by George J Elbaum
Tennyson High School is a comprehensive public high school in Hayward, CA, with approximately 1,300 students. The school is extremely diverse and serves many students for whom English is a second language. In both social studies and English courses, teachers make use of resources from Facing History and Ourselves to teach about the Holocaust as well as other difficult subjects.
This was my second visit to Tennyson (first time was last May), and it was preceded by preparatory sessions by Jack Weinstein, Sr. Program Advisor for Facing History and Ourselves, with the school’s English and World History classes. Some of the topics students had been exposed to prior to my talk included a strong review of the basic historical narrative of the Holocaust, an introduction to the evolution of Nazi policy, and a chance to ask questions about Jewish life in Europe and about Judaism in general. The students had also visited the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, so that their study of Elie Wiesel’s Night and their encounter with a survivor of the Holocaust would not be the only exposure to shape their knowledge about Jews and Judaism.
My talk was organized by World History teacher Jaynee Ruiz (who also took most of the photos) and English teacher Charlie Stephens, and arranged by Facing History’s Jack Weinstein, who gave the introduction. Jack also participated in the Q & A, which started in a quite restrained mode but blossomed into a more robust series of exchanges that touched on questions of history, philosophy, theology, and more personal questions about politics today and the parallels and distinctions that I see between current and historical events.
Among the more interesting questions posed were “Are you ever angry at the world because of what happened in your life?” and “Did your childhood change your faith in God, or do you still believe in God?” Some of the heartfelt questions asked by these sophomores made my visit to Tennyson a truly enjoyable experience, and hopefully this was true for the students, also.