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From Dachau to Charlottesville

During a trip to Europe this summer, my family spent an afternoon at the Dachau Concentation Camp Memorial in Germany. The oldest of the Nazi concentration camps, Dachau is now a museum where visitors can learn about the causes and effects of Nazi rule. A somber day in an otherwise carefree jaunt through three countries, the experience left a deep impression on my family and me. Throughout the museum, photos, writings, and voices of survivors remind us that the crimes of the Nazi era are not so very distant.

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Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial

The museum ushers visitors chronologically through the founding of the camp, and its functioning during the years prior to and during World War II. Visitors walk through the gate that prisoners entered with the empty promise of Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Liberates). Photographs, artifacts, newsreels, and thoughtfully presented exhibits help visitors understand prisoners’ experiences in the camp.

All prisoners were marked by badges that identified the reason for their imprisonment: political activism, religion, ethnic background, and sexual orientation were just a few of the designations. Prisoners were subjected to inhumane conditions: grueling labor, paltry rations, humiliating treatment, rampant, untreated disease, and torture of every sort. The most difficult for me to read about were the medical experiments in which some prisoners were forced to participate, many to the point of death.

A reconstructed barracks unit conveys a sense of the horrific living conditions for prisoners. Most of the 34 original barracks no longer exist, but their foundations are a reminder of the places that once housed thousands of prisoners.

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Reconstructed barracks at Dachau Concentration Camps. Multiple prisoners were crammed onto each of these bunks.

Past the foundations, visitors can view the two large crematorium buildings where the bodies of prisoners were burned. Nearly 32,000 people died at Dachau, from disease, malnutrition, and murder. Memorials throughout the camp, now a surprisingly peaceful place, give visitors time and space to process and reflect upon what they’ve seen. We left with a deeper understanding of history and a sense of responsibility to prevent future atrocities.

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Camp crematorium, where prisoners’ bodies were burned.

The roots of the atrocities in Dachau were deep seated: centuries of religious intolerance, years of state-sponsored discrimination. The museum documents thoroughly the terrifying rise of Nazi power, and the systematic dehumanization of groups of people.

Dachau reminds us of the importance of vigilance against the subtle creep of discrimination today. It starts with our thoughts, our words, our actions. It is evidenced in ugly acts like the ones last weekend in Charlottesville, and in quieter but insidious racism that we see everywhere. We see it when our neighbors or our leaders or our students make blanket statements about immigrants, or African-Americans, or Muslims. To me, these statements can be just as hurtful as a man who slams his car into a crowd of protesters, in part because they are harder to spot and harder to condemn.

In public schools and through youth groups, Nazis methodically, deliberately taught young people to hate. They started with the young because those are most vulnerable and the easiest to persuade. Those of us who work in schools have a responsibility to teach our young people attitudes of tolerance and acceptance. In Long Walk to Freedom, South African leader Nelson Mandela said:

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

He expresses well my core values as a teacher — and as a human. Love must win. People must be taught to love. I must do my part. As a new school year begins, I am planning with that end in mind. Our students need to talk about what happened in Charlottesville, and the larger context of hatred and intolerance in America and throughout the world. This collection of resources is a terrific place to start. I hope and I believe that I am ready for the challenge.  

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Conserving Community

Centropa is an organization based in Europe, and dedicated to the preservation of Jewish history. IThe organization started by conducting interviews of elderly Jewish people in Eastern Europe. Each interview began with a simple premise: tell the stories behind your family photos. In the years since, it has expanded to much more. A peek at the treasure trove of resources on the Centropa website reveals not only interviews but short films, student projects, lesson plans, and a vast archive of rare photographs. Behind each resource is a unified mission: to foster connections among people of different backgrounds and beliefs. The more we can understand about each other and how we are linked, the less likely we are to commit atrocities against fellow humans.

