‘Never Forget’ at School: Challenges Facing Holocaust Education

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The Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland hosted “Who Will Remember?”, a panel presentation on Holocaust education at Beth Israel Congregation Jan. 23.

The forum explained Maryland’s new Holocaust education requirements announced late October. It also covered the challenges Holocaust education faces in schools and the resources that are available to teachers.


At the forum, Bruce Lesh from the Maryland Department of Education explained that, while Maryland has added lesson objectives to the state education framework, it cannot require exact lessons — those are dictated locally. For this reason, Linda Boteach, president of the Federation, suggested to the room of more than 80 guests to call their local school boards to inquire about education and offer resources.
Education on the Holocaust is based on the ages of students.

Grade school students have a groundwork curriculum that is then deepened for high school students, Lesh said. The Holocaust is not only taught in social studies, he noted, but also in English through fiction and nonfiction books for sixth and seventh graders.

One challenge schools face is the issue of teacher training, Lesh said.

“They’re not content experts,” he said of grade school social studies teachers, who usually study a broad overview of history rather than one time period in specific. This leads to discrepancies in appropriate methods of teaching.

“There’s a pedagogy,” Lesh said. “One thing that bothers me is classroom simulations of either slave trade or the Holocaust.”

In order to prevent this, speakers Marjorie Simon and Rachel V. Glaser from Baltimore Jewish Council’s Holocaust Remembrance Commission offered affordable resources for teachers. Simon said that no teacher should ever resort to Google to find teaching resources for the Holocaust.

One way the commission can help teachers is by arranging for survivors to speak at schools. Almost as proof of the availability of this option, one guest stood up and expressed her surprise that, as a survivor, she has only been asked to share her experience at one school.

Simon also named other resources such as Centropa, which provides summer seminars to Europe; Tel Aviv University’s online courses; and The Louise D. and
Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education.

Another obstacle is that Maryland is a “net importer” of teachers from out of state, Lesh said. Maryland universities only educate enough teachers to fill 40% of the state’s social studies teachers spots, so teachers come in with various expectations
and backgrounds.

In addition, College graduates also often go into teaching for their first year or two out of school, then move on, rather than building professional development and becoming better teachers.

“Teaching has become a revolving door, not a career,” Lesh said.

There is also the challenge of priority. State testing scores math, science, and English, so schools put more funds into those courses, and not into social studies.
Baltimore County Councilman Israel “Izzy” Patoka, a son of Holocaust survivors, attended the forum, but he didn’t come to speak. He came to listen.

Talking to the JT, he expressed concern that the remaining survivors’
population is shrinking.

“I share with my 18-year-old son so he understands the heritage, why he doesn’t have a large family,” Patoka said. “I’m very concerned about the current enabling
of hatred nearing acceptance as a norm.”

One presentation slide particularly surprised Patoka. It showed that only 12 states require Holocaust education.

“The rampant anti-Semitism in the U.S. is so appalling. People feel free to be
anti-Semitic,” said Barbara Black, co-president of Hadassah Greater Baltimore. “We’ve got to stop it withthe next generation.”

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