The Broken Windows Jackpot

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Remember my master class with Colum McCan? Well he talked about the importance of research to your writing. I was happy for that because there’s nothing I love more than the ins and outs of the labyrinth of information that can bring you to the most unexpected places.

Then I hit the jackpot.

I’m working on this chapter in my book where I’m in 5th grade at Solomon Shecter and Danny Goldhagen and I are having a conversation about the nature of evil in the world.

Years later, at a reunion of sorts, the now famous Daniel Jonah Goldhagen told me he was “taking over the family business.” Picturing his father Erich, the Holocaust survivor and historian, I needed no further explanation.

But in writing this chapter in my book I wanted to go deeper, so I researched the father Erich and discovered a Harvard Crimson article from Oct. 6, 1983 stating:

Lecturer in Jewish Studies Erich Goldhagen’s course, “Explaining the Holocaust and the Phenomenon of Genocide,” was taken out of the Core because “it did not meet the specific guidelines of a Core course,” Professor James Q. Wilson, chairman of the committee which recommended the move, said yesterday. “While the course was well taught and a very popular course on the Holocaust, it did not concentrate enough on social theory,” Wilson said.

“It was the consensus of the committee that the course dealt too much with specific and incidental facts and not an approach to thinking,” said Brian R. Melendez ’86, a student member on the Core Committee on Social Analysis and Moral Reasoning.

Talk about irony! Jame Q. Wilson, whose daily bread and butter came from his theory of Broken Windows didn’t think that learning about Kristillnacht: the infamous night of broken windows was relevant to Social Analysis and Moral Reasoning?

Exploring Kristillnacht as a defining event in the tolerance of dehumanization and cruelty that allowed The Holocaust to happen; is standard bearing for the daily moral questioning that guides our actions.

Not only did Wilson’s Broken Window Theory lay the groundwork for the mass incarceration of young black men in the 1990’s, it helped dehumanize them. I’m not blaming Wilson for the epidemic of sanctioned killing of black men; all I’m saying is that the depth of understanding we reach when asking the “How could this happen” questions integral to Holocaust studies demand of us a social responsibility that goes way beyond a theory and a pile of broken glass.

Core curriculum? Seriously?

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