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A mosaic of Maryland’s past

This February I attended a workshop for teachers in Baltimore, Maryland sponsored by Centropa and hosted by the Jewish Museum of Maryland. There, I met educators from as far away as Texas and Illinois.  Together, we toured nearby Baltimore neighborhoods, learning about the diverse groups of people who had lived in the area over the last three centuries. Residents of different races, faiths, and national backgrounds opened businesses, raised families, attended schools, and worshiped locally. We visited the Lloyd Street Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Maryland and the third oldest in the United States, which has operated since 1845.

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The Lloyd Street Synagogue

While immersing us in the rich history of the Baltimore area, the workshop also inspired us to bring history and community spirit to life in our classrooms. The Milton Wolf Prize, sponsored by Centropa, honors work in community-oriented diplomacy. Students can enter projects that examine a local problem and how it’s being addressed. Several students presented their winning projects during the workshop. I loved seeing their passion and their innovative approaches to addressing environmental and social issues.

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Touring Baltimore with Centropa participants

The Milton Wolf Prize also includes a teacher component, for lessons that incorporate the work of Milton Wolf and La Benevolencija, the topic of the short Centropa film “Survival in Sarajevo.” The teacher contest is accepting entries until June 8. If you work in a school, I invite you to explore and enter the contest!

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Learning about Maryland’s Jewish history

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Shattering Stereotypes

To continue the progress we’d made on teaching civil discourse earlier this school year, we challenged students to reflect upon and shatter stereotypes.

Our jumping off point was “The Lie,” a powerful video produced by students at a local elementary school, examining untrue stereotypes about religious, racial, and gender groups.   Read more about the video’s production and perception here and here.

After viewing the video, students listed unfair labels or judgments that they had experienced due to their gender, age, religion, race, appearance, national background, or any other characteristic. They completed the sentence “I’m not…” with a label they’d heard, and wrote it on an index card. Here are a few:

I’m not…weak because I’m a girl/from the forest just because I’m African/stupid/unable to speak English/dirty/a terrorist/overly sensitive/ashamed of who I am/mixed-up

Using an activity adapted from one developed by this Alabama teacher, students then displayed the index cards anonymously. Each student selected one of their classmate’s cards to reflect upon in writing, describing how they could help shatter the stereotype by showing the world the truth.

As a school, we created a “We Are” display, filled with characteristics that do describe us. The display is located in the main hallway, greeting guests as they enter the building. We are…proud to be a diverse, accepting school!

 

 

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Electing to teach

My community near Washington DC  is among the most diverse in the United States, with a multiracial population and a large immigrant presence. The students of my school reflect their community, representing over 50 countries. That diversity, along with the welcoming atmosphere of the school and the local community, is what first drew me to teach there. Despite its overall climate of acceptance, my school was not immune to the contentiousness of the recent election.

During a time when ugly rhetoric dominated the news, it was tempting for teachers to avoid the election entirely, and focus instead on teaching only academic content. Yet to do so would have ignored the opportunity to engage students as citizens. By confronting the election instead of retreating, we could teach students more about our messy, fascinating democracy – and also build their communication skills. Adolescents – like many adults – sometimes speak before they think. The question: how to challenge that natural impulse and encourage empathy? We needed a plan.

Part of my job is to develop daily school-wide lessons that reinforce students’ growth as lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and responsible global citizens.  By consulting with other teachers and administrators at our school, and using resources from Teaching Tolerance and Edutopia, I created a road map for teachers to use the election as a springboard for teaching civil discourse. Here was the progression of our lessons:

  • First, we invited students to develop a list of “Rules for Classroom Discussion,” building consensus within each class. I combined the rules formulated by each class and selected the most frequently mentioned as our school-wide “Rules for Discussion.”
  • We asked students to reflect on collaboration and to role-play effective collaboration skills. Here is a resource our school made to help students understand what effective collaboration looks like.
  • Students viewed and discussed debate clips like this one for examples of civil discourse – and not-so-civil discourse.
  • The words of Kid President talking about “How To Disagree” helped underscore the central idea that even those with different perspectives deserve our respect. “Let’s treat people like they are people, people!”
  • We learned more about the election process with the help of CNN News and iCivics.
  • After the election, we reflected on its impact. To empower our students and to encourage them to express their opinions in positive, forward-thinking ways, our school participated in “Students Speak”  through Teaching Tolerance. This campaign invited students to share their words of advice for the president-elect.

