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Friday Nugget Blogging


Mom. High-school is really depressing. No wonder so many kids drop out. Did you know that during the Holocaust doctors used to do science experiments on children? Like cutting twins in half and sewing their body parts together?

No. I didn’t know. Or at least, I didn’t know that you were going to know that… at the tender age of fourteen.

Yep, my older child has made a few choice observations during this first week of high-school: where to start? First of all, she was none too enthusiastic about the form we were asked to sign giving the US military permission to add her barely-out-of-middle-school name to their roster of potential recruits. (For pity’s sake. Could we hurry up and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, already? Seriously.) OK, OK, at least they asked permission.

On the other hand, she was thrilled that the racial categories on the form we were asked to fill out on her behalf qualified her to claim she is “white” even though her birth father is of Middle Eastern descent. Stunningly, the USG does not consider it relevant, from the perspective of race politics, to differentiate children of Middle Eastern descent from those of European descent. [WTF? And why do I, her parent, get to choose for her whether to accept the USG’s “white” designation or write her in as “multiracial” instead?]

But this one took the cake: three days into ninth grade she has already read Night by Elie Wiesel. And, our recently-proud-to-be-in-high-school-big-girl is also now back to sleeping with her lights on.

Really. Would it have been too much, World Civilization teacher, to excite the kids with the great achievements of human history – the pyramids, Beethoven, the invention of writing – before shoving them into the deep, cold pit of Nazi bio-horrors?

Now, I’m all for teaching the Holocaust to high-schoolers – understanding something about what life is/has been like under totalitarianism is probably one of the best ways to help students appreciate our political system, second only to modeling civil liberties in our high-schools – but even I ease my college students into the worst parts of atrocity literature. (Yes, there are bad, worse and worst parts.)

Later, however, it turned out I was blaming the wrong teacher: this assignment came from English, not World Civilization. “Oh,” I said to my daughter. “So what are you studying in World Civ?” (The pyramids? Beethoven? The invention of writing?)

Oh, you know, delicious subjects like the destruction of Pompeii. Mom, if a volcano ever exploded on our village, would you shelter my body as we were devoured in molten ash?

Yes. And you may keep sleeping with the lights on after all. Sheesh.

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  • Vance Maverick

    This was fun. Is the curriculum all horrors and no glories, or is that just this week’s diet?

  • My father is a first generation Iranian immigrant and I never had any sane alternative to “White” on the forms. I tended to not put one down or to pick other. It certainly seemed relevant in 6th-8th grades when a few kids were threatening me (because of the hostage crises).

    Of course, our standard fallback was always Italian! “Bijan Parsia” reads to many people as if I have a French first name and an Italian last name and hey, those folks can get fairly dark, right?!


  • Mike

    Whoof. Three points here…

    FIrst, the military thing is just fucked, but unfortunately, such is life until we become a saner nation and get the military out of our high schools. Which I wish could be tomorrow, but YAY MILITARY GUN FETISH. America exhausts me at times.

    Second, the racial thing. I can’t speak to this at all; white has always described my people. Not as white as the British (it’s the red cheeks) but white. The idea that we’re still operating on as ridiculous a system as you describe is infuriating. My letter to Sen. Harkin – drafted and sent.

    Third, (wherein I take some issue) “Night”/Pompeii. While I kind of see (although not entirely, as I’m not a parent) your objections, the fact remains that human history is brutal. The vast majority of it is people doing stupid, awful things to each other. If I recall my Zinn correctly, that was much of the point that he made: while it’s all well and good to teach the good that humanity’s done, teaching the evil is just as vital so that we can understand and appreciate the importance of the good. We’ve been taught since birth about all the good humanity’s done; it’s impossible to escape elementary school without an appreciation for how free and good we are. High school, ideally, provides some much needed anti-BS to that propaganda.

