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Teachers: Holocaust butterflies a symbol

This is our one-time response to the Rising Starr Middle School parent who wrote in on March 31. Hopefully, it will clarify any misconceptions about the Holocaust butterfly assignment.

Georgia Performance Standards mandate the teaching of the Holocaust. 1.6 million children were killed by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust. The sheer number of children who died is a difficult concept for anyone to comprehend.

For example, saying that this number represents the population of Fayette County multiplied by 16 is still an abstraction. As educators, our job is to make abstract ideas more concrete and to foster analogous thinking.

The assignment was explained to our students as follows: Each butterfly represents 250 children killed. Therefore, two butterflies represent more children who died than the number of eighth-graders in our school.

A collection of poems about butterflies written by children in ghettoes and concentration camps during the Holocaust inspired the choice of the butterfly as a symbol.

Schools, universities, and various institutions world-wide participate in butterfly projects. The hundreds of butterflies hanging in the eighth-grade hallway allow students to visualize the enormity of this atrocity in a manner that makes it “real” for our students and, indeed, anyone who might view them.

We are glad that your child could exercise his or her freedom of speech, unlike the children of the Holocaust. Isn’t it wonderful to live in a nation where tolerance of differences in others is a fundamental principle of our country’s ideals?

We believe so. To this end, we model tolerance, compassion, empathy, and citizenship, values we believe integral to the development of good citizens of a free nation.

Eighth grade teachers at Rising Starr Middle School

Barbara Gaskins James

Elizabeth McCullough, Ed.S.

Dr. JoAnn Rouse



I'm sorry but this is the absolute stupidest assignment I've ever heard of.

One more thing: the new format of sucks.

Stupid or not, PTC Avenger, assignments such as and similar to the Holocaust butterflies are necessary because schools are being held responsible for teaching children CHARACTER, something many parents and community leaders either refuse to do or are unqualified to do. I think it's ridiculous to be forced to directly teach empathy, courage, etc. when these are things best learned by the examples of the adults in a child's life. We teachers could do a much better job, in my opinion, if we could teach our areas of expertise and training rather than what is politically correct and expedient!

"the enormity of this atrocity" ... Why is this analogy so hard for people to grasp? I think this is an excellent project. A group of us helped a friend's child color some butterflies a few years ago. As we sat in the bleachers and shared crayons around the group, we discussed the individuality of each butterfly's coloring and how it related to the individuality of a child. We expanded that to discuss the 250 individual children each butterfly represented. My then-eight-year-old daughter counted up all the butterflies she saw being colored around her and wanted to know how many children that meant (hey, math facts!!). We talked about those children dying and how sad that was. We also talked about how we'd like for that to never happen again.

I can't believe I'm sitting here trying to explain what a great learning experience this was for my child, and she wasn't even in the class. We could see the empathy and understanding on her little face. Imagine the concepts that could be grasped by an eighth-grader who's actually been through the whole lesson plan -- provided, of course, that her mind hasn't been closed to it by the adults around her declaring the project "the absolute stupidest assignment" ever.

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