Teaching the Holocaust: Workshops focus on interactive curriculum

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“It is important to teach the Holocaust not only because it was a horrible time in world history, but because it provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the deeply moral issues of what it means to be a responsible citizen in the world today,” said Heather Elliott-Famularo, chair of the digital arts division in the School of Art.

The creator of “Bearing Witness: The Voices of Our Survivors,” a documentary film about Toledo’s six remaining Holocaust survivors and their conversations with local children, Elliott-Famularo wants to expand that experience to provide language arts, social studies and media teachers in grades 6-12 an authentic way to approach one of the last century’s most horrific events.

She has formed an innovative partnership with Dr. Tim Murnen in the College of Education and Human Development to offer seven area teachers the chance to follow in the footsteps of the six survivors through Poland, Hungary and Greece. The Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad program through the U.S. Department of Education has awarded a $70,000 grant to BGSU for “Walking Witness: Civic Responsibility in the Shadow of the Holocaust.” The remaining $19,000, or 22 percent, of the total $89,000 cost will be contributed by BGSU.

“Walking Witness” will allow participants to conduct original research and connect with educators in those countries while tracing the life paths of Toledo’s survivors.

An additional group of 24 K-12 teachers may participate in the “Bearing Witness Summer Institute” preparatory workshop June 15-20 at BGSU to learn how to perform primary and archival research, gather oral histories, engage in intercultural activities with community members, and receive technical training to incorporate video, audio and other techniques into interactive lesson plans. The curriculum they ultimately develop will be shared across the state and nationally, Murnen said.

The workshop is also open to undergraduate and graduate pre-service teachers, and the skills taught can be used in other humanities subjects as well.

“Contextualizing the Holocaust and the 20th-century history of Germany, Poland, Hungary, Greece and other parts of Europe allows us to better understand current ethnic tensions that lie beneath the veneer of national boundaries,” said Murnen, the project director.

Elliott-Famularo and Murnen also have a $15,000 Ohio Educator Enrichment Grant for the BGSU summer course, the only project of its kind funded by the Ohio Humanities Council this year. Thanks to the support of the council and BGSU, participants will receive three graduate credits for the price of one.

For the travel group, the workshop is “a three-step process,” Elliott-Famularo explained. They will attend the workshop in person in June, then go on the four-week tour June 24-July 23 and, throughout the following academic year, develop curriculum around the Holocaust and “civic responsibilities in an age of cultural misconceptions, prejudices and genocide.”

Once back in Ohio, Murnen said, “one of our goals is to bring together the Jewish and the Greek Orthodox communities in Toledo — both of which are strong, vibrant communities who may not realize how their populations have been and continue to be intertwined — for project-based learning.”

The selection of the Fulbright participants was difficult. “We had a large pool of talented, dedicated teachers apply to go with us to Europe,” said Elliott-Famularo.

“In the end, we tried to choose a group that represented the diversity of northwest Ohio schools. Together with our seven educators, we have more than 150 years of teaching experience and represent rural and urban districts, both public and private schools, in a variety of subjects including not only social studies but language arts, media and museum education,” Murnen said.

Three additional people from BGSU will be part of the Fulbright group. Jose Cardenas, a telecommunications faculty member from the School of Media and Communication, will document the teachers’ experience and conduct interviews with local people. Lori Young, chair of the graphic design division, will research the aesthetics of the three countries to provide an inspired visual design in the final digital curricular materials. Viola Rosa-Moten, a first-year graduate student in art history, will use the experience to continue research in museum education and outreach.

The group will visit cities and sites in Poland before heading to Hungary and Greece. At Jagiellonian University in Krakow they will work with longtime BGSU research partner Grzegorz Mazurkiewicz on Expeditionary Learning, a culturally responsive approach that engages participants in role-playing and discussion. In Greece they will explore the lesser-known Greek Holocaust with expert Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos, museum director of Kehila Kedosha Janina in New York City. At least 81 percent of the Greek Jewish population was killed in the Holocaust, Elliott-Famularo noted.

Murnen and Elliott-Famularo are also partnering with organizations on this side of the Atlantic to develop the teacher learning experience. The BGSU workshop will include field trips and study with a variety of experts and community leaders, including visits to Congregation B’Nai Israel in Toledo for an authentic Jewish experience and the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Mich.

Using the technology they learn in the workshop, the teachers will create their own primary sources. This may include video or photographs of their experience or archival research, such as, perhaps, a census report confirming the address of a Holocaust victim. The larger goal is to include these primary sources to build interactive lesson plans, ultimately Web-based or mobile. However, the principles and practices they’ve learned in the workshop can also be applied to local histories and subjects outside of the Holocaust, Elliott-Famularo said.

“The important thing is making it personal,” she said. “If students hear a survivor’s first-person account, and that’s coupled with an original historical document about that person’s life, or if a teacher who’s gone on the trip can show his or her students the video account of  ‘When I walked into Auschwitz,’ that’s a very powerful way of learning.”

“We know education is moving in that direction,” Murnen said. “We’re cracking the textbook open and making it 21st-century. If we can marry education with the humanities in a digital format, it will bring a different level of sophistication and learning.”

“The Holocaust is complicated,” Elliott-Famularo said. “But hopefully, these projects will deepen our understanding so that we can share its lessons with future generations.”

For more background on the development of the “Bearing Witness” documentary and activities, see:

http://www2.bgsu.edu/offices/mc/news/2012/news114690.html
http://www2.bgsu.edu/offices/mc/zoomnews/page95772.html
http://www2.bgsu.edu/offices/mc/news/2013/news131844.html