Here are some of the words of our students. I have left the original spelling and grammar intact:

Please take all of America into account. You have sparked fear into so many people’s hearts including mine. Remember that our country fought for our freedom, we deserve freedom to be who we are. I don’t know you, you don’t know me, but I know that you were not who I wanted to win. That doesn’t matter. You won. Please, please, please remember that America is diverse and embrace that diversity. Remember that your words have impact, and think before you speak. Remember that there are struggling people in this country, and it is your job to protect them too, not just the wealthy and well off. Remember that women have the right to control their own bodies. Remember that love is love.

 

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Dear Mr. Trump,

You’re soon going to be the official president. Congratulations on the victory. Some people may not like you, but I think they are wrong. I hope you do great in office. I hope you make all the right choices. I hope you go with your ideas to make America great again. I hope you do make America great again.

 

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Dear Mr. President, In school we are learning about the rules of culture. One rule we are learning is that people can accept or resist change. This relates to us because as a young female, I can choose to resist you becoming president of the United States. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have the potential to gain my interest. First off, I am an only child who lives with a single mom. As I have read, your tax plans to a certain extent discriminate single parents. My mom and I, and all the other single-parent families would appreciate if you listen to their perspective. That’s all I’m asking you, just listen. Next off, I come from a very diverse school. Even though I am a white Christian girl, I respect everyone’s opinion, no matter what race, culture, religion, or gender. As leader of our country you must represent EVERYONE. You shouldn’t put someone’s life at risk to make you feel more powerful. In my opinion building a wall and deporting illegal immigrants is not efficient. Instead of deporting them, support them and let them gain citizenship.

How are the lessons going?  The process is ongoing, but I’m pleased to report that feedback from staff, students, and parents has been positive. Our students weathered a tough election season and maybe emerged just a little wiser and a little kinder. I’d love to hear what other schools have done to discuss the election with students.

For our next steps as a school, we will continue to examine perspectives and foster communication. This winter, we plan to teach a series of lessons on shattering stereotypes.

More on that to follow in the new year. Wishing you and yours a 2017 full of growth and adventure!

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Going home and getting global

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My hometown, site of this year’s Global Education Forum.

Philadelphia is my hometown, and though I no longer live in the area,  its proud, gritty sense of character appeals to me. I still cheer for the Flyers and love the LOVE statue. When the opportunity came to return to my hometown as a presenter at the Global Education Forum, I didn’t need to think twice.

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Krista at the Global Education Forum in Philadelphia.

The forum brought together teachers, administrators, and thought leaders from all over to discuss best practices in global education. Craig Kielburger and Heidi Hayes-Jacobs inspired with keynote addresses that explored the possibilities for engaging students as thinker and doers, examining perspective and taking action to improve their world.

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From Craig Kielburger’s presentation: the traits we want our students to have.

Through the generosity of IREX, several alumni of the Teachers for Global Classrooms were able to travel to the forum and host workshops for other teachers about how to globalize instruction. Sara Damon of Stillwater, Minnesota, Faith Ibarra of Ashburn, Virginia, and I collaborated on our workshop, “Motivating Students and Staff to Take Action on Global Issues.” I was delighted to share my school’s Middle Years Exploration into the topic of poverty, a starting point for future service learning activities. (To check out the exploration, you can join our Google Classroom using code gcempu ). 

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Sara Damon presenting at the Global Education Forum.

Nothing motivates and inspires quite like connecting with other passionate educators. Thank you, IREX for the opportunity to attend the Global Education forum this year!

