by George J Elbaum
The high academic goals and commensurate achievements of Mission San Jose High School (MSJ) are best represented by the school’s rating as the Top Comprehensive Public High School in California for the past 3 years. MSJ was also ranked by US News and World Report as the 4th best open enrollment public high school nationwide, and Newsweek ranked MSJ 10th best in the U.S. for math and science, and 1st among public high schools. With these impressive rankings, 2011 graduation rate of MSJ is 99%, college enrollment rate is 96%, and its SAT scores (writing, reading, math) are more than 30% higher than state and national levels. My presentation at MSJ was for approximately 150 10th grade students in the combined College Prep and Honors classes of teachers Katherine Geers and Jennifer Moore. Each year the two teachers collaborate to teach a six-week course on Elie Wiesel’s Night and on the Holocaust and human behavior. (The Holocaust and Human Behavior is a book published by Facing History and Ourselves.) The course provides historical context and explores the choices individuals, groups, and governments made during the Holocaust. Katherine described their goals in this course as follows: “We want to build and improve our students’ communication and writing skills while simultaneously working to touch their hearts and minds. We strive to enrich their understanding, develop a stronger level of empathy, expand their definition of membership and widen their universe of obligation; so that they may make better choices and become productive members and active upstanders within our society.” From my observation, these lofty goals are enabled by both teachers’ personal commitment and enthusiasm.
My presentation was arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History, who described its goals and the “ever-diminishing opportunity” of hearing directly from Holocaust survivors. When Jack and I arrived at MSJ around noon, we were welcomed by Katherine and Jennifer with bagels & cookies “in case we had not had time for lunch” – very, very nice! MSJ’s Principal Sandra Prairie also attended the talk. (The photo gallery below has a (?) instead of a missing name. Pls send it to me via this weblog and I’ll insert it.)