My 8th grade GOAL students are just finishing up their unit on the Holocaust. I'd say I was disappointed overall in what they got from the unit. They read several different Holocaust novels in literature circles, we read the play of The Diary of Ann Frank," and we watched a movie with historical footage and survivor accounts. The discussions just didn't get very deep, and they just didn't seem to be moved at all by the stories we studied. I've learned over the years of teaching middle school students to not take this personally. Some adolescents are just more ready than others to think deeply. Plus, you can never really know how much they're internalizing as they sit and shrug their shoulders in class. Today was a perfect example of that.
It was their last day in class to work on their project, basically a reflection of what they've learned during the unit about the characters in their books, how the Holocaust affected the world, and what lessons there are to learn today from studying the Holocaust. The classroom was quiet, and they were working hard because the deadline is looming. One of my students (I tell her she tests me... she's just one of those kids who needs to know why we're doing everything we're doing... it's good for me, but she tests me) raised her hand and quietly said, "I just don't get why there is war." 8 sets of eyes looked in my direction for answers. This led to the most meaningful discussion I've had with them so far this year.
We talked about reasons for war, and as with most good discussions, every question led to 10 more. I played Devil's Advocate, and they debated and discussed and questioned. Oil dependency. Vietnam. Islam. Holocaust survivors. The Crusades. Freedom. I teared up. I'm not kidding. I told them that if they left my class in May thinking about these kinds of questions, not just eating up what other people feed them about important issues, that I will have considered my time with them a success.
These kids are the leaders of tomorrow, and hopefully, they're going to grow up into adults with consciences who think about how their actions affect others and how they can solve the problems we've handed them on a silver platter. We didn't come up with a single answer today. I'm sure they left my room with 100 more questions than when they walked in. But they're thinking, and they're thinking deep. This is why I love my job.