by George J Elbaum
Milpitas High School (MHS) has a large and highly diverse student body – 3200 students, 38% Asian, 22% Filipino, 20% Hispanic, 20% White, and 4% African-American – and was the very first school in northern California to develop a Facing History course. Jack Weinstein, Facing History’s Director, taught at MHS from 1978 to 1997 and integrated Facing History’s resources early on within many of the school’s English courses. Then, in 1990, he developed a full-semester Facing History course focused on the Holocaust and Human Behavior. That course was an inter-disciplinary English and Social Studies course for 3 years, and then it evolved into a Social Studies elective focused not only on the Holocaust but on multiple case studies of genocide, human rights, and issues of race in American history. When Weinstein left MHS in 1997 to establish the Bay Area office of Facing History, it was continued by other teachers so the course is among the longest-running electives in the school’s history. In addition, nearly all freshman English courses now include a multi-week unit on the Holocaust with the study of Elie Wiesel’s Night as its centerpiece.
This was my second visit to MHS, and the 300-some students attending this talk were again well-prepared – most were from the multiple freshman English courses taught by Lindsay Mohundro, who organized the event, and Lynn Marozeck, Annie Marple, Ginger Roy and Skyler Draeger, all teachers who clearly passed their own enthusiasm to their students. Arrangements for my talk and the introduction were again made by Jack Weinstein of Facing History.
LETTERS FROM STUDENTS
Arriving home after an extensive trip abroad, the ton of mail that awaited us included a packet of letters from Milpitas High School students plus a very touching one from teacher Lindsay Mohundro. My wife Mimi and I read them together at the dinner table, as we have done in the past. We were truly touched by the understanding and emotion shown in these letters, and I had a sense of deep gratitude for their openness and thoughtful feedback. The specific statements and phrases that particularly resonated with us are listed below.
- I was most affected by your statement that as human beings we need to stand for something, not against something. All too often as humans we think of the things that divide us and make us different, not the things that bind us together, and your words encourage us to take positive action.
- You could have easily become bitter and vengeful after your experiences, but instead you chose to teach others to question injustice.
- Textbooks teach us about the Nazis and their genocide, but as they are entirely factual accounts, it was difficult to humanize the millions of lives that were exterminated in the war. Seeing you in front of us and hearing you talk helped me to take in the atrocities that had been committed against humanity.
- It was easy to detach myself from history and live in comfort, but you helped me remember that history was made by real human beings, each with a life and purpose.
- It simply amazed me how you did not let your past get in the way of being happy and having hope for the future.
- I feel like your lecture has changed me a bit. I wonder if I could find the courage to stand up for complete strangers who were being victimized. It’s scary because I know that there is a possibility where I would be too cowardly to stand up for those people. I want to genuinely reach out to someone in need and offer comfort and safety.