Every lesson kicks off with the students placing backpacks near the door, finding two books, then sitting quietly reading. Then, everyone pays two compliments to other people in the room. After that, we read a Berenstain Bears book. Then I deviated from routine, and gave the Rohyingya kids a history lesson on World War II. We had no map of the world so I drew an atrocious map of Europe, Russia, the world.
The kids are 11-15 years old. I started by asking what they knew about WWII. Blank stares. “What countries made up the allied powers?” No idea. “Who was the leader of Germany?” No idea. “Who did Germany team up with?” No idea. “The holocaust?” no idea. “Jewish people?” They’d never heard of Jewish people.
So in the course of an hour, I covered the effects of WW 1 on Germany, the conditions that led to Hitler’s rise, appeasement policy by Neville Chamberlain, hegemony of Japan, Japan occupation of China all the way on down to Singapore (including Malaysia and Myanmar), the death toll, bombing of Pearl Harbor, concentration camps, murder of 6 million Jews, murder of Gypsies, homosexuals, how the Allied powers worked together to fight Germany from all sides, Hitler’s eventual suicide and the nuclear bombs dropped by the USA on Nagasaki and Hiroshima by the bombers Enola Gay and Box’s Car.
These kids are from Myanmar, so I attempted to make the story less USA-centric, and added details such as this: Of all Russian males born in 1923, only 15% survived World War 2. Yes, that’s a fact (thanks Reddit TILs). The war caused 73,000,000 deaths. Also, Penang Island, where we live currently, was occupied by the Japanese during the war. I told them that if they could find a Malaysian who is 80 years old or older, that person would be able to tell them about the occupation.
I explained that the war made refugees of millions of people. I told them about the Jewish refugees after WWII and the creation of Israel. They’d never heard of it. And today, a war in Syria was making even more refugees. A few of the kids sat up at that thought. They aren’t alone. There are lots of refugees in the world.
Bless his heart, Nur, a fifteen year old student, wrote down much of what I wrote on the board. He was intensely interested in learning about this major war he’d never heard of. I have a feeling he may flag down an old Malaysian and ask about their experiences.
Nur got a funny look on his face. He then asked, “how many countries are there in the world?” Their guesses ranged from 100 to 10 million. Ha ha. Luckily this was one I knew: ~205. They seemed wowed by that.
I hope it wasn’t TMI. As their teacher, I just feel they should know a few facts about World War II.
In a month I teach them sex education. I’m wondering if they know as little about how babies are made as they knew about WWII. We’ll see.