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:
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?