I thumb my way through the dry, holier-than-thou-government-language, thirty-five page document entitled “The Massachusetts Guide to Choosing and Using Curricular Materials on Genocide and Human Rights Issues” as I stand outside of State Senator Augustus’ office, nervously waiting for the wall clock to strike 10:30, or at least 10:20. It is currently 10:15, and I am fifteen minutes early for the appointment that I requested with the Senator to discuss the Massachusetts Teach Against Genocide campaign as a result of underestimating my ability to navigate the State House, and, (probably rightfully) calculating on my general history of getting lost often. To avoid the awkward looks I receive from staff members and other interns rushing by on their way to meetings or the first of a cardiac arrest-inducing number of coffee breaks for the morning, I pretend to be enthralled in this poor, disenfranchised self-help for teachers manual hidden deep within the crevices of the Department of Education’s website. For a document that promises to highlight the evils of genocide, it is pathetic. “From Pearl Harbor to Victory” a subheading reads, failing to mention at what cost to hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese civilians “victory” came for America. I’ve highlighted manically throughout, wherever there is a whisper about “Nazi Terrorism” or a mention of “ethnic cleansing” in Yugoslavia. “Ethnic cleansing?” Massachusetts is using the same euphemistic terminology to describe the genocide, the mass slaughter of thousands of Muslims in Bosnia, as the radical Serbs who facilitated these killings did? And what of Cambodia? The Kurdish genocide? Rwanda? Burma? Darfur?
I’m seated in the Senator’s office five minutes later, and after a brief discussion, I’m delighted to see that I finally have an ally in state government (specifically one that can correctly pronounce “genocide”). He tells me to be wary of the controversy that a bill such as this might generate, given Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide, teacher opposition to mandates, and the like. I still wonder what is controversial about the systematic slaughter of over one million Christian Armenians or the novel idea of NOT leaving out the eradication of tens of millions of innocent civilians when teaching social studies. It seems to me it is fairly important subject matter. Senator Augustus will not be returning for the upcoming legislative session, but he will mention the campaign to his colleagues favorably. Score one for the good guys.
Often times, in our little STAND bubble, we tend to forget that there are those that fail to understand the implications of Bosnia, Darfur, or even the Holocaust. We forget how dire the need for education on these subjects, however “sensitive” or “controversial” they may be, truly is. Make no mistake; there is a need for change in school systems across America. How can we call ourselves Americans if we fail to mention to future generations the ultimate failure of the international community to act, time and again, just in this past century? How can the world plan to make good on the promise “never again” if millions of stories are left to die on the killing fields?
-Emily Cunningham, Northeast High School Regional Outreach Coordinator
To get involved in the Massachusetts Teach Against Genocide Campaign, please contact Emily Cunningham at firstname.lastname@example.org