April is Holocaust Awarneess month, and the central guiding question in my English III/IV class is “how do we represent the unspeakable?” We’re reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee as our anchoring novel (we’ve made it through five chapters, and the kids are already angry and frustrated and half our of their minds; I love it!). My class will start watching Dances with Wolves next week, and I suspect we’ll spend a fair bit of time talking about how we keep trying to understand the big tragedies of our history (World War II, the Holocaust, the massacre of the Native American peoples) and about the intersection of fiction and non-fiction in both text and film.
This Friday, the education outreach coordinator for the Holocaust Center (who I adore both for his incredible passion for the work that he does and the kindness and energy he radiates) is coming to address the entire school about the origins of genocide – we always ask, “how can something like this happen?” This afternoon, I’m meeting Martin for lunch so we can discuss his coming to the school to talk to the students about growing up in Nazi Germany and about how his perception of his childhood shifted irrevocably when he discovered that his father utilized slave labor from Auschwitz. (updated; he’s agreed to come to CHS on the 26th – the Monday after we get back from April break. I can’t wait!)
This may well be my favorite unit of this semester. This is a topic about which I feel most strongly (see my post below about what I think my real job as an English teacher is, and you’ll see how beautifully a unit about how human beings treat each other fits into asking the students to consider their own responsibility to themselves, their neighbors, and their societies). I’m still trying to figure out what writing task I’m going to set before them, or whether or not it is enough just to get them thinking in energetic and perhaps distinctly uncomfortable ways.
Perhaps it’s a good thing that we’re getting a week off in the middle of the month…