Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Report card!

A daunting question          If gaining an education were a team sport with a regimen of disciplined study, how many would be willing to pay that price to learn? 10%?  50%? More? Every educator I’ve ever known has shared with me his or her concerns about those numbers in moments of self-evaluation. Many have told me that the old mantra, “even if you only touch one child,” has never worked for them. Likewise, an  almost equal number have said that the “no child left behind” model wears like a well polished shackle.

What should we, as teachers, expect? How do we judge success? Often, I wonder whether we’re expected to think that anything less than a one hundred percent success rate is unacceptable. Student evaluations appear to shift the critical administrative eye to that of our students. In either case, it’s hard not to feel outflanked.

That’s why I’ve devised my own (unoffical) measurement for success. Each semester, I use it. It has yet to fail me. Or should I say that its results suggest that I have yet to fail.

Here’s why. Each semester, I require that my students read Light One Candle, a memoir by Holocaust survivor, Solly Ganor. On the last day of class, I receive their term papers, papers that describe their personal responses to Solly’s book. Since I spend almost the entire semester helping (or cajoling) them to read the book and to work on their term paper, I feel that what they have to say is a fair indication of our mutual success (and especially that of Solly’s book).

What they’ve written, this time, may confirm that my goals for their educational growth have been partially met. If you care to make a judgement about that after reading a number of their comments, please do. Your evaluations, and theirs, are most important to me.

All but one student spoke highly of the experience of having to read Solly Ganor’s Holocaust memoir. That student wrote:

...overall I thought it was a good book but there were some parts that I did not understand at all. [n.b.: This student attended sporadically, and, despite my numerous offers to help anyone who had difficulties with the text or with their papers, never asked for help and never mentioned difficulties with it.] This student continues: ...and then there were times when it was hard to put down. I just feel that it should be the decision of the reader on whether or not to read this book. [n.b. Two weeks before the semester began, I e-mailed messages to each student about this book and instructed each student to read fifty pages prior to the first class. When we finally met, I repeated the assignment about the book, suggested that anyone who couldn’t or wouldn’t read it should take another Humanities class.]

from D. M.: ...I know this book has made me realize that I have taken life for granted and that I should be proud to have my freedom that I have now because to see what these poor people went through just kills me on the inside and makes me wish they never had to go through that terrible ordeal...Some people take life for granted and I know I used to be one of those people but now after reading Light One Candle and taking this Humanities class, I have realized that I should be proud of who I am and the freedom that I have.

from T.D.: ...I am glad this book was given to me to read. I have learned so much history from this book about how horrible people can be and just how much the Jewish community had to suffer for no apparent reason...This book will forever remain dear to me.

from M.G.: When I first ordered and received Light One Candle from Amazon.com, I thought it was going to be another book that I had to read to pass another college course...[But] I found myself being captivated by what I was reading...As I read what the Nazis had been doing to the Jewish civilization, I became angered at this. I hadn’t ever been so enraged by a work of literature like this in my life...Light One Candle was an eye opener for sure. Hands down, it was one of the best books I have read in my life.

from R.A.: ...Thanks, Solly, for sharing this amazing story. I have learned many things after all. I learned how to help others, appreciate that I am alive, and give thanks for the food and home I have. It was an honor to read this story...

from A.B.: ...Before I read Light One Candle, I did not give much thought to the Holocaust...After I finished this book I did much independent research on the topic of the Holocaust...This book really helped me appreciate everything I have in my life...As I was reading, I started to look around my room and my house and started to realize how great my living conditions are...After reading this book, I feel like I always took my parents for granted, and all of the things they do for me...This book has really taught me many life lessons that I probably wouldn’t have learned otherwise...

from P.B.: ...I am so glad to have had the opportunity to read your book...I am a homosexual and though I have never been through anything close to what you have been through, I do know what it is like to be hated because of who you are...Your book touched me and made me appreciate  life and all the simple things in it...

from T. W.: ...From the first day we started Mr. Koplen’s class and he assigned this book, I had no interest in reading it. I felt I knew everything I needed to know about the Holocaust. But, from the first to the very last page, I [realized I] had no mental idea of the inhuman, disgusting prejudice the Germans held against the Jewish people...Light One Candle was a great book I would recommend to anyone I know.

from C.D.: ...I also cannot understand how anyone can be so cruel, heartless, and evil...I am a black man, and I can personally tell you that racism and hatred are alive and well...Your story has made me realize that I don’t have to deal with much in comparison to what you went through...

from D.D.: ...Having read this book, my life has significantly and indelibly been impacted with a renewed sense of courage, compassion, strength, and endurance. When I am plagued with life’s challenges and hardships,...I think of Solly. Then I tell myself, if Solly survived, so can I.

from J.C.: ...I have always thought that African Americans were the only group of people who experienced such brutality like in the slave days with the burnings, lynchings, rapes, and beatings, but this book has changed all of that for me. When told by my professor on the first day of class we were to read your book and write a paper from it, I thought of some boring, uninteresting book about nothing, but once I got into the first chapter, I could not stop reading...In closing, this was the best, most disturbing, and educational book that I ever read. I thank you Solly for writing it and Mr. Koplen for giving his class the opportunity to read such a mind blowing novel...


                                                     B. Koplen  5/8/12

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