Educating the Educators

By Lois Roman
Master’s degree student at the Emil A. and Jenny Fish Center at Yeshiva University
Producer of Holocaust Remembrance Around the World, a monthly video interview series

How do you decide what facts to include in a history textbook? How do the facts not included change the narrative? How do you tackle teaching the topic of the Holocaust?

A diverse group of teachers from Westchester County grappled with these issues and more during a daylong educational seminar on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.  The Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center (HHREC) in White Plains, New York, the Westchester Lower Hudson Council for the Social Studies and the Emil A. and Jenny Fish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Yeshiva University recently teamed up to educate educators about the Holocaust.

More than 20 high school and middle school history and social studies teachers from all over Westchester county spent a fast-paced day together as they explored the Origins of the Final Solution.  During this seminar, the teachers participated in hands-on activities such as pretending to be history textbook authors, reporting on major catastrophes in our modern world and hearing a lecture by Dr. Shay Pilnik, director of the Fish Center. “For an educator, the greatest challenge in teaching Holocaust is not the transmission of the facts—these are well established and well documented.  The hardest part is to put these facts together into a story, a narrative, and understand the most fundamental question at the core of Holocaust education: why?” said Dr. Pilnik.

 

Dr. Shay Pilnik

 

Moderators Lois Roman and Sari Sheinfeld guided the activities and added their own styles to the activities. The entire day was based on New York State-mandated guidelines for social studies curriculum for high school students and provided professional development credits to the teachers.

 

Sari Sheinfeld

 

Feedback from the teachers was very positive. “My unit on the Holocaust is coming up in a few weeks, and I will include some of the activities of this day in my plans,” said one teacher.  The educators felt that coming together with teachers from other districts was incredibly helpful because, as was said often, covering such a broad and complex subject as the Holocaust can be a lonely endeavor.  One teacher said, “I am definitely using ‘blackout poetry’ with my students.” Holocaust education in schools can take on many different forms and is usually confined to a short space of time. One history teacher said that his students come to his class knowing more about zombie Nazis from Call of Duty than actual facts about the Holocaust. Overall, the teachers welcomed the chance to be students again.

The group left the day armed with tangible lesson plans that could be used in the classroom, a list of additional online resources and a broader understanding of the key elements of the Holocaust.

Lois Roman

Shaping and reshaping Holocaust education in the 21st century is a key element to keeping the subject relevant in today’s world.  Designing innovative educational modules for teaching the basics about the Holocaust is so important.  Recent surveys have shown that young Americans’ retention of Holocaust facts is quite low.  The Holocaust was a unique event in history which should be studied by all young people to help improve the world’s level of tolerance. The missions of both HHREC and the Fish Center include bringing to the local community educational opportunities about the Holocaust to protect the right of all people to be treated with dignity and respect.

This program was made possible by the hard work of many people in all three organizations including Steven Goldberg and Julie Scallero from the HHREC, the Westchester Lower Hudson Council for the Social Studies, and Lois Roman, Sari Sheinfeld and Dr. Shay Pilnik from the Fish Center at Yeshiva University.