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The Whiteboard Jungle: Lack of knowledge about tragedies in the past does not portend well for the future

Two-thirds of millennials (born between 1981-1996) can't identify Auschwitz as a concentration camp. Worse, nearly one-quarter aren't sure if they ever heard the word Holocaust.

What does this say about the knowledge of those younger than 22?

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These are the results from a study commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Not only do they not know about the largest concentration camp where 1.1 million Jews were exterminated, 20% of all Americans do not think that "it is important to keep teaching about the Holocaust."

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This does not bode well for it not happening again.

Amazing that people walk around with a personal computer in their back pocket, with vast knowledge literally at their fingertips, yet so much of its use is wasted on texting, social media and checking the time (many younger people can't read an analog clock).

They may know how to manipulate the devices, but are ignorant on how to sift through the detritus and distractions to find meaningful information.

Owning a smart phone does not make one smart.

In addition to the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were killed, not 2 million according to nearly half of millennials, two other historic tragedies are commemorated this month: the Armenian Genocide and the Columbine High School shooting.

While one could explain away the foggy awareness of World War II, what accounts for the misconceptions about Columbine which transpired a mere 19 years ago?

Most people think of Columbine as the first mass school shooting in U.S. history when actually it was a failed bombing. The leader of the two culprits was enamored with outdoing the Oklahoma City bombing death total of 168. Fortunately, the fuses were faulty — only one of the 40 bombs went off.

The impression of the event is that it lasted hours. In reality, the whole occurrence lasted 47 minutes before they both killed themselves. Yet officer training at the time was to create a perimeter around the area, waiting until it was safe for them to move in.

Today, the protocol is for law enforcement to go where the shooting is happening in order to bring down the shooter.

This slower approach likely led to the death of the sole teacher victim, Dave Sanders, who bled out over three hours. Even though Eagle Scouts were with the fallen coach and did what they could, it is heartbreaking to learn that despite 911 operators' reassurances that help was on the way, help was too late in coming.

People think the two perpetrators were outcasts, bullied by their peers. Not true. In fact, these two bullied others, and they both had friends. Yet, because of this inaccuracy, the topic of bullying became embedded in school curriculum across the United States as a way to prevent another Columbine from happening.

And both teens lived in middle-class neighborhoods with both parents, not broken homes.

The real story of Columbine conflicts with the perception of it which is why education is so vital.

In today's times, facts and the truth have been battered beyond recognition by our political leaders.

Parents and teachers must teach their children about the past. If nothing else, young people need to be taught how to access factual information.

Not even a century has passed since the end of World War II, yet already younger people have lost track of significant world events of the 20th century. What does this portend 50 years from now? What important knowledge will be lost or distorted?

When Hitler prepared to invade Poland in 1939, he said with impunity in justifying the impending deaths of men, women, and children that "who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"

BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of "Smart Kids, Bad Schools" and "The $100,000 Teacher." He can be reached at www.brian-crosby.com.

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