Every year, the Baltimore Jewish Council holds Summer and Winter Teachers’ Institutes in partnership with the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
The Summer Teachers’ Institute recently wrapped up, with teachers spending Aug. 1 through 3 learning about Holocaust education.
This year’s focus: Holocaust denial and distortion, a topic that has become unfortunately common lately. Antisemitic sentiment and conspiracy theories have become more mainstream, and with them comes misinformation about the Holocaust and outright denial that it happened.
The subject has been a concern for teachers, leading to its selection as the focus for this Summer’s Teachers’ Institute. Each year’s focus is chosen based on what teachers feel they need and what myths about the Holocaust are common at the time.
“We have seen from different school districts in the state that more and more schools are experiencing Holocaust denial in the classroom. There is a concern from our educators on how to properly address that,” said Emily Braverman Goodman, director of Holocaust and countering antisemitism programming at the BJC. Goodman has been developing Teachers’ Institutes for the past several years as part of her slate of programming to commemorate the Holocaust and counteract antisemitism in the community.
“Seeing the news from all over the world, we see how Holocaust denial and distortion has become more prominent,” she added. “We see it from political leaders and celebrities who have a strong impression on our youth, and we want to be sure that teachers are able to discuss that with their students.”
Two of the three days of the Teachers’ Institute were held remotely over Zoom. Though this was initially a measure taken to hold the institute during the COVID-19 pandemic, the BJC and JMM have continued to use the software for their programs because it gives them greater outreach.
“Hosting the institute on platforms like Zoom gives us the flexibility to work with national and international partners, and with teachers who may not be as local,” said Marisa Shultz, the education program manager at the JMM.
While it is primarily intended for Baltimore-area educators, the institute is open to anyone, and tickets to attend and participate in it sold out quickly this year.
“We’re really excited that the community is interested and engaged in this topic,” Goodman said. “It shows that there is a need for an institute on this theme.”
The Teachers’ Institute brought in several speakers from community organizations that fight against antisemitism and Holocaust denial, such as the Freedom Forum free speech group. Discussions largely focused on online media literacy and how students can navigate information online, along with the intersection between Holocaust denial and white supremacy.
“The rise of the social internet is a blessing and a curse, as it’s helped us spread truth and learn about atrocities, but has also been used by white supremacists and Holocaust deniers to recruit,” Shultz said. “The internet brings an opportunity for us to learn about white supremacy, but also for white supremacists to influence people and spread their agenda.”
The institute also has a longtime partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where the third day of the program was held.
The USHMM and JMM are connected through the Conference for Holocaust Education Centers. JMM is also a member of the Community of Holocaust Education Centers, which is led by the USHMM and provides support to Holocaust education centers.
“There’s such a variety of different resources from almost any topic relating to the Holocaust at the USHMM, many of which come with free resources that make educators’ jobs a lot easier,” Goodman explained.
In addition to dissuading students from believing in Holocaust denial theories, the hope for the institute is that it makes teachers feel more secure in their ability to teach about the tragedy.
“Teaching about the Holocaust can feel really daunting and overwhelming for educators,” Shultz noted. “I hope they recognize that there are institutions, scholars and other educators who will support them in their growth [in teaching about the Holocaust].”