Friday, March 22, 2019

Humanity shines through Holocaust survivor

Right before Gerda Seifer left Cerritos High School, she offered me imported candy from Germany.

I obliged and tried the orange Woogie fine drop and felt the humanity of the moment.

Here was a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor who just addressed high-school students in two sessions for two hours. She was giving me candy. What a woman!

As I try to wrap my head around Gerda's experience and super student Caroline Mendoza's Genocide Project, I conclude that examinations of the Holocaust and genocide couldn't come at a better time. Our world is missing something crucial right now, and that's called humanity.

I wonder this. Is my thesis wrong? Do you have an example of humanity that you can share? Please do so in a comment below. If not, please explain why you agree that humanity is often lost nowadays.

First, let me explain what's happening with Gerda and the Genocide Project. High school junior Caroline Mendoza walked into my classroom one day and wondered if I would teach a lesson about genocide that she created. She was on the path of obtaining her Gold Award as a Girl Scout, and this was part of her ambitious project.

I listened to her plan and passion and could relate to her main point: Genocides are grossly unexamined in schools, and it's our responsibility to make sure students are aware of them. 

I jumped on board of her plan, but tweaked it with her. Why wouldn't she teach the class?

So I gave her some basic teaching tips, and she taught my classes about genocide. She then explained how the project must be sustainable, and we enlisted five sophomores to team-teach five classes about genocide. The manner in which Caroline did this with our team of five — Josh, Kayla, Maanav, Samantha and Vivian — was professional and in depth. Wow!

The students covered the Armenian Genocide (1.5 million dead), Holocaust (6 million dead), Cambodian Genocide (1.7 million dead), Rwandan Genocide (750,000 dead) and the Guatemalan Genocide (at least 40,000 dead).

After that, they took their presentations to the next level when they explained that there are current genocides happening in Burma, Darfur, Iraq and Syria. As human beings, how are we not outraged about this? How are we doing nothing about this?

Then, Caroline coordinated having Gerda Seifer, a Holocaust survivor, speak at our school to two sessions of approximately 300 students each. Here is Gerda with Caroline:
Gerda lost her parents in the Holocaust. Her mother was killed in an extermination camp, and she is unaware of what happened to her father. She is from Poland, and she survived by living in a darkened basement for six weeks when she was 14 years old.

Her story has been told in various outlets, including the Press-Telegram, Orange County Register, the Holocaust Museum and more. (Please check out those publications for more information.)

But let me return to my main insight, spurred by Gerda. Humanity is more important now than ever. The world I see nowadays has less face-to-face interactions than when I was young. Google Chromebooks are in classrooms at first grade, so students have more screen time and less face-to-face time not only at home but also in the classroom.

I wholeheartedly believe that Chromebooks and technology can be major learning tools. They're great for writing, but terrible for reading and attention spans.

Certain human traits, such as empathy and sympathy, can only be learned through actual face-to-face communication and feeling. In an unintended consequence of technology, actual humanity is being lost. But yesterday, to see, and interact, with a Holocaust survivor in the flesh in 2019 was a bit of a miracle.

At least, that's where my thoughts went with Gerda. At the end of the day, she offered me candy. I find it rare that anyone offers me anything out of sheer goodness and kindness. Why is this?

Friday, March 8, 2019

Spies move blog to self-improvement

Pain, neglect, anger, loneliness, fear — I see it all as an educator.

Most of the kids — and adults — I encounter replace dealing with difficult emotions with escapism. They have deceitful self-talk, or they pacify with their phones or Netflix. Some mistakenly believe "achievement" will be the answer for their existence.

Sadly, they're on the wrong path, and they need to embrace SPIES.

We're not talking espionage here. We're talking about the five key elements of being human that can be neglected. We're talking social, physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual health.

This post officially takes the Snooze Button Generation blog in a new direction of self-care and self-improvement. We will be posting about ideas and tips on how to identify gaps between our actions and goals and what we can do about that.

Today, we simply ask readers to consider looking at the self through the lens of SPIES. Think about yourself with five parts — social, physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual — then ask yourself: Where do I need most growth? Please post at least a one-word answer of social, physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual as a comment below.

