society,” the court wrote, and instills the “fundamental values necessary to the maintenance of a democratic political system.” However, today’s increased enforcement measures by the Department of Homeland Security and campaign promises made by the incoming administration threaten that right for thousands of undocumented youth and the 4.1 million U.S.-born children who live in mixed-status households with at least one parent or family member who is undocumented.”
The report offers facts about undocumented students, immigration raids, what school communities can do, and taking action beyond the classroom.
A companion piece, “What Do I Say to Students about Immigration Orders?” offers clear, honest tips for helping undocumented students and children of undocumented parents. This thoughtful essay offers ten additional steps of constructive action teachers and other adult role models can take.

Out Beyond the School

 On Wednesday, February 1, Trump cut a call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull short, refusing to honor America’s earlier pledge to take in 1,200 refugees. These are the refugees who had been relocated to the Papua New Guinea island of Nauru. The refugees consist mainly of families, many children among them. Witnesses – both the children themselves and the human rights group Amnesty International – describe the conditions there as inhumane.
Meanwhile, Samantha Bee had to put aside her humor in her scathing segment that night. Then, again, so was Trevor Noah, using the same c-bomb.

Forces of Good(ness) in the Twitterverse

 Bana Alabed, thankfully safe, had a poignant question for the president, seeking his empathy. Bana is the brave little Syrian girl who has been using Twitter to alert the world of the plight of these children, now political pawns subject to the political whims of egomaniac adults.
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The video can be found here. Please follow her! Bana’s mother, Fatemah, has also set up a Twitter account. Mother and daughter preach love, peace, and understanding. These are the message we need so much more of.

After the Super Bowl

Here’s the full, uncut version of the famous advertisement by 84 Lumber. It’s beautiful!

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.

Tearing Up Our Social Fabric and Hurting Children: A Brief Addendum

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has written an alarming piece of how Trump’s rhetoric is tearing our social fabric and affecting children in schools.  Fortunately, many students – of all backgrounds – have taken the moral courage of standing up to this bigotry, which is more than one could say about some of our elected officials in the GOP.

This piece is an addendum to the earlier report published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which appeared on this blog.   As Korczak pointed out, “Children are not the people of tomorrow, but are people of today.”

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The Election: Children Now… and Beyond 2016

Day after day, day and night, pundits (some of the actually in the know) emit a steady stream of commentary, analysis, and a heaping dose of allegations and insinuations, one candidate in particular garnering disproportionate attention.  With all we have seen and heard about the 2016 election, has anyone asked how this very unfunny circus show is affecting children?  Well, at least one group has, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which recently released a survey, The Trump Effect: The impact of the presidential campaign on our nation’s schools, also available online.

SPLC Trump Effect

The report is the result of a week-long survey, in which nearly 2,000 people submitted more than 5,000 comments.  SPLC admits that, with its non-random sample, the survey cannot be entirely scientific; the responders all have signed up to receive newsletters and e-mail updates.

Though students have been “…increasingly political (which is good), …the extreme rhetoric being modeled is not helping their ability to utilize reason and evidence, rather than replying in kind.”  Furthermore, many students “…see the candidates as jokes and are offended and dismayed for the future.”   Even more disturbing are the deeper and long-term consequence, namely that more than two-thirds of teachers reported that many of their Muslim and immigrant students have expressed stark fear about what will happen to them and their families.  Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment has increased in the schools of more than one-third the respondents, in many cases involving students being at the receiving end of bullying, with all that involves, from crying in class to sleepless nights to sharp declines in feelings of self-worth and even suicidal thoughts.

There is no doubt that the current toxic political environment is having a deleterious effect on our children.  Somehow, beyond this valuable report, this topic has not made headlines, somehow deemed less of concern, less worthy than juvenile comments about genitalia, which are anything but child’s play.

Progress on the War on Poverty – Marian Wright Edelman Testifies Before Congress

When it comes to children, poverty is not just an economic issue.  It’s a moral issue.  Citing Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Pope Francis, poverty is a form of violence.  And violence is immoral, especially when it targets children.  Therefore, we must feel tremendous gratitude to what President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty has done to raise children out of destitution and the moral conscience of the nation to a higher level.

