On a recent field trip, I got to experience the Holocaust Museum, encountered some pro-life marchers and struggled with putting the message of the museum into practice in everyday life.
Thanks to our college and generous funds from a donor, we were able to organize a field trip to Washington to take students to the Holocaust Museum. It was sandwiched between the day that commemorates the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and Holocaust Memorial Day so the museum was packed.
A number of the attendees were high school students sporting pro-life group T-shirts with different groups having a different theme. I chatted with people from Oklahoma, Missouri and other states far from Washington. I thought it was a positive thing as they packed into the museum. It was so crowded it took an hour to get inside.
But that was before I saw how many of these students reacted. A bunch blew through the museum, barely stopping to see the artifacts and read the messages despite the fact both were pretty powerful. The entire bottom floor was crowded with students sitting, looking at their cell phones, ignoring some pretty alarming images and stories all around them.
“Look at them,” a mom sporting a March for Life shirt snapped at me in disgust, pointing at the students several floors below. “Most of our group is down there, and the other teachers too. They’re just playing around on the internet,” she told me.
A few students with her in matching shirts also looked down in shock.
“And we just got here,” one told me.
Others told me about high school students laughing and giggling throughout. A student told me when they were getting near the shoes exhibit, a high schooler smiled and said, “Now we’re getting to the best part.”
That evening, we interviewed our LaGrange College students about the experience for a graduate student’s project. Conservative, liberal or moderate, they all had detailed specific stories to tell about what they saw and experienced in the museum over the four-plus hours we spent inside. They really got the sobering lessons that could be learned from the Holocaust, coming up with ideas I hadn’t considered.
There’s a debate right now about whether to teach or even show images of the Holocaust to students. My conclusion is we definitely need to.
Perhaps it’s best to prepare them beforehand. Our college chaplain and our project leader, who is Jewish, met with our college students the night before, and both focused heavily on what to expect, what to look for and what to learn. Clearly the mom teacher of the March for Life movement from the Midwest had done the same, and her conservative students — and some other march for life students in matching shirts — looked like the message was sinking in for them.
It’s too important of a message to skip. There were a dozen elderly Holocaust survivors there, but there will be fewer each year.
The question is what will you, the reader, do. Will you reply to Holocaust deniers on the Internet when they blast their messages of hate on social media? Will you see that the kids get educated about these horrors of history? Will you use the experience to educate so that such atrocities are never repeated? It’s a lesson for students of all ideologies.