Dr. Karen Shawn offers teachers alternative sources to combat state cutbacks in Holocaust education

Sep 2, 2009 Dr. Karen Shawn is visiting associate professor of Jewish education at Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration. She wrote the below in reaction to news in USAToday about state commissions cutting funding for Holocaust education.

It is upsetting but not surprising to read about budget cuts suffered by state Holocaust councils and commissions across the country. These agencies have long helped to ensure effective teaching by funding workshops and courses for educators, producing guidelines and curricula, and encouraging and training teachers to make use of our most precious educational resources—the survivors.

These funding cuts must not, however, signal the diminution of Holocaust education in our schools; rather, they must serve as the catalyst for guiding teachers to alternative sources for the accurate information and sound pedagogy they need to teach this subject competently.

Yeshiva University is at the forefront of sound Holocaust education and research. At Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, for example, we offer a graduate course in teaching about the Holocaust; we facilitate online communities in which our students discuss texts and teaching strategies with Israeli students; through the Institute for University-School Partnership, we run workshops around the country on the topic of Holocaust and heroism; and we have just published our first issue of PRISM: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Holocaust Educators.

PRISM is unique for a peer-reviewed, academic publication: Each issue’s specific theme and wide-ranging content make it accessible to high school students and teachers as well as university students and professors. It offers immediately teachable art and documentary photography, poetry and narratives, personal reflections, pedagogic essays from Azrieli graduate students and faculty and scholarly, research-based essays on Holocaust history, psychology and sociology. Each contribution guides teachers to elicit essential questions that engage readers in immediate and long-term study.

There are many other resources to which educators can turn, including:

– Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies offers online courses and accessible, age-appropriate lesson plans that use Holocaust art, narrative, poetry and documentary photography.

– The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s (USHMM) Web site offers teachers crucial educational guidelines; workshops; a treasury of fully-captioned historical photographs, maps, documents, and testimonies; and a storehouse of “exemplary lessons” that all teachers can implement. The museum also trains teachers to conduct workshops in cities across the country.

– Teaching texts are many; among the best is Totten and Feinberg’s Teaching and Studying the Holocaust (Allyn & Bacon, 2000), specific in its direction and easily accessible to new teachers yet helpful to veterans. A new resource is a two-volume set titled The Call of Memory: Learning About the Holocaust Through Narrative (Shawn & Goldfrad, 2008), which offers a classroom anthology of 27 narratives by authors such as Aharon Appelfeld and Ida Fink and a complementary teacher’s guide.

– In many communities, survivors and children of survivors have joined speakers’ bureaus. In New York, the Hidden Child Foundation/ADL and the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust offer a speakers’ bureau as well as resources and materials.

Our Holocaust commissions and councils are invaluable sources of learning and support. However, sound educational help is available as well through superb museums, resource centers, and organizations and their online resources. Funding may decrease, but our desire, determination, and ability to teach about the Holocaust will not be diminished by the vagaries of the current economy.

Yeshiva University is not responsible for the content of this article. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to Yeshiva University.

Relevant links:
New Azrieli Journal Offers Educators Creative and Scholarly Guidance on Teaching the Holocaust

Ferkauf Professor Louise Silverstein Leads Multi-Phase Study on Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors

Watch YU High School Students’ Interviews With Holocaust Survivors in the Names, Not Numbers Video Project

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