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Column: The Whiteboard Jungle: Students are losing their understanding about horrific tragedies in the past

It is hard to believe that three-fourths of a century ago, the D-Day Normandy invasion occurred on June 6, 1944, a major turning point leading to the end of World War II.

Reading stories about veterans making the journey back to France for the 75th commemoration is a reminder about how few World War II servicemen are still alive — under half a million.

Time is running out for young people to hear firsthand what World War II was like, and to hear from Holocaust survivors, for they too are dying off — only 400,000 remain.

Soon, students will only learn about these major historic events from textbooks and videos.


With the world increasingly rife with fake news and debunkers of facts, the rallying cries of “Remember Pearl Harbor” and “Never Again” will evaporate.

In fact, just last year after the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting, a hashtag “Never Again” was used to label school shootings, effectively wiping away its original meaning about the six million Jewish people who were exterminated.

Two-thirds of millennials don’t know anything about Auschwitz, according to a 2018 study released by the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Meanwhile, in an Anti-Defamation League study, there was a doubling of anti-Semitic assaults in the United States last year, which included the deadliest mass shooting of Jews in the United States at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.


The Holocaust is part of the California History-Social Science Framework, one of 11 states that require such instruction.

That means 39 other states do not mandate the teaching of the most heinous grand-scale mechanization of killing the world has ever known.

Is there a connection between the lack of teaching and the rise of hatred?

The Poway synagogue attack was just a few weeks ago. And this week, two students from Palos Verdes High School made the news for an online post of a “promposal” sign which spelled out the N-word.

The photo of them holding up the sign and laughing hysterically reminds us about how much young people need to learn.

They also need to learn that colleges and employers have access to the internet.

Remember, these are kids from high economic backgrounds who will enter the workforce and, while they may make money, they will not make the world a better place with such a lack of sensitivity of people unlike themselves.

Currently, my students are studying the Holocaust and reading “Night,” Elie Wiesel’s memoir about his year in Auschwitz as a 15-year-old.


We could be right in the middle of a tender moment between Elie and his father struggling to find food, but as soon as the passing bell rings, students quickly slam the books shut and head for the exits as if they sit on joy buzzers, quickly plugging in their earbuds and texting friends.

Earlier this year, Holocaust survivors visited Hoover High. I had a student TV crew videotape the event.

As these frail, elderly people shared the most traumatic experiences of their lives, there in the front row, center seat, was a girl whose head was down.

Not only should that student be ashamed, so should the teacher who did not properly monitor or prepare the students for this outing.

One would think that with a large Armenian population, these students would have more motivation to learn about genocide from people who escaped it.

As a teacher, it is sometimes disappointing to recognize that no matter how talented some of my students may be, their maturity lags behind due to their brains not fully developing until a decade later. That is why auto insurance rates are so high for young drivers and don’t drop until age 25.

Every year, I teach William Stafford’s “Fifteen,” a poem about a teen who upon discovering a riderless motorcycle gets on the bike.

After revving the engine, the 15-year-old decides he is not ready to take the motorcycle on his life’s journey.


“He stood there, fifteen” ends the poem.

Parents and teachers need to make sure their children are not “riderless” and guide them toward becoming better informed people.

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

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