Why teach about genocide?

Posted on: 02/07/2014 Back to all blog posts

Seattle teacher, Brian Crawford, describes why he has written a novel about the Rwandan genocide.

The Weaver’s Scar: For Our Rwanda.

As a teacher, I always need to know why I am teaching a lesson before I teach it. It is not enough to engage students in work that is merely interesting; there must be some lasting understanding at stake.

Having taught about and written a novel on genocide, I have often wrestled with the “why?” of teaching about genocide. Is it so that we can work toward the elusive “never again”? Is it to help students understand the political forces of oppression? Is it so that we can increase students’ empathy? I have always felt “yes” to all of these questions, but my answer always seems nebulous and too abstract.

When I was in Rwanda, I asked a number of Rwandans–students, teachers, survivors–the following question: “What do you think American teenage students should know about Rwanda–past or present?” I deliberately left the question open, not wanting to focus on the genocide. Interestingly, I received variations of the following answer from almost all those whom I asked: “Students should learn to recognize injustice when it is small. When they hear people calling names, treating each other badly. Because it is in name-calling, and especially in not reacting to name-calling, that it all starts.”

This answer was an aha-moment for me, for it provided me with the answer for why we should teach about genocide. Yes, students need to know the history of genocides to understand where unchecked discrimination and prejudice can lead. But more importantly, they need to be able to act when they recognize warning signs. I feel that it is unrealistic to expect students–or adults, for that matter–to truly be able to stop the machinery of genocide once it is in full motion. 1994 taught us that. But what we all can do is to call out smaller injustices when we see them: name-calling, stereotyping, everyday exclusions. Because when one person calls another a hurtful name, and an observer does or says nothing, the name-caller is empowered and the victim further victimized. But when we call out the intolerance when we see it, we weaken the resolve of the name-caller and make it harder for him or her the next time around. It can be as simple as a “That’s not funny” or a “How would you feel if you were in his or her shoes?” to make someone realize that targeting someone else is not worth it.

Keep in mind: it is much easier to keep a tree from taking root than it is to fell a grown oak. We all have the power to say something. And if enough people say something, we can greatly reduce hatred and intolerance. Now, let’s say it together.

The Weaver’s Scar: For Our Rwanda is published by Royal Fireworks Press. ISBN: 978-089824-477-9

Brian Crawford is a resident of Seattle, Washington, where he teaches 7th- and 8th-grade Language Arts. He has visited Rwanda and taught himself basic Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda. Proceeds from the The Weaver’s Scar will go towards Richard’s Rwanda IMPUHWE, which was set up by a group of Seattle students to support Rwandan girls’ education.

Supporting website: http://theweaversscar.weebly.com/index.html

You can watch his tv interview here.

We also have a true story about a young boy’s struggles to survive the atrocities that took place in Cambodia: Strangers in Black

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