As a sibling who lives with her much younger brother, I find myself constantly amazed (and not always in a positive way) by the new curriculums being taught in schools. New methods of math, countless hours of standardized testing, and, at least at my brother’s school, the replacement of the word detention. Although I don’t agree with these things, I can tolerate them. One thing I can’t tolerate is willful ignorance.
My mom shared a letter with me from my brother’s school – my alma mater – saying that the 6th grade curriculum would no longer include a Holocaust unit. Not just any Holocaust unit – one taught by a teacher who’s been teaching it for over a decade. Who’s won awards for it. Who’s put their heart into teaching this sensitive subject to a class of 11 year olds with a grace and respect that most couldn’t.
Why has this unit been removed? Why would a school take this award winning unit away from its students? Without getting into the details of how the school officials arrived at this decision, which has been 3+ years in the making, it’s because one family was made uncomfortable. That’s right. The parents of these two children decided that their children’s discomfort with genocide (news flash: genocide isn’t supposed to be comfortable) was more important than every other student’s right to learn about the Holocaust. They threw enough of a fit that the school administrators decided to cater to one family rather than support a veteran and talented teacher. Because of one student’s lack of ability to process the real world, kids like my brother will no longer have access to the award winning curriculum.
This kind of thinking is creating a generation of kids incapable of empathy. Why should we not teach about the Holocaust? In high school, I don’t remember thinking I was too scarred by the Holocaust unit in 6th grade to carry on with my life. I do remember thinking that it was unfortunate we didn’t learn about the more recent genocides – in Rwanda and Darfur – that people in our parents’ generation could have done more to prevent if more people had even known about it. Many kids my age don’t even know about these genocides which happened less than 30 years ago. Maybe it’s too uncomfortable to talk about? Maybe they prefer living in the cozy, small town bubble too much to think about something as upsetting as genocide a half a world away.
Furthermore, why should we allow a handful of students’ unease dictate an entire curriculum? While he may be privileged enough to never have had to learn to process horrific things in his 11 years, this could have been seen by his parents as a teaching moment – a chance to learn how to be empathetic to problems that don’t directly affect you. Instead, it was used as a way to teach this child how to shut out everything bad. There’s a term for this: sheltered. How can a child who has been sheltered ever be expected to go forth in the world and improve it, if he refuses to acknowledge its even broken?