One of the fears brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has been that children, infected in school, will bring the virus home to adults who are more susceptible to severe disease. For that reason, schools across the country and across the world have been closed, on and off, for the past year. While it’s true that some infections caught in school or daycare may come home with kids (influenza is an example), it doesn’t appear to have been a significant factor in the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet there are other things that can come home from school with remarkable outcomes. Here’s an excerpt from my new book “NO REGRETS LIVING,” to prove the point:
In 1998, the middle school in a tiny mining town in Tennessee developed a program to teach its students about tolerance, focusing on the Holocaust. The kids learned that during the Holocaust many Norwegians wore paper clips on their lapels as a silent protest against the Nazis. The middle school students began a project to collect 6 million paper clips to better understand the magnitude of the Holocaust’s devastation on the Jewish communities of Europe.
The students in Whitwell, Tennessee (population approximately 2,000), were deluged with paperclips, including from Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, from countless celebrities, and from supporters and admirers around the world. Accompanying the paper clips, more than 30,000 letters of support and personal testimonials poured into the school; the counting of paper clips stopped when it reached 30 million!
The project’s impact was profound, with a book, a documentary film, an educational curriculum entitled “One Clip at a Time,” which is taught around the world to fifth grade and higher students, and a unique monument to the 11 million victims of the Holocaust—Jews, gypsies, gays, and others—located, improbably, in Whitwell, Tennessee. Why improbably? Because at the time of the project’s beginnings, there wasn’t a single Jewish student in the Whitwell Middle School, nor a single Jewish resident of Whitwell (and by reports, there still isn’t!). The monument includes, in addition to hundreds of artifacts of the Holocaust that have been donated, an actual Nazi railcar that had been used to transport prisoners to the extermination camps, into which 11 million paperclips have been poured.
The project and its lesson of tolerance, like the infections I mentioned earlier that spread from kids to adults, spread like wildfire to the adult community of Whitwell and to adult communities throughout Tennessee, the United States, and the world. Children teaching tolerance and compassion to adults. Education spreading, like the flu, from the classroom to the kitchen table.
For more about the Paper Clip Project, see:,
Dagmar Schroeder-Hildebrand and Peter W. Schroeder, Six Million Paper Clips—the Making of a Children’s Holocaust Memorial (Minneapolis, MN: Kar-Ben Publishing, 2004).