[ An End to Intolerance (Volume 5 -- June 1997) ]

A Real Lesson

By Olivia Lacroze and Honey Kern
Cold Spring Harbor High School
New York, USA

Introduction written by Olivia:

It's interesting how two people interpret one idea differently. Mrs. Kern was defensive about this student's comment, but didn't want to show it or express her feelings whereas Olivia had to express her thoughts on this issue. Both teacher and student have compromised on each other's opinions. This proves that if people try, they can understand each other.

[ Honey Kern and Olivia Lacroze ]
Honey Kern and Olivia Lacroze

Our tenth grade English class had just finished reading Remarque's book, All Quiet on the Western Front, the story of WW I from a German boy's narration, and I think most of the students were interested in this book and enjoyed the film version when we finished. We had some lively discussions about war, weapons, Germany's loss, and the Treaty of Versailles. The book just led perfectly into the next book the class was going to read, and that was Elie Wiesel's autobiography, Night.

When I was in my period 4 class, and announced that we were going to read a non-fiction book about the Holocaust, Jews, and one young person's experience, one of my students said, loudly, "Why do we have to learn about the Jews? History is history, and it happened a long time ago."

I think the question was a valid one, but the tone in which it was said, just surprised me, I guess. The student sounded angry, and I felt that to go too far in explanation or defense of the book, Night, would be tricky. A few students tried to answer this girl; someone mentioned Stalin and the purges, but I had a feeling that the situation became antagonistic, and I felt uncomfortable but tried to be calm. Luckily, the bell rang, and after leaving the class, my head was still ringing with her question. I saw a colleague and told him what happened, and I'm glad now that he was just there to let me talk about the experience. We both agreed that it would be a challenge. I guess it was maybe only the second time I had faced this type of anger, which seemed deep-rooted in some kind of real hate.

I decided to keep a smile on my face the next day for all questions and to read the beginning of the book to the class. In fact, I was determined to read as much as possible so that all the students could ask questions whenever they arose. This student asked many questions, but then, from the beginning of school, I found her questions, in general, to be good ones, sincere ones, and so I thought, why should her new questions about the Jews, the ghettos, the concentration camps, be any different?

Over the course of this Holocaust unit, I brought in pictures, photos, and books that I have acquired from my trips to Poland. I like to pass them around. She was very interested, and then something happened.

I noticed that she lingered over the books, the photos. Her tone became softer when she asked questions in class. She still had excellent questions, but now they were specific, and they sounded as though she really wanted to know about this line in Wiesel's book, or about that picture in the Auschwitz books, or about the photos in my photo album.

I think she changed from the girl who asked her question with such vehemence on the first day. I know she did. Something happened, and because of that, I have asked her to share whatever it was, with me in the hopes that we can talk about it and co-write an article together for An End to Intolerance, the students' global magazine. She agreed; she told me that she thought it was a "good idea" and that she was going to be "honest." And so, I have written my version of what I think occurred from my perspective, and I hope to read her version tomorrow. I feel this unit with Wiesel's book has brought us closer. I hope I'm right.

I am writing this article because I greatly regret what I said at the beginning of February. It is something that I felt I should say to Mrs. Kern because I strongly felt it; however, by the end of the month my opinion changed, and it surprised Mrs. Kern.

Why do we always learn about the Holocaust? Why don't we ever learn about other groups of people who have been persecuted? I get tired of hearing about the Holocaust all the time! I felt that I offended my English teacher, but at least I let her know how I felt. She assigned the book Night, by Elie Wiesel, to be read. Unwillingly, I read it. I was ready to expect the same basic story of the Holocaust. For my benefit, this book was different. It pierced my heart and opened my eyes and mind. It made me realize how precious life is! I had to tell Mrs. Kern how wonderful, and at the same time depressing and effective, this book was for me. I told her that I was captured by it, and I meant it.

I thank her very much for trying to teach me about the Holocaust again. This experience made me more open-minded and very interested in working with Mrs. Kern and her projects about this subject. I guess my teacher proved to me that "It's never too late to learn."

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