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?

28 comments:

  1. Goodness and kindness are perceived, I think, as weak character traits in people. Aggressive behavior is usually rewarded; not so much being a gentle soul. Look at our world leaders; do any look kind or gentle?

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    1. I love that you are often the first to reply, Mom. I find that to be good, loving support. Thank you! :-)

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  2. Humanity doesn't really appear in nowadays because I think people are focusing on how they are trying to be success

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    1. Exactly. And somehow "success" doesn't include kindness. What kind of world is that? And is that really success?

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  3. I am glad I was able to be part of this amazing project. I learned to be more aware of the world and people. I believe people should spread the word of preventing the holocasut.

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    1. Thank you for sharing! I agree. We need all individuals to be aware of the genocides that have occurred and are occurring now.

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  4. Humanity is lost nowadays because people are caught up in being successful and will do anything for success. Although money is essential for life, too much is the root for many problems that are happening in out world now.

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    1. This money-chasing culture doesn't work for me. Maybe that's why I'm a teacher. I find pursuits of only money vacuous.

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  5. I agree that humanity is missing currently, and that is because people these days are too focused on themselves. They believed that they should only care about themselves, and that other people's struggles don't matter to them. Also, most people feel very removed from current crises, leading to a lack of empathy.

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    1. I must admit that I saw parts of my life as some sort of rugged individual. It turns out that we are all in this today and that community is much more important than individuality.

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  6. Humanity was certainly lacking before in terms of this piece, but I feel as though we actually have some humanity now. Well, not too much or not too little. We still have our shaky relationships with each other over little things, but we are all connected by a bond of passion.. something like that. I think that everyone is, at least, putting some effort into their thoughts and feelings, even if they don't think they are doing so.

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    1. Maybe we connect to each other through minor acts of humanity, and when those keep coming, we have better lives and a better world.

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  7. There is not much humanity in this world. If there was a lot of humanity there wouldn't be much be as much hate in this world. Everywhere you go there would be someone who is rude and just has a really bad attitude.

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    1. I wonder if hate is just misguided love. As I try to understand those who espouse hate, I realize that it often is a manifestation of unaddressed or unresolved personal issues. They then often pick a scapegoat and put their own issues on someone, or even a group of people, who do not deserve it.

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  8. In my opinion, there is little to no humanity nowadays. Everyone just wants to disregard everyone else and everyone has so much pride that they rather be the best and right more than wrong. They mostly do this with hatred and end up treating others terribly. So to me, there is no humanity

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    1. I guess the next question is: What are we going to do about it? Yes, we can commit to education, but then we need our actions to match our kindness and humanity. Right?

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  9. I believe that humanity is there, you just have to know where to look for it. There are instances where people have a nice conversation with someone new at a store, or something more bigger like people joining together to protest about something. Depending on how you look at it, humanity is still there.

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    1. True. I just witnessed incredible kindness and goodness at Whitney High School with its Ted X event. It made me think of the Harry S. Truman quote: "It's amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit."

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  10. I guess I'm in the same crowd as everyone else who commented; humanity lacks within our wicked society. My question is, why? Is it social pressure, or our evolving society?

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    1. My theory is that the phone enables disconnection. It's irony. We think we're connecting through technology, but we actually are not connecting. The irony is that I am commenting back to you named "anonymous."

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  11. Our world is lacking in humanity, especially in our modern society where we have access to the internet at our fingertips. I personally think that when someone is made fun of, especially online, people conform and join in rather than defending the victim. Insults aren't taken as seriously when people who have been bullied report it an adult or someone that should be there to help. As a result, many people feel that they have no one to talk to.

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    1. Perhaps the rise of Amazon, Google and Facebook have enabled a bully culture. Those giants are killing off the little guy in the marketplace, and then human beings think that's how we're supposed to treat each other.

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  12. In the modern world, humanity is scarce. Times have changed, and people are doing all they can to achieve what THEY want, and they do no think about who is being affected.

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    1. Maybe I remain an unabashed idealist. I still keep hope alive that we can come together and create a better world through our everyday actions and by devoting our lives to doing things that actually make this world a better place.

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  13. I think humanity has not disappeared; it has simply changed. These are different times so humanity will also be different. What Mr. Stevens is seeing is kindness disappearing. Kindness, however, is not all humanity is about. Humanity is about being human which includes all the positive things and the negative things.

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    1. Good points, Godzilla. I think that I am using the word "humanity" interchangeably with "kindness." Perhaps kindness is the clearer word. I like to think that our world will shift to a more collective return to kindness. People sometimes think that kindness is a sign of weakness. It is not. True kindness is a display of strength.

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  14. I believe that people nowadays are lacking in humanity since they want to uphold their roles in society such as a high school student. Their goal is to study very hard and get into an amazing university. With this desire and goal, they are distracted by it and tend to not have the time and enjoyment of living their youth out as a teen. Your teenage years won't last long, so enjoy it while you can.

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  15. I'm thinking that you're right about how students see their role — to get into some sort of amazing student and be "successful." I just wished that role shifted to having students develop themselves and understand how to help those around them.

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