The class of 5th graders I spend every day with has been learning about the Holocaust for the first time in their lives. They were asked to think about what they would bring if they were forced to abandon their lives and go into hiding for a year like the kids we read about in the Hidden Children stories. I thought about this myself and took into account the time period: no phones, no power source, no tablet for reading in the dark. I suppose I’d bring a journal, something with sentimental value, and my family. The 5th graders however, being born in 2009, have no knowledge of a world without technology. The iPhone had already been invented and revamped before they were alive. Each of them has their own school-issued laptop on which they do all of their homework and tests. It came as no surprise that the lists these kids came up with consisted of: ChromeBooks, Nintendo Switches, smart phones, chargers, battery packs, iPads, and gaming systems so they can play Fortnite. I realized that they feel so removed from the 1900’s that they can’t fathom being in the shoes of their great-great-great-grandparents. And how could we expect them to? 9/11 occurred nearly a decade before they were born. The legalization of gay marriage and the election of our nation’s first black president preceded them as well. They will never know the sound of a VCR tape rewinding or the screeches of dial up internet. So how do you explain to a ten-year-old that 1945 wasn’t that long ago?
I had a sobering moment early on in the school year when a student looked like she’d seen a ghost when I told her I was born in the 90’s. I remember being a kid and thinking high school seniors and college kids were “grown ups” and anyone older than them were just… old people. Now that I am an “old people,” I can officially attest that it is not what I had in mind. I wish I could go back to 5th grade and learn about the Holocaust for the first time. Granted, I didn’t have the luxury of Google in grade school so I think ignorance is a lot less blissful these days, but I’d still love to be in the mind of a kid who doesn’t yet know that monsters are real.
My grandma was a kid during World War II and I grew up hearing firsthand, tangible memories from that time period. She told me about the food rations during the Great Depression and I watched her store away gum wrappers and reused decorative paper over the years, aware of why she felt the need to save them. I was able to put myself in her shoes from a young age because her stories were rich and transcendent. Today’s kids have grandparents who were born in the 60’s and 70’s and history is stretching further and further away. I’m realizing that I am, too. We can educate these kids and show them pictures and read the diaries and history books to them but in a matter of time, the Holocaust and slavery will be as intangible as Shakespearean literature is for us. In time, it’ll just be stories.
Sometimes I absolutely resent technology. I resent the way we’re forced to work it into curriculum. I resent the fact that the kids come to school on Monday morning and all they can share from the weekend was their new high score on whatever new virtual game is hot. I resent that an eleven year old helped me reset my iPhone the other day. But time is moving fast and according to the kids, I’m getting old. I guess my point in writing this is to say that history is fleeting. And if you had to pick what you’d bring into a hole to hide during the Holocaust, please for the love of God do not say Fortnite.