Monday, March 03, 2008

Teaching Against Genocide, Maybe ...

Maybe In Danbury,
But Not In Burlington

Proposal Suppressed
At Student Council Meeting

Are School Bosses Chilling Teachers
In Addition To Stifling Students?

Statement of
Avery W. Doninger,
Student: Lewis S. Mills High School, Burlington, CT
to the Education Committee, Connecticut General Assembly
29 February 2008

Chairman Senator Gaffey, Chairman Representative Fleischmann, and Members of the Committee, I deeply appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today at this hearing on the Genocide Awareness Education bill.

In late 2007, I attended a Leadership Conference where I saw the Danbury High School film on the genocide in Darfur. This was the first I knew of current genocide. I'm 17, I take honors and AP classes, how is this possible? I remember learning about the Holocaust in elementary school, but it seemed like ancient history. At no time in middle school or high school have I been taught about any genocide other than the Holocaust, not Cambodia, not Darfur, not Rwanda. This is not acceptable. In fact, I did not know about genocide in Cambodia until a week ago when I came to the Teach Against Genocide Lobby Day at the capitol.

When I became aware of the situation in Darfur, I wanted to help and I wanted other students at Lewis S. Mills High School to become informed. I prepared a proposal to present to Student Council. I included a long explanation of what was occurring in Darfur. I presented some ideas about what we could do about it, such as donating proceeds from events, showing the Danbury High School film, and opening discussion.

I wanted to pass the proposal out at a Student Council meeting, but beforehand I showed it to my two advisers. I was utterly shocked when I was told by my advisers that I was not allowed to hand out my proposal to Student Council because the cause was "too controversial". I was told that if students took the material I passed out home to their parents and their parents didn't approve then the school could get in trouble. We need funding for teacher training so that teachers are better equipped to respond to genocide and to teach about it.

Despite the barriers initially presented by Student Council advisers, I found a teacher willing to serve as a club adviser and started a Save Darfur Club at LSM. There has been overwhelming interest by students. We have 30 members, we raise money by selling breakfast twice a week; we are planning a benefit concert in the spring. We can and are making a difference!

This is a very sad commentary. How are we suppose to prevent future genocides from occurring if students don't even know about the genocide going on today? We are supposed to learn from past mistakes so that they aren't repeated, but if we don't know about them then we are doomed to repeat them. I believe that, like me, if others become informed they too will want to take action. Active citizens are good citizens and this type of education can fan the flame of activism among students, the next generation of leaders.

PLEASE, expand this bill so that it makes genocide education a permanent and sustainable part of secondary school curricula; it is a moral obligation. Please expand this bill to provide funding for teacher trainings; we can't afford not to.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. I am prepared to answer any questions.

last month, IN COURANT,0,7466605.story

Killing Fields Survivor Wants School Curriculum To Include…

Lessons On Genocide

Courant Staff Writer
February 20, 2008

For years, the nightmares kept Pholla Craveen from talking about her childhood experience of the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s.

She couldn't bear to relive it as she built a new life in the United States.

But on Tuesday, she marshaled her courage to speak in favor of educating young people in the state about genocide.

It is a modest proposal, contained in a bill that state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, an education committee chairman said he will introduce this week. The proposal encourages schools to include in their curriculum "genocide education, including the scope and consequences of genocide."

Craveen gave a firsthand account to about 75 educators, students, legislators and anti-genocide activists in a room at the state Capitol in Hartford.

She was clearly nervous as she told the group that her father and a brother were two of about 1.7 million people killed, or 21 percent of the country's population, according to Yale University's Cambodian Genocide Program.

She stumbled over words as she recalled the trucks laden with the bodies of men, women and children, and walking through minefields at age 5 as she fled with her mother and remaining siblings.

She paused occasionally as she recounted her eight years in a refugee camp, where terror fell from the skies in the form of bombs, and where women and girls lived with the threat of rape.

It was not easy for Craveen, but she set aside her fears to deliver a message.

"The more people who know about the history of genocide, perhaps genocide becomes a thing of the past," she said.

A group of administrators, teachers and students in Danbury have already started that work in their school. In 2005, Tim Salem, assistant principal at Danbury High School, did a survey and was alarmed to learn that 85 percent of the students and faculty did not know of the genocide in Darfur, which has claimed the lives of 200,000 to 400,000 people.

Lena Negron, a senior at the school, said the media gives more attention to celebrities such as Britney Spearsthan Darfur.

The school has since produced two documentaries and has a group that does programs on genocide for schools and other groups.

Several groups, including Teach Against Genocide and the Connecticut Coalition to Save Darfur, have pledged to lobby aggressively for the bill. House Majority Leader Christopher Donovan also addressed Tuesday's meeting, promising to support the bill.

Supporters say awareness is the key to mobilizing a quick and powerful response when genocide occurs. The Rev. Tim Oslovich, now chairman of the Connecticut Coalition to Save Darfur, said he was unaware in 1994 that hundreds of thousands of people were being killed in the Rwandan genocide.

Carl Wilkens witnessed it firsthand. He was the only American aid worker to remain in Rwanda during the genocide and he came from his home in Oregonto address the gathering. He is credited with saving hundreds of lives, including those of children in orphanages, while risking his own.

He said genocide is perpetrated by those who take the view that "my world would be better without you and your kind."

Even though Wilkens had helped people in another time, in another country, Craveen rose from her seat to thank him for those who could not.

"I am one of the lucky ones," she said earlier.

Contact Mark Spencer at

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  • 1 comment:

    Consent of the Governed said...

    This is a sad commentary twofold!

    The first being that we have to legislate and mandate that schools teach certain things (more unfunded mandates), and the second being that high schools don't already require by themselves that current events be taught to their students on a regular basis and as a matter of course.

    The fact that this student brought up a proposal to the school and the school dismissed it like that is disturbing but it indicate thats schools are more interested in teaching whatever will bring up their NCLB yearly progress scores versus keeping their students really educated about the world.

    I guess genocide education had been determined as an item that generally would not help to increase their CMT scores.