Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The significance of a paper clip

A paper clip seems like just an insignificant office supply...handy to have, but not a life changing item...usually.  I recently spotted a DVD at the library, titled, "Paper Clips,"  and I discovered that something seemingly simple and insignificant can make a huge impact on many lives.

"Paper Clips" is a documentary about what happened when the students at Tennessee's Whitwell Middle School began to study the Holocaust. One student told the teacher that it was very difficult for her to visualize 6,000,000 people, the number of Jewish people murdered during the Holocaust.  The number was too big.  Her mind couldn't comprehend what she was reading.  Other students agreed, so the teacher told them to think of something small that they could collect, until they reached a total of 6,000,000.  One student discovered the interesting fact, on the Internet, that during World War II, the Norwegian people wore paper clips on their lapels as a sign of solidarity.  A type of paper clip had been invented by a Norwegian man, Johan Vaaler, and the people felt this was one way they could inconspicuously express their feelings of national solidarity.  Upon hearing this, the students decided that they would collect 6,000,000 paper clips.  

The students wrote to many people around the world: relatives, friends, celebrities.  Paper clips began arriving, sometimes one or two at a time, and sometimes by the box or the case.  They soon had over 400,000 clips, and students assumed that it would be only a few weeks until they reached their goal.  However, the flow of paper clips declined to  a trickle.  Just as they were becoming discouraged, a serendipitous event occurred that changed the course of the project, and paper clips began pouring into the Whitwell, Tennessee post office.  

I don't want to give away what happened from that point, because I am hoping that you will want to see this documentary for yourselves.  It is suitable for all but young children, who may not be ready to hear stories of the Holocaust.  The principal, the teachers and the students are very sincere and open in explaining their feelings during various stages of the project.  Several Holocaust survivors share their stories in honest and sometimes emotional words.  I highly recommend this film to you.

After watching the film, I thought about how important it is for children, teens and adult learners to be able to visualize what they are studying.  If you want to truly understand, and remember what you study, it must be real.  It must have meaning.  Sometimes, when your children seem unmotivated by a subject, or totally disinterested, it may be because they don't understand what it is about, or how it applies to them, or when they will use it.

Telling your children that they will "need it someday" doesn't answer that need to understand.  You need experiences to "make it real."  How do you do that?  For math, you can:  build, sew, cook, shop, have a checking and/or savings account, plan a vacation, plan a party, calculate mileage...  Reading good historical fiction can provide a better understanding of what people were experiencing, during a specific time period, than a textbook might provide.  Field trips are incredibly helpful in bringing history to life, making scientific facts clear, providing greater geographical understanding, and much more..  There are hundreds of places you can visit in northeast Ohio, and many are free or very low cost.  If there are several places in one specific area that you would like to visit, plan to camp nearby for a night or two.  Camping can provide numerous learning experiences.  Hands-on activities, experiments, games.  They're all vitally important for real learning.

If that teacher in Tennessee had not suggested collecting the paper clips, I think the Holocaust project would have become just another forgotten history lesson.  Seeing 6,000,000 paper clips, made it so real, that it is unforgettable.

May all your studies be meaningful.
***After seeing the film, you may want  to visit the school's website:  On the left side of the page, you will see a directory of the site.  Look for the heading “Children’s Holocaust Memorial and Paper Clip Project.”  Under that heading, are links to various pages relating to hte project.  You can visit the site before you see the film, if you like, but I think it will be more meaningful if you watch the film first.

***You may, also, be interested in a book that was written about the project:  "Six Million Paper Clips: The Making Of A Children's Holocaust Memorial" by Peter W. Schroeder, Dagmar Schroeder-Hildebrand

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