The progress it has made in the lives of millions of children is tremendous.  Dr. Edelman cites a Columbia University study that shows that LBJ’s legacy has reduced child poverty by more than a third since 1967; the figure for children in extreme poverty, from homes with incomes below the federal poverty line, this figure rises to 40 percent.  Among the most successful federal programs are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps), Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Head Start and Early Head Start, Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Child Tax Credit (CTC).  The most recent data show that, in 2012, these programs kept 9 million children, 1 in 9, out of poverty.  Childhood mortality is down and graduation rates are up.  Most important, these are not short-term programs or solutions; their effects are long lasting.  Yet, the same progress highlights the ever-present fact that we need to do more to improve the lives of our most vulnerable children.  A lot more.  The primary threat is the increasing fire under which government programs are coming.  Those who claim that such programs do not work and encourage people not to work are “misguided and/or misinformed.”  No, the real poverty trap is that the federal minimum wage is 22 percent lower than what it was in 1964.  The poorest children in the nation still live in segregation, with the fewest resources.  The real poverty trap is the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline.  And our failure to be willing to make the needed investments to end poverty.  Those who talk about people unwilling to work should examine the lives of the working poor, people struggling with multiple jobs and still not able to make ends meet.

“Child poverty is unacceptable in the United States. We are rich enough and have a dynamic enough economy that we should not have the highest child poverty rate among our peer nations. The truth is that despite important progress, the United States is still not a fair playing field for millions of children afflicted by preventable poverty, hunger, homelessness, sickness, poor education and violence in the world’s richest economy with a gross domestic product of $17 trillion.”

Dr. Edelman urges members of Congress, and all Americans, to examine the Children Defense Fund’s 2014 report, State of the World’s Children, 2014.  I referred to this very important document in my entry of January 24 and include a link to the full text.  “I would like to enter [the report] that you can see for yourselves how poorly our nation, and your individual states support, safeguard
and nurture our children,” she says. “They need you to be their champions.”

The first reason that the violence of poverty continues to afflict so many children is because of the choices we as a nation have made – or failed to make.  Dr. Edelman recounts Martin Luther King’s last sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.  Dr. King cited the parable of Dives and Lazarus.  Dives went to Hell – not because he was rich, but because he did not use his wealth to close the gulf between himself and his brother.

The second reason we still have such high levels of poverty is that while the social safety net can help people who fall on hard times, it cannot prevent those hard times from happening.  “Over the past three decades, the economy has stopped working for middle-class, low-income, and poor families.”  Productivity increases exponentially while individual income remains stagnant, and the gap between the very rich and the rest of the population has widened to proportions not seen in over a century.  “There is no greater threat to our economic and military security” than the fact most of our students do not read or do math at grade level – or even qualify to serve the nation in the military because of poor education, obesity, and our judicial system, which Michelle Alexander has termed the “New Jim Crow.”  Says Edelman, “It boggles my mind that some believe that we can afford to cut tax rates for the richest, but when it comes to investing in the needs of our children, the coffers are dry.”

The war on poverty will not be over until we have fixed policies that have fueled income inequality, providing everyone with a job that pays at least a living wage, that every child has access to a quality education in properly funded schools.  We will not end poverty by “cutting the very programs enabling struggling families to stay afloat in a hostile economy …fueling a cycle of poverty that repeats itself through generations.”  To end poverty, we must do at least three things: expand the safety net to ensure that “no child is left behind,” invest in research-proven programs for children from birth through age 5; and create an economy that works for everyone.  Dr. Edelman calls on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour.  “It goes against all that our
country stands for that someone could work full-time and not be able to make ends meet.”

“To those who claim our nation cannot afford to prevent our children from going hungry and homeless and prepare all our children for school, I say we cannot afford not to.”  Please read the full report; it is available online, at: http://bit.ly/1rQws50

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It Has Been a Half Century Since the War on Poverty. Have We Made Progress?

A half century after the inauguration of President Lyndon Baines Johnson and the signing of the Civil Rights Act, Marian Wright Edelman, on Thursday, January 23, 2014, issued a report on behalf of the Children’s Defense Fund, State of the World’s Children, 2014.    The full report was released today, and can be downloaded here:  <http://www.childrensdefense.org/child-research-data-publications/data/2014-soac.pdf

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Launching the War on Poverty in his inaugural address, President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke of replacing despair among the very poor with hope, especially among people of color.  “It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won.  The richest nation on Earth can afford to win it.  We cannot afford to lose it,” he proclaimed.  How far have we come in the 50 years since President Johnson made that urgent appeal?  With one in five children living in poverty and one in ten in extreme poverty, “the United States is still not a fair playing field for millions of children afflicted by preventable poverty, homelessness, sickness, poor education, and violence….”  Most disturbing is that children are the most affected by poverty; the younger the child, the higher the rate of poverty.  African American and Latino children suffer disproportionately.  Continues Ms. Edelman, the greatest threat to our society, our well-being, our security comes not from a foreign enemy, but “from our failure, unique among high-income nations, to invest adequately and fairly in the health, education, and sound development of our young.”  In addition to lack of health care and poor nutrition, inadequate education and the extremely high rate of incarceration prevent young people, most of them of color, from finding work or being able to enlist in the military.  “If America is to lead in the 21st century, we must reset our economic and moral compass,” she adds.

