Story Joanna de Vos
Photo courtesy of Charlotte Baker
A dedicated and visionary teacher gives back to Gordon.
For 34 years Charlotte Baker taught eighth-grade English at the Bessie Buker Middle School (now Miles River Middle School) in Hamilton, Massachusetts (pictured above). To a rare degree she was gifted at listening to her students. Her life has also displayed an uncommon aptitude for listening to God and for being willing to set off on unexpected journeys.
One year towards the end of the semester she assigned the book The Diary of Anne Frank. The students' interest in Anne Frank's story was so intense that her next year's classes circulated a petition demanding that she teach the book in their classes as well. Year after year interest grew, and faculty beyond the English Department got involved. What began as an end-of-semester reading assignment developed into a full curriculum on the Holocaust, "A Call to Justice"--the first program of its kind on the North Shore.
Eventually Charlotte was introduced to Sonia Weitz, a contemporary of Anne Frank, survivor of five Nazi concentration camps, and the author of I Promised I Would Tell, a book of poetry about the Holocaust. The two women became friends. Sonia spoke to Charlotte's classes about her experiences as a Holocaust survivor, along with many other guest speakers.
In 1989 Charlotte was given an award for teaching Holocaust studies along with a Summer Fellowship at Yad Vashem Israel, an intensive three-week living and learning experience aimed at American secondary school teachers who are committed to teaching new generations about the Holocaust. Through a surprising combination of circumstances, Charlotte stayed a year in Israel, working for Bridges for Peace, a Jerusalem-based Christian organization focused on building relationships between Christians and Jews worldwide. Her living arrangements were also happy surprises: she lived for awhile on a kibbutz, and also in the home of Yehoshafat Harkabi, former head of Israel Army Intelligence, who was a professor of international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Though Charlotte honed her curriculum over the years, one thing remained constant: the students taught themselves about the Holocaust through reading books such as Elie Wiesel's Night, viewing films, keeping journals and presenting oral reports. Charlotte comments, "I enjoyed all my students, of every different ability level. If anything I took particular delight in seeing my so-called 'lower ability' students take an interest in Holocaust studies. I'm amazed at how the Lord has led and used me to fulfill plans of which I could never have dreamed."
Charlotte retired from teaching in 1998 and now lives in Newburyport, Massachusetts. She recalls her years as an English major at Gordon with fondness and gratitude, and has included the College in her estate plan. In a very real sense, the future of the College is being planned today by people like Charlotte Baker.