February 13, 2015

Finest Hour 162, Spring 2014

Page 10

Rhonda Fink-Whitman Mourns the Decline of Old Excellence

PHILADELPHIA, NOVEMBER 24TH— When Rhonda Fink-Whitman decided to test college students’ knowledge of the Holocaust at four local campuses, she discovered some amazing facts: Adolf Hitler was the leader of Amsterdam. Josef Mengele was an author. John F. Kennedy led the Allies during World War II, assisted by American Army General Winston Churchill.

Hardly any had heard of the Holocaust. When her questions turned to the “Kristallnacht” (Night of Broken Glass), the Nuremberg Trials or the meaning of the phrase “Final Solution,” forget it.  “We are failing our children,” said Fink-Whitman, a longtime Philadelphia radio personality. “That really upsets me, as the daughter of a survivor, as the mother of college kids.”

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Five states—New Jersey, New York, California, Florida, and Illinois—mandate Holocaust instruction in schools. Only two of two dozen students in the video answered the questions correctly, and they grew up in New Jersey and New York.

Few students could define “genocide,” or say whether it still occurs in the world today, apparently having missed the news on Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur.  The name Eisenhower was a mystery. Students didn’t know why U.S. troops invaded Normandy, much less where it is. “It’s over near England and Germany and all that jazz,” a Temple student offered.

Fink-Whitman said she didn’t mean to embarrass the students, none of whom was named. All were bright, personable, and engaged—and chagrined by their historical illiteracy. Their answers reflect an absence of teaching, and the responsibility for that rests with educators and lawmakers, she said.

This is one more piece of evidence in favor of The Churchill Centre’s education programs, carried on for more than twenty years. “Institutes for teachers, especially high school teachers, have a multiplier effect,” says FH senior editor Professor Warren Kimball. “I’ve done them and believe they are the way to reach students.” The Churchill Centre has hosted three summer institutes where high school teachers expressed gratitude for being briefed on what to teach about World War II and Churchill’s role—subjects the average teacher has to cover in a week.

The Centre has also hosted outstanding student seminars—up to twenty undergraduates selected by involved, committed faculties. They read and reported on My Early Life and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. The observations of some were new even to veteran Churchill scholars.

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