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Reflections of Holocaust Curriculum at Howard University

Just a few days remain to apply for the 2016 Holocaust Institute for Teacher Educators (HITE), a week-long, all-expenses-paid professional development opportunity in June at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. Applications close Friday, March 4!

AACTE member faculty are invited to apply through our online application. For more information, read this article or contact me at zvanhouten@aacte.org.

In January, I invited past HITE participant Steven Carr of Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne to explain the benefits HITE has brought to his program and state; in February, Jeraldine Kraver of the University of Northern Colorado discussed her experiences with the HITE program and how she draws on it to address the Common Core State Standards. Here is one more testimonial from past participant Helen Bond, associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and associate director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning, and Assessment at Howard University (DC):

I was a participant in the first Holocaust Institute for Teacher Educators (HITE) in 2007 at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), and a group of us published an edited volume titled Pathways to the Holocaust in 2008. My chapter focused on teaching the Holocaust in the urban classroom. The HITE experience provided me with the knowledge and direction to incorporate Holocaust education into my teacher education courses at Howard University, a historically Black university located in the nation’s capital.

In 2007, I was an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. With a Ph.D. in human development, I taught a variety of interdisciplinary courses. However, I focused my HITE experience on the social studies methods course. This course focused on ways to engage elementary and early middle school students in the social studies.

I began with developing a rationale for Holocaust education. I wanted to inspire critical thinking, while enhancing preservice teachers’ personal, professional, and moral growth. I wanted the future teachers to understand that the Holocaust was a watershed event in history that their students needed to learn about in an age-appropriate manner. Incorporating Holocaust education into the fabric of the social studies curriculum became one of the key features of the course. Students regularly reported how much they valued their visit to the USHMM.

However, something was missing. I wanted the preservice teachers to be able to articulate their personal reactions, feelings, and thoughts regarding their learning. I could see the expression on their faces as they made their way through the exhibits at the museum. The piles of shoes and shovels of hair of innocent victims would strain their youthful faces. Yet somehow, they felt it was their duty as professionals to remain unmoved, choking back their feelings for the students they were destined to one day teach.

I decided to ask how they felt about what they had seen and learned at the museum—not just how they might use the resources in their lesson plans. After a few minutes of silence, the floodgates would open, feelings would pour out, and real learning would begin. As a group of predominantly African Americans, they understood the pain of prejudice. What they learned was that the Holocaust was not an accident in history; six million Jews and others died because of decisions made by people, organizations, and governments—decisions based in prejudice, hate, and discrimination. They were struck by the magnitude and scale of the genocide.

I no longer teach this particular course; I have passed my syllabus, like a mantel, on to other instructors, encouraging them to use the museum’s guidelines to teach about the Holocaust and to continue its integration. Yet in my new responsibilities as associate professor and associate director of Howard’s Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, my experience in HITE is still relevant, and my work with the USHMM and interest in Holocaust education continues. I plan to incorporate the lessons of the Shoah in new and important ways.

This is a critical time in history for Holocaust education—as the last of the survivors pass on, remembrance becomes even more important. The lessons must always remain with us.


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Zachary VanHouten

Manager of Programs and Advocacy, AACTE

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