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In fine company

Philippines cohort, East Coast

Philippines cohort, East Coast travelers

I traveled to the Philippines this summer along with 13 other wonderful TGC educators from around the United States. Each of us kept a blog to reflect on our experiences and share them with others. Here are some of my fellow teacher’s blogs, each with a unique voice and perspective on the Philippines:

1. Jennifer Anderson of Oregon provides a generous dose of dry humor along with her insights into teaching and learning in a new place in her blog Teach Travel Share.

“I learned that no matter how much of an old dog you are, there are always new tricks to learn.”

2.  Adventure Is Out There by Julia Brockman. Julia knows a thing or two about cultural integration; a native of Moldova, she now lives in Louisville, Kentucky. Her thoughtful blog contains observant cultural reflection — for example, Julia cites several reasons why you wouldn’t want to be a chicken in the Philippines! She also expresses insight into the educational system and what we can learn from it in the US and beyond.

 The Philippines makes me think. How hard is it to make this work in the US or other places? Does it take much time or effort to rise when a teacher or other adult walks into the room? Does it cost anything to wish someone a good morning and smile? We have spent just 2 days in JRU, but almost every student takes time to stop, wish us good morning or afternoon, smile, or at least wave their hand.

3. To the Philippines and Beyond by Alex O’Callaghan   Alex’s enthusiasm and energy are contagious. Now living in Chicago , she has roots in the Philippines, including a grandmother who still lives there, and she embraced the people and culture of that country wholeheartedly.

I have been continuously amazed and in awe of the talent and creativity I have seen during my time here in the Philippines, these kids are all around incredible, from the arts to academics, I wish everyone could witness this, they are one of a kind!

4. What’s Bruing by Ilsa Bruer  Ilsa  of Portland, Oregon personified a spirit of adventure. She traveled solo to Vietnam and Cambodia following her fellowship in the Philippines! Her travel gave her a chance to shape insights into teaching and indulge a love of world cuisines.

As I continued to walk through the city, I contemplated my gratitude for the diverse group of students I teach and how important it is to me to have their unique perspectives in my class every day. I think about how much we can learn from one another, and how much insight can be gained by listening to one another and trying to understand others’ perspectives. We may not all be able to go on trips around the world, but I know with confidence my students bring the world to my classroom.

5. Global Classroooms by Washington, DC teacher Diana Gibson uses Tumblr’s combination of photos and captions to take us on a visual journey of the Philippines. A science teacher, Diana pays special attention to environmentally sustainable practices and instruction.

I also thought the phrase “feedback is a gift” was incredibly powerful. We talk at our school all the time about growth mindset in which feedback truly is a gift. However, I thought a child might not see the “feedback” or correction he receives from his teacher as a gift at all times… but when the teacher does it with love, it is the gift that she cares enough to want her student to do better.

6. Susan Groff of California also noted the positive energy of the Philippines educational institutions in her blog, Fantastic Philippines.

Again, the positive interaction between students and staff was evident throughout the entire school. Students were actively engaged in learning and having fun in the process!

7. Gail Heard of Virginia writes about the resilient community of Tacloban, ravaged by Typhoon Yolanda, with gorgeous prose in her blog Travel Tacloban.

 Beauty is everywhere in the Philippines. From the pristine white, pressed uniform shirts of the students climbing out of the crowded, chrome plated, colorfully-painted jeepneys, or tricycles, to the beautifully laid out wares in the market place.

8. The sole man in our cohort, Kev Jones of New York appealed to the people of the Philippines with his friendly spirit and his love of basketball! In his blog, Global Boogie Down, he uses his wisdom from years as a teacher, coach, and mentor to advise the young people of the Philippines:

In the end, my message was that whatever was done…is done.  You have to now move forward with the knowledge that every single time you make a decision, you are either moving forward or backwards; what is certain is that you don’t get to remain where you are once you take a decision — any decision.  Don’t focus on where you are, but where you want to go…where you are going, and don’t let the setbacks turn you around.

