"What's a Concentration Camp?"

In addition to their regular coursework, my ninth grade reading classes are also going through a dramatization of The Diary of a Young Girl. We read it in class and discuss it, and I try to fill the gaps for them when they don't understand certain phrases or terminology.

The other day we read an excerpt about the Franks' arrival to the annex; they'd all worn several layers of clothing as they left their house because carrying suitcases would have attracted unwanted attention. There's a little part in the play where Anne explains that she's brought four pairs of underwear. At that, one of my girls raised her hand and asked, "Ms. Flower. So you're saying she's got FOUR PAIRS of underwear, and that's supposed to last her for TWO YEARS?"

Well, I'd never thought about that before; it's a good question. I explained as best I could that all of the people in the annex would probably have lived with ONE pair of underwear if it kept them out of the concentration camps.

My student: "I'd rather DIE!!"

Me: "Well, that was actually the only other alternative. If they hadn't hidden themselves in the attic, they would have been shipped off to concentration camps where, yes, they would have died."

Another student: "What's a concentration camp?"


In all honesty, I wanted to say, "I don't understand the question," because I was sure that there was NO WAY a person could reach the age of fourteen and NOT know what a concentration camp is.

But I calmed myself down and asked if anyone else in the class could explain what a concentration camp was.


And thus began my mini-lesson on concentration camps. I tried to be a truthful as possible without being too graphic. Of course they were horrified when I told them about gas chambers and the random executions and the separations of families. They had lots of questions, which I answered to the best of my knowledge.

How are we failing our students THIS badly? What justification is there for NOT telling younger students about a major historical event during which MILLIONS OF PEOPLE DIED?

I tried to recall, later, when I first learned about concentration camps. Because I am so old, and also a giant nerd, I don't actually remember a time when I didn't know about them, though I definitely know that the first time I read Anne Frank was in the sixth grade, as a class assignment. So even if I hadn't been an avid reader, I still would have been introduced to the Holocaust by the time I was eleven.

I looked up the state's social studies curriculum standards for grades 4-8; there is no mention of the Holocaust, or ANY sort of world history past the 1500s. So by the time our students reach high school, there is a FIVE HUNDRED YEAR PERIOD that has been completely ignored.

I don't blame the teachers, exactly. I blame these damn tests we've been inundated with in the past few years. "If it's not on the test, don't teach it." Isn't that what we've been trained to think? Still, regardless of the stringency of our curriculum standards, there has to be room to teach beyond the God-given state-mandated objectives. I think a dedicated teacher could find a way to introduce the topic of the Holocaust to her classes (and, trust me, I am ALWAYS on the teachers' side; this idea makes me very uncomfortable).

Is this what No Child Left Behind has wrought? A giant gap in our students' education? Wasn't NCLB instituted in the first place to guard against such things? Well, I guess it's working then ... oh, what? No? It's not? Well, color me surprised.


angela said...

... and this is why you have idiot people flat out ARGUING with their history instructors and telling them that 'you have to be lying because I didn't learn ANY of this in school.' The no child left behind thing as a PARENT (not to mention a teacher in training? teacher wannabe?) is very depressing because I want my daughter to know as much as possible before going out into the world. If we learned all this in high school maybe our kids would be a little more tolerant. OK, that made sense in my head-- it's like when we were doing African American History the 2 white people besides me were blown away by the stuff like the Jim Crow laws etc and started to get the idea that wow, maybe there's a reason for all this racial tension (because being made slaves isn't enough *rolling eyes*) and if they'd learned any of that in HIGH SCHOOL during formative years... I don't know. I'm stopping now. That was really sad that no one in your class knew though. :(

Lynda said...

And people ask all the time why I home school. I don't blame the teachers either, but I do blame the system. Kids should know about modern history, although a lot of the powers that be would rather sweep things like the holocaust under the rug and pretend it never happened.


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