As an overview, the numbers are sobering; yet, these are more than numbers – each figure is an individual, a child with hope, or without hope.  In 2014, the following are the facts:

  • For the first time, the majority of children under two – the time of the most rapid brain development – are children of color.
  • Child poverty has reached record levels:  nearly one in three children of color and one in three children under five were poor.
  • Some 1.2 million public-school children were homeless, a jump of 73 percent since the beginning of the recession.  With no or extremely limited cash, these children and their families had to rely on the meager rations of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and that is being treated with budget cuts.
  • Government safety net programs, such as SNAP, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit, work.  They prevented 9 million children from falling into poverty.
  • Since 1964, the top 1 percent of earners took in more than double their share of the nation’s income.  One can only guess about the top one-tenth of one percent highest incomes.
  • Lack of investment in programs such as Head Start meant that programs such as this served only 41 percent of needy children.  Drop-out rates continue to climb for children of all ethnic groups.
  • Children are increasingly prone to all kinds of violence:  a child is abused or neglected every 47 seconds.  Over 101,000 children are in foster care.  On average, 4,028 children are arrested every day.  More children have been killed by gunfire than have police officers in the line of duty.
  • The mere monetary costs of poverty to society are staggering:  child poverty costs the nation some $500 billion a year in extra education, criminal justice, and lost productivity; child abuse and neglect cost the nation nearly 80.3 billion a year in lost productivity and other costs; gun deaths and injuries account for over 174 billion in medical and social costs, and high drop-out rages account for $154 billion in lost income.  These costs, the report claims, are entirely preventable.

In a comparison of the well-being of Americans in 1964 and 2014, statistics show that:

  • The income gap between the very wealthy and the poor has widened and includes many families of the working poor.
  • The number of children living in single-parent households has more than doubled over the last 50 years.  There has been notable progress in the number of three- and four-year-olds enrolled in preschool and kindergarten, an increase by a factor of five.  However, the difference in educational opportunities in elementary and high-school education for Black and White children means that “school segregation by race and income continues to be the norm.”
  • Infant mortality is down but still remains the highest in the U.S. among industrialized nations, especially among people of color.
  • Gun deaths have increased markedly and disproportionately among Black youth and teens.

The next section of the report breaks down “moments in America for children” for all children and by race and ethnicity in the following areas:  suspension from public school, high-school drop outs, children arrested, babies born to a teen or an unwed mother, public school students enduring corporal punishment, children confirmed abused or neglected, babies born into poverty and extreme poverty, babies born without health insurance, babies born at low birth weight, children arrested for drug offenses, children arrested for violent offenses, babies dying before their first birthday, children and teens dying in accidents and by suicide, and mothers dying from complications of childbirth or pregnancy.  When one looks at the shocking numbers, one must keep in mind that they reflect the population of the wealthiest nation in the world.

The report cites the statistics in child poverty.  Thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit, 5.3 million children were lifted out of poverty.  As Ms. Edelman said in her introduction, although the numbers are staggering, these costs were all preventable; likewise, with sufficient investment, such costs could be preventable in the future.  In family structure and income, Black, Latino, and Native American children were in a family situation that greatly affected family income; homelessness is prevalent among the very poor, with steady increases every year from 2006.  And one in nine children lives in “food-insecure” conditions.  SNAP was instrumental in preventing this figure becoming much higher (as were subsidized school lunches).  Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program have meant that many children have gained health coverage, though the programs have yet to reach 69 percent of eligible children.  Children who do not receive proper medical and dental treatment are much more likely to die before their first birthday or suffer from behavioral or developmental delays.  The story of Head Start is even more astonishing: some 96 percent of eligible infants and toddlers are not served by this program because of a lack of funding.  The costs in poor school performance are readily apparent as these children grow older, leading to sharply lower graduation rates, as the tables in the appendix clearly show.  Perhaps one should not ask whether we can afford these social programs, but rather whether we can afford not to provide them.

Finally, there is the insidious problem of juvenile justice – injustice would be more apt, as 4,028 children are arrested every day, that is, one every 21 seconds.  Incarceration is extremely destructive.  Much more humane alternatives, such as preventative programs in the schools, are suggested.  The appendix cites the statistics of this serious social – and racial – ill.  Finally, gun violence is claiming more and more children, most of whom do not make national coverage in the press.  Statistics for children affected by gun violence are given in the appendix.

As a nation, a society, and a people, we can do better. We must do better.