Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Global Domination: Historical Studies

We're in the middle of an important international educator's conference here at Yad Vashem. I'm going to review some highlights by the speaker from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Not only did he detail some interesting views on our work, but he made an effective and intriguing presentation that struck many out of their boredom.

After an hour-and-a-half of listening to other speakers from the distinguished panel, our American friend started with: "I'm going to ask you to sit in a few moments, but first I'd like you, for 38 seconds and without speaking, to stand up and stretch." No one in the audience was silent because we all really enjoyed the stretch with a sigh of relief and audible applause. That's a good way to get the audience on your side. Then we sat and the speaker used the number "38" to begin his discourse on our field of study (1938 being an important year).

His briefing on the average American visitor to the USHMM got a few chuckles. Most Americans don't know that World War II started on Sept. 1, 1939; we think that it started with Pearl Harbor, or with D-Day, when we entered the war. Most visitors to their museum are not Jewish. And other points about the location and design of the museum in central Washington, D.C.

The speaker's next interval also engaged the audience. He told us to pick up the blank paper we all received, get a pen, and answer four questions he would ask. We should answer each one in fifteen seconds, and our answers would not viewed by anyone else. The questions were:
  • What do you think is the most important city in the United States?
  • If you had only ten minutes to tell one story about the Holocaust, what story would you tell?
  • What do you think is most Americans' impression of "history?"
  • If you were to tell someone about yourself using only a single object that you own, what object would that be?
After we wrote our answers, the speaker then said that these were questions that the designers of the USHMM thought about when planning their museum. As I discussed later with my co-workers, we all by this point thought that the American could use his effective presentation skills and dramatic voice (and pauses) to make us do whatever he wanted. ("Must... write... answers...") ("I feel compelled to vote for George Bush.") ("He let us stretch... the Americans are greatest speakers in the world... U! S! A! U! S! A!")

But seriously, folks, here are the other highlights that I wrote down:
  • "Memory is an ongoing conversation."
  • "Holocaust educators are brokers of that conversation."
  • "Memory is always a product of choice. Choice is always limited by space, time, and intent (or design)."
  • "Living memorials should serve the three areas of education, remembrance, and conscience (moral and spiritual questions raised relate to our responsibilities as citizens of a democracy)."
Not bad, huh? And you better believe the speaker's workshop session later today was packed beyond capacity. Thank you, delegate from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, for engaging us in the conversation and letting us think (and stretch).

Finally, based on post-session co-worker discussion, here are some other things the American speaker could have said at the podium in his mellifluous, dramatic voice (and we would have obeyed):
Thank you... I'll be here all week.


At 5:33 PM, Blogger Phil said...

Ok - I got, Whitney Houston - Resevoir Dogs, and Some kid in the Virgin Islands. Where are the rest of the quotes from?

At 1:54 PM, Blogger dan2beer7 said...

Update: Links added to help with references; I should have done this originally. The speaker really did start a sentence with, "For those of you who have never met an American..." but we added the rest to make it funnier. And speaking of memory, it's odd how we change things to make it our own. Was the quote about the Emperor an actual line from the movie (not listed at IMDB), or have I been misquoting for all these years? I'll have to watch the film again.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger dan2beer7 said...

Also please note the second link from "I believe the children are the future," to a modern version that I often think of in educational contexts.

At 9:49 PM, Blogger tafka PP said...

Whitney should be extremely flattered to be hat-tipped in the same breathe as School of Rock!!


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