"It's not that I don't believe in Holocaust education. I lived in Germany. They do a wonderful, sensitive job with it there. However, it takes place in high school, not middle school. Can't you read something more appropriate for 8th grade, like The Diary of Anne Frank? I don't want Devin in the classroom for a memoir that goes into detail about what happened in the camps."
I was planning on teaching the Holocaust memoir I Have Lived a Thousand Years, a beautiful story told by Livia Bitton Jackson from her memories as a thirteen year old girl from 11944-1945 in a series of concentration camps. No newcomer to Holocaust education, having attended numerous workshops from Facing History, Echos and Reflections, this past summer I studied at Yad Vashem through a Fund for Teachers fellowship. I work in an urban district. I never thought that 8th graders were too young to learn about the Holocaust, too young to watch "Defiance," or for that matter even"Gladiator," when learning about Rome. Never questioned it until this summer, when a particular colleague repeatedly emphasized that the middle school students she taught were sheltered, were not ready for graphic descriptions of the atrocities that took place during that time.
"I also don't want him to read Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case. That book has nothing to recommend it. It has no literary value, it's terribly written, the pictures are too horrific. Can't you read To Kill a Mockingbird, or "Raisin in the Sun?"
Sometimes the people who confront us, disturbing our plans, end up impacting us the most. While I still believe that my students are old enough to read I Have Lived a Thousand Years, and in fact many rate it as their favorite of the year, I am questioning the sequence starting with Monster by Walter Dean Myers, and ending with Slumming by Kristin Randle. Three of these books are from the Plugged In core novels (marketed by Janet Allen). It is all racism, injustice, hatred, sexual abuse. It is the world we live in. I know in my bones students need to learn about what really goes on. But is it the world we want to create? Are we showing them an alternative?
Devin sits in the library, reading about Anne Frank, and Scout and Atticus. He doesn't smile much, does as he is told, is reticent unless discussing something academic. His father may be making a futile, desperate attempt to shelter him for one more year.Will he become something different for being removed from the classroom during the reading and discussion of these literary works? I doubt it. But I might.