Yesterday, I visited the site of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site in Germany. It was a moving, reflective, learning experience. Even though I am in Europe for “vacation”, I felt that it was important, for two reasons, to visit Dachau.
The first one is because of my dear friend, Holocaust survivor Philip Riteman (https://wordpress.com/post/karenpower.blog/316) who had survived both Auschwitz and Dachau. Mr. Riteman passed in August 2018 and my biggest regret is that I can not have a conversation with him again; knowing what I know now and feeling what I feel after the visit to Dachau. Secondly, I am a life-long learner. I don’t think that I could come to Germany and not take the opportunity to learn more about the history that has given us the life and freedom that we have today.
I know that that I write this blog every week with the intention of supporting the district leaders, principals and teachers whom I work with in the business of school improvement. I also acknowledge that this may not directly give any advice or wisdom as you consider what to do next in your work as an educator. I will do my very best to make an connection for you as I reflect on what I heard, saw and experienced at the memorial site.
Merriam-Webster defines “memorial” as serving to preserve remembrance/something that keeps remembrance alive. As each generation moves further away from World War I and II and the last veterans and survivors are among us, remembering is going to be up to each of us. What knowledge that is understood and passed on to the next generation is going to depend on the respect that we have for educating one another- for taking the time to learn, reflect and consider how the past impacts the present and certainly, the future.
The students in front of us each and every day are our future. We hear and say this often and we have great opportunities to watch them lead and take their place as “influencers” in the world. Greta Thunberg and Autumn Peltier come to mind as two young adults who have taken risks and are speaking from their hearts to help us all understand our current reality. Greta and Autumn were the same age as Philip when he was captured and taken to Auschwitz. His voice and influence on us may not be through the platform that Greta and Autumn can have but he and other survivors have worked hard to help us understand.
Philip spent many years going from school to school, sharing his very difficult and emotional story, hoping that students and adults could understand the need for us to “love not hate”. This was a simple but, tremendously important message, from a horrific life experience. Any time that I had a chance to talk to him, this was his mantra. He was a forgiving, loving man despite what he experienced and he wanted us all to understand and appreciate the lives we lived.
We can not erase history and what happened in the past. With knowledge, wisdom, guidance and love, generations to come will make sound decisions. These generations are influenced everyday by the educators in front of them; sharing experiences, allowing discovery and freedom of speech and acknowledging their opinions and beliefs. We can not and do not need to take every student to Dachau but we do need to continue to build understanding of history and our world.
Educators do so much to help students see beyond the four walls of the classroom and this must always be part of the relevancy of teaching and learning. It is wise and necessary, as an educator, to never underestimate your power to impact and influence. Recently, I overheard a teacher telling a class that he cared so much because he never knows who might be sitting in front of him- the next leader of a country, a scientist or doctor who will save lives, or, a young person who will experience great adversity like Philip did and go on to influence hundreds of thousands by sharing his story.
This is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. A time to reflect and be grateful for the richness in our lives. A time to remember and appreciate what has shaped our stories. A time to celebrate the privilege that we have to be educated and to live in a world that we can experience and share with others. With gratitude, I say good bye for another week. I appreciate you and the opportunity that I have to live and work freely; it has never had more meaning then it does this week.