Important lessons learned on Veterans Day | Guest Column


In honor of Veterans Day, Spring Street International School invited two speakers to come and be part of a forum that honored veterans and engaged students in the meaning behind this national holiday.

Some families were likely asking why we don’t just give everyone the day off as most schools do. While I would have loved a day off just about then, I think it is much more important that as educators we use holidays like Veterans Day to pause, reflect, honor, and remember why this is such an important day.

The half-day program turned out to be an amazing, thought-provoking and emotional event. Ary Hobbel, a Dutch national who as a young child lived through the bombing of Rotterdam on May 13, 1940, spoke for about an hour of his experience. Students and faculty alike were mesmerized by his stories and message about the importance of honoring one’s veterans and one’s flag.

After a question and answer session, students heard our second speaker, Farley McClean, talk about his experience in Vietnam where he completed two tours of duty. As he talked about what it was like to be a “tunnel rat,” searching underground tunnels armed with just a handgun and a flashlight, students hung on every word.

The day ended with everyone writing think-feel cards, where on one side they wrote about what they thought about the day and on the other wrote about what they were feeling. We then gathered to share these cards as a whole school and begin to explore how we could follow up on some of the ideas presented.

There were many tears, great questions, and lots learned in our half-day forum. We never quite know how a new approach to learning is going to play out. Will it be as effective as we had hoped, or will students be less stimulated to think, ponder and question than planned? According to one parent at least, the day did in fact achieve its goals and then some:

“When I heard you guys were planning on spending the morning forcing the students to address what Veterans Day should really be about (not just a day off school) I was most impressed. Now having listened to Dylan talk for an hour and a half about the speakers and their experiences and having had an emotional conversation about war, veterans and being forced to think just a little deeper about the topic, I thank-you for bringing Veterans Day into my home and for being the catalyst for some powerful conversation! This is what makes you guys, in my opinion, head and shoulders above the rest. This is powerful education, a formative exposure that goes beyond what you ‘have’ to do. Thank-you once again for changing these kids!”

And here are some quotes from some of the think-feel cards, illustrating the students’ perspectives:

— “How, after centuries witnessing the effects of war, can we continue to use it as the default response to conflict?”

— “I think this will allow me to fully realize that I cannot comprehend what veterans go through. The darkness that they see and experience in the hopes that they are doing something to better our country is thought provoking.”

— “I feel torn. We are heroes in some eyes and terrorists in others.”

n “I feel that while there was much sadness, anger, and despair today, there was also much hope, joy, understanding, and wisdom. The line, ‘I lost the ability to love and now 40 years later I can love again’ will stay with me forever.”

— “I believe that everything that I think about war is correct, although I have no experience of it. But listening to those who have been through war, leads me to think that I have no right to draw any firm conclusions since I cannot truly know what it is like.”

— “I feel unutterably sad that so much of human experience revolves around the horror and atrocities we inflict upon each other. I believe that the pain of war must always be infinitely beyond the telling.”

— “I feel gratitude and compassion for all veterans and victims of war.”

— “I feel heartbroken. That story was absolutely sad. My life has been changed.”

— “I think that I never want to go to war. I do however respect those who do fight for our country. The problem that then enters my mind is whether the war people are fighting is justified.”

— “At home in Korea during our Veterans Day, we just have a day off from school. This seems a much more important way to honor the people in war.”

— “I learned a lot today: In war, you are alone, even though men who are doing the same thing as you surround you. Human beings are fragile. “War is not a video game. It is so real and brutal.”

— “I feel guilt for the soldier who has to kill another human being, for the mother who loses her child to violence, and for the victims of war who return home to become victims of society.”

— “The level of insanity and the point at which a person loses respect for all mankind is a place no one should experience.”

— “I feel amazingly grateful for my dad who made it through Vietnam. I feel an entirely new type of appreciation for him and what he has done now that I have heard this.”

— Louis O’Prussack is head of school at Spring Street International School. Contact him at 378-6393 or loprussack@springstreet.org

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