The best learning happens when we are learning something that matters to us. This is easily observed in a teen studying for a first driver's license or in parents seeking relief from the sleeplessness of their newborn. We are motivated to learn and learn well what is of interest or value to us.
Teachers have struggled with this for years as they build connections between the concepts of a lesson and the students who are just waiting to echo the classic question, “When are we ever going to use this?”
Whether labeled as “engagement” or simply something that has piqued our interest, feeling personally connected to real events, issues or processes that enable us to expand our thinking is at the center of authentic learning. Such learning increases the likelihood that students will discover for themselves how the lessons they are learning apply to their lives and their futures.
As the planning committee for the coming Violins of Hope Fort Wayne was exploring what role the project might play in our community, it briefly considered offering several performances on the historic instruments and a gallery display where the public could view them. Rather than being limited by such a simplistic approach, the committee decided to blend music associated with the Holocaust with history education, focusing on the importance of treating all people with respect. Most certainly, the array of events being offered Nov. 9-23 fulfills this commitment – making meaning from the horrific circumstances faced by the Jews and others during the time in which these instruments were played.
It has been our privilege to introduce the Violins of Hope to nearly 4,000 secondary students in 20 area schools. Attending the presentations were students with no familiarity with the Holocaust, no interest in music, and no appreciation for the many years these educators have invested in the education of children and youth.
However, at some point in the presentation, between the maps from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the video of Violins of Hope originator Amnon Weinstein or the individual stories of these unique violins, students connect with the message and begin to wonder about their role in a complicated world.
We will never know where their youthful questions may take them, for that is the price of being a teacher. But we do know that, for a short time, they feel a personal connection to the Holocaust and those it affected.
During the early stages of developing the performance schedule, the program's organizing committee decided the first local musicians to play on the Violins of Hope should be the students of the Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Troy Webdell. As both a professional musician and an experienced high school teacher, Webdell realizes the historical significance of this opportunity and the likelihood that the young musicians creating melodies from these instruments will continue to seek to understand the Holocaust as they consider the individual and collective decisions that allowed the event to happen.
As Webdell says, “Playing a violin for the Violins of Hope is like holding history in the palms of your hands.”
Violins of Hope feels more approachable for those of us who grew up soon after World War II, but its lessons are very remote for secondary-school students born after 9/11.
We must retain our effort to help them make sense of such complex and devastating events.
The impact of the Violins of Hope on young people will never be measured by test scores or letter grades. Instead, its impact will be measured by something far more important – the reflection of courage, compassion and justice in the lives these young people will build for themselves and their communities.
Carol Lindquist retired from Fort Wayne Community Schools as chief academic officer and also served as assistant dean of the College of Education and Public Policy at IPFW. David Lindquist retired as social studies department chair at Snider High School and as secondary education program director at IPFW. Both serve on the steering committee for Violins of Hope Fort Wayne.
If you go
Exhibition: Strings of the Holocaust Saturday through Dec. 1 Weatherhead Gallery, Ian and Mimi Rolland Center, School of Creative Arts University of Saint Francis, 2701 Spring St.
9 a.m.-8 p.m. (Monday through Wednesday) 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Thursday and Friday) 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Saturday) 1-5 p.m. (Sunday) Closed Nov. 28-29
Free and open to the public
A special exhibition opening reception will take place from 6-8 p.m. Saturday at the Rolland Art Center