  • ajay

    My father is a first generation Iranian immigrant and I never had any sane alternative to “White” on the forms

    “Caucasian” would seem more or less literally accurate. As would “Aryan”, of course.

  • Emma

    Wow. Australian school forms have an optional question where you can say if you have Aboriginal or Islander heritage. Otherwise, no mention of race of any kind. Why is it necessary?
    And military registration in high schools? Wow. Just wow.
    That’s weird, just so you know.

  • Hanspeter

    We were assigned The Color Purple as part of our summer reading list (Honors English) between 8th and 9th grade (1990, so not ancient, not recent). No one really batted an eye.

    We were also assigned Jane Eyre, so maybe the horrors of that desensitized us to The Color Purple.

  • Yeah, I don’t know about point 3. My college classes on American history are brutally depressing. Would I not start a high school history class with whites fucking over Indians, move on to Puritan religious intolerance, and then to spend a very very long time on slavery? Of course I would.

    Of course, I don’t have a 14 year old.

  • Jonathan

    I’m with Erik Loomis. IIRC, my 9th grade history was the Russian Revolution and then WWII, neither of which are particularly cheery. And they give Anne Frank to younger kids to read.

  • Bobby Thomson

    The holocaust is covered in the middle school curriculum these days.

    That’s not such a bad thing. Statistically speaking, children commit a disproportionate amount of war crimes.

    • DocAmazing

      Statistically speaking, children commit a disproportionate amount of war crimes.

      Next up: The Hague Jr., wherein child soldiers with rosy cheeks use cute mispronunciations to to describe their wacky exploits in the Lord’s Army. The soundtrack: “I love you, you love me, in the field artillery…”

      • joel hanes

        “You in the West have the wrong idea. Children make great soldiers. They are strong and fast and they are very brave.” Mohammad Aqa Humayun Khadim, “Humayn” Uzbek commander and fief-holder Bolak Kushlaq, near Taloquan, Afghanistan fifteen years old
        quoted in “War In The Dark” by Tim Judah NYRB 29 Nov 2001

  • Nick

    It’s entirely possible that the decision to handle Night at this point in the year is dictated by the teacher’s supervisor (“All classes will do a unit on night in September so the whole class can have a shared conversation/cross-curricular activity!”) or by the availability of resources (“every other English teacher has signed the book out for October-May…I guess we’re covering it in September!”). It’s also difficult to avoid having a reaction to that book, which makes it much more likely you’ll be able to draw student sinto thinking about it, writing about it, and discussing it.

  • tenacitus

    As people have said upthread people of Iranian descent are classified as white/caucasian since their land actually means Land of the Aryans. I personally think that is is an appropriate racial category for Iranians however it is not appropriate for Arabs and other Semitic people.

    Know if they collected data on ethnicity such as French, German, Iranian, Armenian then that is a whole nother kettle of cuttlefish. I guess that I am assuming that your daughter’s father is from Iran and not the palce the Romans called Syria or Palestine.

  • Halloween Jack

    Charli, IANAP (I am not a parent), but aside from the fact that your daughter has access to much, much worse via the Internet, I have to say that, no, it’s not too soon for a fourteen-year-old or however old she is to start learning about this stuff. My high school had presentations by Holocaust survivors who showed us their number tattoos. I also had a high school classmate, a second-generation German-American, casually tell me about how her mother (herself a teenager when Berlin fell in 1945) had been gang-raped by Russian soldiers. The modern-day equivalent would be refugees from the Balkans or the Congo, if they ever make it over here. The worst thing that you could do would be to try to put your daughter in a plastic bubble. A few sleepless nights aren’t going to kill her.

  • pv

    I sympathize. Teaching about the Holocaust is important, but I’m not sure what age it becomes appropriate to teach the grisly, horrifying specific details like that. Maybe 14, maybe not.

    I am prone to bouts of despair, and I have two small children. I desire as much as I can to put off their learning the detailed, specific reasons why they might despair until they are old enough to learn them without, well, needing to sleep with the light on.