If you post a little more info, I will recommend a possible book for you, depending on where you are. As an avid reader and huge proponent of self-care and self-improvement, I likely can recommend a book on any component or offshoot of SPIES.

For me, I am looking most to improve my spiritual side. Emotional is close second, but I have been working on a daily action plan emotionally. I check-in with myself at least three times per day and ponder how I actually feel. By doing that, I have often recognized stress and have cut down on it. When I'm stressed, I breathe deep, clear my mind and focus on positive thoughts of love, Dina, Sophie, Chloe and calm nature scenes. "Love is the way" is my calming thought.

In schools, we typically over-stress intellectual growth and reward that by giving tests, where kids can get an "A." A lot of kids and parents care about grades, but aren't the social, physical, emotional and spiritual health of a child way more important than a GPA?

One of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain. "It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

It turns out that education for only intellectual growth isn't much of an education. As kids get older, I fear that their social, emotional and spiritual growth will be stunted unless they deliberately focus on these elements.

As for me, my spiritual action plan is connected to this blog. I believe that if I put out healthy ideas into the world that good karma will come back to me. Maybe that's called "Polish karma." I'm going with that.

Friday, March 1, 2019

What is your cause?

This blog will celebrate its 10-year anniversary in August. A decade!

I want to thank everybody who has stuck with me and the blog. I have evolved a lot, and I bet you have, too. Imagine what you were doing 10 years ago.

Today marks the next step in the Snooze Button Generation blog's evolution. I will be taking our readers for a ride and in a new direction, but that direction won't be revealed until the next post. Ooh, it's a cliffhanger!

The new direction will focus on an important cause — one that is universal, bipartisan and will actually help individuals and the world. The cause is about empowering others, creating leaders (not followers) and helping people's actual lives. While it's true that a lot of the tone in this blog has been offbeat and humorous, let me say that the new direction is no joke. But we'll have fun with it, homie.

I am curious about you, reading this now. If you prioritized what truly matters to you in a few words, or just one cause, what would it be? What is your cause?

In the age of quick, chewable thoughts, I imagine that many would joke and say things like "liquid soap" or "Big Chungus." Or maybe the thoughts would go to "dump Trump," "get rich" or "Channing Tatum." But truly, deeply, seriously, what is your cause?

Sadly, I fear most don't really have a cause. It might be "my job" or "school." If that's the case, feel free to think in the hypothetical. If you had a cause, what would it be? I plan on taking action with my cause, and I urge you to do the same, if you have not already.

Please share your cause as a comment. I will be an ally — assuming I do indeed support your cause (our cause). I ask that you become an ally for my cause (our cause), too — assuming you support it when it's revealed.
For those who don't know me, I started this blog when I was going through a divorce and after a 12-year career in print journalism. I was starting a new career as a high-school teacher, and the premise of the Snooze Button Generation was a homage to '80s and early '90s pop culture. It was tailored to nostalgic Gen Xers, who I dubbed the Snooze Button Generation.

For the first three years of the blog, we did an average of two posts per week. We talked about Atari, Lloyd Dobler, the Apple IIc, Drakkar Noir, the Humpty Dance, Jake from "Sixteen Candles" and much more.

I enjoyed writing about that stuff and got a lot of laughs, but on Feb. 16, 2011, my world flipped upside down when my dad, the XMan, unexpectedly passed away. I somehow pieced together a post on that traumatic day.

When I thawed out slightly from my dad's death, I took the blog to a more personal place. I stayed with old-school pop culture, but evolved to include more personal posts and some that were flat-out intimate. That format has lasted for the past few years.

The new focus will be more humanistic and genuinely connect us. Real connection is worth more now than ever — in the world of social media and fake cyber connection. Now, you might say, "Wait a second. Isn't this fake too?"

I don't think so. I am sincere about connecting us, and others, through our causes. Heck, there are 10 years worth of blogs to check out and see the evolution of how we got here. I have realized that we can't really accomplish anything if we go at it alone. We need to connect, and we need each other's support.

What's your cause?