Learned Humanity


While in DC this past week for the Bammy Awards I had the chance to tour the Holocaust Museum with a few colleagues. It was powerful, moving, and saddening. I left convinced more than ever that what we do matters, and matters mightily.

Wandering the beautifully and hauntingly constructed museum, the visceral taste of blind bigotry seared images of horrific suffering deep in my brain and heart. I wept for the children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, friendships, communities, and cultures torn asunder by cold-blooded intolerance and ignorance. I wept for the pain of the survivors,  and more for the fear and suffering of the mothers and grandmothers, shorn of clothes, holding their babes and children, and crammed into gas chambers where choking, noxious, claustrophobic death awaited.

We can be horrible, us humans.

It is no wonder that we as a race continue to grapple with the genocide of the Holocaust–to understand humanity in the absence of humanity and hopefully cull from it what wisdom we can.

As we explored the hallowed monument to a people’s suffering, I was reminded of a quote from Haim Ginott, Holocaust survivor.

Dear Teacher,

I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness. Gas chambers built by LEARNED engineers, children poisoned by EDUCATED physicians; infants killed by TRAINED nurses, women and babies shot and burned by HIGH SCHOOL and COLLEGE graduates.

So I am suspicious of education. My request is: help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmann’s.

Reading, writing and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more humane.

As we move forward and think about putting students first, I want to remember those who’ve suffered under the learned, the educated, and the unenlightened. If we endeavor for anything in our schools and learning communities, it seems imperative that we first and foremost strive for equity, equality, and justice.

Tolerance, compassion, and the steadfast cultivation of moral courage must be the common core of our learning communities, across the nation, and around the world, if we are to adequately remember those who’ve suffered such atrocities.

Image: Michael Brenenbaum

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13 Responses to “Learned Humanity”

  1. swpax
    September 16, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

    Very powerful, poignant, well stated reflection. Study of the Holocaust was the most profound of my secondary & undergraduate years,and I now read/teach Night each year.
    This is my first visit to your blog and a moving one at that. To top it off I just scrolled by your Kurt Hahn quote, a quote that was key to my development as an outdoor educator and later (now) also as a special educator. I carry that quote and Hahn’s philosophy/impact in my heart and soul. He was the man!
    Glad I stopped by. Thanks for such a meaningful post.

    • jasonflom
      September 17, 2012 at 9:24 am #

      Thanks, Shawn. I agree about the profoundness of Holocaust study. I also taught Night with my 8th graders and was always impressed with their empathetic embrace of the suffering and depth of understanding. 

      Funny about the Kurt Hahn quote, I first read that when I started working at Outward Bound and it had a similar effect on me. After OB while I was still teaching, it was a quote that I always had posted somewhere. He was the man, you are absolutely right. 

      I appreciate the comment. Cheers.  


    • swpax
      September 17, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

      You’re welcome, Jason. Yes, empathy is a powerful lesson from reading Night. We explore its relevance to social relations within the school, community, media, etc. We are not ethnically diverse in my little part of the world, but we are economically. Another lesson we draw from it is a sense of perspective and gratitude for what we have in our lives while exploring ways to cherish what we have and to approach our problems in comparison to the plight of the victims.

      What OB did you work for? I seriously considered the dive into OB, was pursuing their Florida at-risk adolescent program, but by the time I was doing this I was also proposing to marry my wife and looking to settle into domestic family-hood: the greatest adventure of them all! I did have the great opportunity to work with many OB’ers at Summit Achievement in Fryeburg, ME, leading trips and working some adventure therapy with at-risk teens throughout the White Mountains. Alas, $91 per diem does not a family raise.

      It is sincerely a pleasure to connect with you. I look forward to more discussion and sharing.


    • jasonflom
      September 17, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

      Hey Shawn, 

      When you think about it, there was little ethnic diversity in Germany, as well. Basically just religious, sexual orientation, and lifestyle. So, as you’ve shown, the lessons from Night and the Holocaust speak to universal truths that can be applied in any context. 
      I worked for North Carolina OB. And no, $91 per diem AND being away for 3 weeks, does not a family raise. 🙂 


  2. September 17, 2012 at 4:09 am #

    Must read MT@JasonFlom"Learned Humanity"http://t.co/qajfBt3N Reflections Holocaust museum visit w @AngelaMaiers @shannonmmiller @TeacherCast

  3. September 17, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    Learned Humanity http://t.co/cpPN74Zs via @zite

  4. September 17, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    Learned Humanity http://t.co/cpPN74Zs via @zite

  5. September 17, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    Learned Humanity http://t.co/cpPN74Zs via @zite

  6. September 17, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    Learned Humanity #fhuedu508 #fhuedu610 http://t.co/MlTDHTgd

  7. September 17, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

    I wish the “monsters” creating the CCSS agreed….

    Wonderful read…thank you for reminding all of us why we teach.

    • jasonflom
      September 17, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

      Thanks, Paul. 

  8. September 17, 2012 at 9:41 pm #

    Everyone needs to read this post…RT @JasonFlom: "Learned Humanity" http://t.co/7wRe9M7N Reflections on Holocaust museum visit #bammyawards

  9. September 17, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    If you need to be reminded about why you teach @JasonFlom: "Learned Humanity" http://t.co/ob3YnZcK

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