    • pv

      To put it another way, the question, to me, is about specific detail.

      I raise my kids vegetarian, and tell them we don’t eat animals and we don’t kill things; I do not show them video of slaughterhouses.

      What parts of a horror like the Holocaust are necessary for a child to know at what age? I don’t have the answer, but understand the concern.

  • joel hanes

    Your daughter’s innocence is a testament to the cowardice and complicity of today’s corporate media.

    During the Viet Nam War, accurate and sometimes unflinching reportage on evening TV news confronted Americans with what their tax dollars were doing in SE Asia. Thus, in 1969 the entire nation learned about My Lai, and a few years later we all saw this famous photo.

    I read Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee in the tenth grade. I will never forget that at Wounded Knee, the surrounded Lakota had already surrendered and mostly disarmed when the 7th Cavalry under Forsyth opened fire with four high-caliber Gatling-style “Hotchkiss guns”, indiscriminately mowing down men, women, and children as they attempted to flee.

    Wait until your daughter learns that the Abu Ghraib pictures document Americans torturing children, women, and men (some to the point of death), and raping men and women.

    • Wim

      Just a short clarification: the Hotchkiss gun was a light breech-loading cannon. It was not a ‘Gatling-style’ gun, which was (and is) a multiple-barreled rapid-fire weapon. The Hotchkiss had one barrel, and had to be reloaded after each and every shot.

      It’s as easy to get this sort of thing right as to go off half-cocked with misinformation. Of course the act was just as reprehensible, and the victims were just as dead, whether they were raked by machine gun fire or bombarded by light artillery. I don’t see the necessity of distorting the historical record to try to have it both ways.

  • Hell, my hippy-run school gave us sex-ed in 4th grade and started us on the Holocaust in 6th. (Regular cirriculum supplemented by students because there were a number of survivor’s grandchildren in my school).

    Yeah, I guess it freaked us out a bit at first, but we were more worried about nuclear war anyway so, meh.

  • Ginger Yellow

    I don’t really see the issue with Night (although to be fair I haven’t read that specific book). I mean, I’d read If This Is A Man at the age of ten and seen Shoah at 14. Given that children are a) incredibly cruel, b) impressionable, and c) highly alert to conformity/non-conformity, I think it’s absolutely appropriate that they should be confronted with the horrors of the Holocaust at a young age.

    • Simple Mind

      Cruel man.

  • dave

    Anything’s better than Twilight.

  • My daughters all had Holocaust-heavy reading in high school, and although I’d have liked it if there’d been some more upbeat material in the curriculum, as I think back on what I was assigned 40 years ago what we got was far from ponies and rainbows. What I recall includes A Separate Peace, Macbeth, Hedda Gabler, and Lord of the Flies. Now that I think of it, there was a pony– Steinbeck’s red one. Of the works listed I hated that most of all.

  • Jager

    High School in the 60’s:

    Presentation by a class mate’s father, a Army journalist in WW2, of his pictures of the camps. His pictures were some of the very first taken, shown to us with his personal recollections.

    Half hour presentations by the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard in two one hour sessions for all boys our senior year.

    Compared to the day to day,depressing high school drudgery, these events seemed at the time to be high points.

  • Bart

    Interesting that the military is keeping lists of 9th graders. In my day we registered for the draft at 18.

    However, if endless war is our lot, names must be taken.

    • Henry Holland

      I grew up on Air Force bases and to say I developed an intense loathing for military life is an understatement.

      So, there I am, 18 or 19, and my dad (now retired) is at his wits end about how to get me more motivated to do anything besides get stoned and listen to Dark Side of the Moon on headphones.

      He takes me to the local military recruiting station, where I meet a guy I knew in high school. I had my Yes Relayer t-shirt on, long hair, the whole 70’s stoner thing. He finishes his spiel and I say to him “Why would I want to kill someone who is no threat to me just because the government tells me to?”.

