This past Sunday the Star Tribune ran an interesting story on Minnesota social studies teachers and how they teach the history of the Holocaust and other genocides to increasingly diverse student populations:
For teachers like [Kacie] Holcomb [of Fergus Falls, MN], trying to explain the Jewish Holocaust to students is one of the most tortuous lessons they’ll ever face in the classroom. And yet the atrocities of Nazi-occupied Europe some 70 years ago matter today as much as ever, as Minnesota classrooms grow more diverse and include children of refugee families escaping war and other strife….
Last year, more than 500 teachers and other educators from Minnesota participated in seminars offered by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC). The council also takes students and teachers like Holcomb on an annual trip to the Holocaust museum.
“Students from war-torn countries — from issues of racism or bigotry or prejudice — there’s something that’s documented in the Holocaust curriculum that you can go back to and learn from,” said Laura Zelle, director of Tolerance Minnesota, the JCRC’s education arm….
Eleanor Minnema, an English teacher at Humboldt Secondary School in St. Paul, teaches Elie Wiesel’s seminal work “Night,” based on his experience as a prisoner at concentration camps. Among her students are the Hmong and the Karen, an ethnic minority in conflict with the government in Myanmar. Most of the estimated 5,000 Karen in Minnesota came from refugee camps in Thailand.
“We couched it [“Night”] in a bigger unit on genocide,” said Minnema, who was among the nearly 50 educators who last month attended a daylong JCRC training session at the Orono School District office. “I had one student who was Cambodian, and she researched the Cambodian genocide. We touched on the Armenian genocide. The forced famine with Stalin. Rwanda, Darfur. We tried to get a blend of areas in the world to show how genocide is still a modern issue.”
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) also is engaged in such training for teachers, bringing up to 5000 a year to Washington. The USHMM’s director for such teacher outreach, Peter Fredlake, underscores the challenge of teaching the Holocaust to students who themselves may be victims of radical evil: “By bringing this into the classroom, you’re bringing in material that could be upsetting to kids. Especially now, we have immigrants from Southeast Asia, Africa, South and Central America, whose families may very well have … been victims of the kinds of crimes against humanity you learn about in the Holocaust. It’s really making teachers sensitive.”
Read the entire article here.