9. Tara Kajtaniak already had experience with global education; she initiated a global studies program at the California high school where she teaches. Her knowledge served her well as she traveled to the Philippines willing to learn more, From the Boondocks to Bacolod:

Truth be told, we have a lot to learn from the amount of joy and warmth present in the community of Bacolod.  The streets are teeming with life.

10. Sandra Makielski comes from the smallest state, Rhode Island, but her travel experiences are anything but tiny. She has attended teaching workshops all over the world, and then brings her learning back to her seventh grade social studies classroom. In her blog, Footsteps Across the Planet,  she answers many questions asked by her students back home about life in the Philippines.

The students in the schools that I visited listen to pretty much the same music you do.  Can you imagine what they said when I did “The Whip”?

11. Joann Martin of Arizona captivated all of us with her open-minded, joyous outlook. She was often the first to engage others in conversation: students, teachers, people on the street. That mindset is clear in her blog, Learning from the Desert.

I love working with teens! The frontal lobe of the brain is still developing in teens, but usually their critical thinking skills have picked up on injustice in the world. They distill complex problems into simple statements of action. If we could remain teenagers forever, we would be more passionate and less jaded. Teenagers see that the world can and should be a much better place. They are our future, and we are in good hands. My heart and my hope hold me in the classroom.

12. I was lucky to have the hilarious Roma Stutts of South Carolina as my travel partner in Iloilo. Roma has taught in China and Peru, and brings her humor and adventurous zest to her blog, Engaging in Our Global Community.

 If people laugh at you it may be because they’re nervous or self-conscious. It could also be because you’re funny to them.  Get over yourself.

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Giving Back to Leganes

Ever since I met the wonderful students and dedicated staff at Leganes National High School in the Philippines, I have been thinking about how my school community in the United States might help them gain access to much-needed resources. The staff do their work without adequate books or technology, and pay for many needed supplies, even photocopying for lessons, own of their own pockets from their meager salaries. When I returned, I shared the story of Leganes with our school’s leadership team, and asked for ideas for how we could make a difference.

Our extraordinary media specialist Anita jumped right on the idea and suggested centering a fundraiser around International Literacy Day on September 8. Since the school year started on August 31, we needed to move quickly to spread the word and generate enthusiasm.

We organized a “hat day” event on September 8 and 9, where students could wear a hat to school, normally not permitted, in exchange for a one dollar donation to the Leganes fund.

Sixth grade students and I on Hat Day.

Sixth grade students with me on Hat Day.

Seventh grade hat day participants

Seventh grade hat day participants.

Eighth grade Hat Day

Eighth grade Hat Day students. Note the giant squid hat!

We also wrote announcements to publicize the event, sharing some statistics about Leganes. Student members of the National Junior Honor Society collaborated to create informative posters and announcements. I also spoke to a gathering of parents at our school’s Back to School Night to explain the purpose of our fundraiser. I connected our goals to the school’s International Baccalaureate program, which encourages students to be internationally minded and to serve others.

Raising funds -- and awareness.

Raising funds — and awareness.

Result? We raised over $400 which will shortly wing its way to the Philippines to support the school resources fund of Leganes. Even more rewarding than the money raised were the conversations I had with countless teachers, students, and parents who had heard about the fundraiser. Here are some of the repeated themes of those conversations:

  • We are so fortunate to live where we do.
  • My school (in Ecuador, Morocco, Uganda, Peru, El Salvador, and so on…) also lacked resources, so I can connect personally to the experience of the students at Leganes.
  • I’m from the Philippines originally. I love it there, but the poverty can be overwhelming.
  • I’d like to learn more about Leganes and communicate with the students there.
  • So, when are you going back?
Literacy king and queen in our royal hat day gear!

Literacy king and queen in our royal hat day gear!

Leganes, you are always in my heart. I’m so glad we can do one small thing for you to return some the infinite kindness you showed towards me.