Lois Lowry recently posted on her blog a letter from a teacher who was having his students collect and tie together six million centimeters of shoe lace to "represent the 6,000,000 Jews who were killed in the Holocaust."
Lois seems all for this idea ("It is always such a pleasure to hear of and from imaginative teachers like Doug Greener in Maple Grove who do more than just assign a book, and whose students will always remember what they have learned in his class") but I have my doubts.
Oh, okay, I'm flat-out scandalized. What bothers me the most about this project is its profound anti-intellectualism. Through repetitive tasks (collecting shoelaces and tying them together) and the sheer accumulation of material objects, the point of the exercise is--what, exactly? That six million is a whole lot? Sixth-graders don't know this? What will the participants understand about the Holocaust that truly challenging assignments--in history, literature, and the arts--could not teach them, better and with more nuance? I assume since the teacher was writing to Lowry, author of the frequently taught Number the Stars, that this shoelace-tying is but part of a larger curriculum on the Holocaust, but when it comes to "students remembering what they have learned in class," I fear that what these students are going to remember is "sixth-grade, the year we tied together six million centimeters of shoelaces."
What bothers me most about this project is that it fools kids think they have learned something about the Holocaust; hell, it fools them into thinking they have done something about the Holocaust. But what such a project does--at best--is makes kids feel something about the Holocaust. But that feeling is unearned; worse, it seems earned, because the kids have devoted so much (useless) labor to it.
But just tell me, please, that it's not a curricular tie-in (heh) with a math lesson.