      That ex-classmate looked like he was going to leap over the desk and pound me, but my dad gets up, shakes his hand, says “Sorry for wasting your time” and pushes me outside. We barely talked to each other for weeks after that.

      I’m sorry, but I think an all-volunteer military is the best way to go, there’ll always be a steady supply of people willing to join.

  • epist

    In re the racial classification thing;

    When I was applying to US grad schools in the late 90s I began getting little forms in the mail from the schools that requested that I indicate my race, for purposes of affirmative action/equal opportunity policies implemented by the schools.

    As someone who has a last name that is the equivalent of ‘Smith’ in Arabic (seriously, I never saw my name referenced in any media save as a generic tag for ‘Arab’ in order to mock it until I was well into my 20s) I figured that there had to be a special category for me. Nope. According to every person I could find to ask and every printed guide, Arabs (construed broadly to mean everyone from Tunisia to Iran and from Turkey to Yemen) are white. Hunh.

    My thoughts at the time were: What, exactly is this ‘racial profiling’ I’m hearing so much about? What race are we profiling, again?

  • Emily

    Huh. In general my middle school and high school class mates were all about combing through Holocaust history for particularly gruesome details. They were after the frisson of horror, I think.

  • Simple Mind

    Proud to say that we read Mark Twain and Shakespeare when I went to high school. Charlie, get thy daughter to a Quaker private school now. That HS faculty are freaks and sadists.

  • Sherri

    My daughter’s not doing Night until later this year (10th grade) but that’s because they were focused on Pacific Rim last year, and did Hiroshima last year. My impression is that more adult themes are introduced into the literature at earlier grades than they were when I was in school. Not that I think they should teach a triumphaiist view of history, but it is difficult when you have a sensitive child.

  • Ohio Mom

    Wait! You do not have to give your high-schooler’s name to the military. There is such a thing as an “opt-out” form but many school districts will not tell you this. You can get more information from the Quakers or the ACLU.


    Little know fun fact: The requirement for high schools to share their rosters with the military was mandated as part of NCLB. Just another reason to hate NCLB, and another reason to be pissed that the present administration didn’t junk the whole thing.

  • pat

    I seem to remember that when my kids were in 4th – 6th grades, an awful lot of their school reading dealt with homelessness or the Holocaust (I guess not in graphic detail). I kept wishing for something fun once in a while.

  • Aardvark Cheeselog

    When I was 14 I used to search out stuff like this. I remember about that time trying to read Gulag Archipelago, but I bogged down under the length and style, not the content.

    But then, I was a weird kid.

  • rickhavoc

    Even every ‘revolutionary’ nature documentary these days, all those Blue Planet Earth porn fests, are little more than animals alternately screwing and devouring (with slo-mo replay). Must Dick Cheney be the Executive Producer of Everything?

    • witless chum

      I grew up with veterinarians for parents, so “Bambi” never sat right with me and the reality of what happens when you open up a mammal was never too shocking. I probably saw my first surgery before I can remember. But the “Earth” things? I don’t remember the ones that get shown on Discovery being very gory.

      I was also a thrash metal fan at 14, so I had Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer and Pantera telling me about interesting things like the Holocaust. Not to mention an interest in jet planes, which drove me to learn about what exactly the B-52s that flew over were for. And I absorbed the knowledge from my parents and PBS that there was a crazy old man in White House who might decide to blow up the world.

      And we did it uphill both ways and we liked it.

  • RP

    Jeez, I remember having Holocaust discussions in class in 5th grade (if only because I mentioned it in my diary at the time – I was peeved at my goyishe crush because he didn’t take it seriously enough). None of it was news to me: I had known about the Holocaust in great detail for years because I grew up Jewish. It wasn’t too sanitized either: one thing in my diary entry pointed out that my grandparents came from a country where 97% of the Jews were killed.

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