The 21st century Jewish Day School history educator must concurrently work with and challenge an understanding of a world in which Nazis and militant Islamists function as THE nearly exclusive framework for assessing threats to our survival and for formulating ideas about power and policy. This dilemma was underscored on Yom Ha Shoah eve as Edward Rothstien of the New York Times launched a scathing critique of Holocaust Education in North America.
History teachers work in a context of state and national social studies standards articulated by grade level. So how can you really teach about the Holocaust in a middle school history curriculum where 6th grade is Ancient Cultures, 7th grade is the medieval world, and 8th grade is devoted to the national narrative of the United States?
The group work in Judaic Studies was complemented in my History classes where I drew upon the resources of the testimony- based Echoes and Reflections curriculum. These lessons prepared by a consortium of educators from Yad V Shem, The United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum, and the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education are particularly helpful in introducing the political and social vocabulary needed to tackle the events of the Shoah in a thematic yet chronological manner.
Many day school students in Los Angeles participate in a March of the Living trip sponsored by our local Bureau of Jewish Education. I have not been on the March, but have nevertheless entertained questions about the educational ramifications of taking students on a quick tour of the death camp sites in Poland followed by a joyous journey to Israel.
While I consider the Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School Survivor Interview Project to have been a success, I am painfully aware that the opportunity for these types of first-hand encounters is rapidly shrinking. So how do we move forward with student-centered, inquiry based, experiential and collaborative learning about the Holocaust in the 21st Century?
One promising new resource is the USC Shoah Institute’s IWitness, website that will make this collection of video testimonies from archive available on the Internet. I particularly like the questions framed by the educators behind this initiative such as “if you could have 1,000 survivors in the room with you, what would you want to know?”
With the survivor community diminishing daily, I’d like us to more interactively work with their testimony and contemplate their thoughts about the world after Hitler’s demise. To my mind what these people did with their lives postwar can reveal considerable wisdom that, in turn, can foster principaled choices in our own.