Washington High School, Fremont, CA – March 2, 2011

By George J Elbaum

Together with Jack Weinstein of Facing History & Ourselves, I visited the humanities class of 11th and 12th graders entitled “Literature, Justice, and Society” taught by Daniel McCarthy. Dan had prepared the students well in basic knowledge of the Holocaust, and Jack started our session by asking them several simple but insightful questions such as “What image does the word ‘Nazis’ brings to your mind?”, eliciting their answers and back-and-forth discussions.  Then, after Jack’s introduction, I gave my presentation followed by Q&A, and again the quality of their questions and interest reflected the quality of Dan’s preparation.  It is always a pleasure to see the results a good teacher produces in his/her students.

Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves

 

LETTERS FROM STUDENTS

A few weeks after my visit I received a personal and very heartfelt letter from teacher Dan McCarthy and about 2 dozen letters from his students.  I truly appreciate Dan’s personal openness and his statement: “It has been one of my goals as a teacher to empower students to view their learning as something that has real implications and connections to their lives…. I know that your visit challenged and inspired my students.”  I was also moved and gratified by the students’ letters which validate Dan’s stated goal in teaching, and the most memorable phrases of these letters are excerpted below.

  • I wish I could put into words how your visit really resonated with me, and made something that was just scary stories and images into something so real.  I can assure you that many of us feel very differently about this material now, and I can tell from conversations with my classmates that it’s more real for them.  I hope you continue to speak to students like you did to us.
  • All the things we’re taught are presented to us in books or videos.  No real-life person has ever come in to talk to me about something so extraordinary and important.  This experience will stick with me for a very, very long time.  Thank you so, so much!
  • It’s one thing for a student, like myself, to read a book about the Holocaust, but it’s an entirely different experience to hear a personal story.  Having heard your story was the most important part of this course yet.
  • Just like the film “Paper Clips” inspired you to write your book, you have inspired me to not take life for granted and to cherish every moment.
  • I am sorry that you never asked your mom the questions you wanted to ask, but I think that deep in your mind you really didn’t want to know the truth. ….. I also think you should get a candy bar every time you talk with a class.  That would make the whole experience sweeter.
  • This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.  It truly made the Holocaust personal, much more than any book or story can in 50 years.  I can empathize much more now.
  • There is no way for me to know what it’s like to open up about such an experience as the Holocaust.  I do understand, however, that it takes determination and courage of another kind.  You answered our questions, giving truly lasting answers, like “I don’t really blame the soldiers who are trained to obey.  The leaders are to blame.”  This is something I’ve always wondered.  For your honesty, courage, enlightening, remembering, sharing – thank you truly.

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