Monday, May 18, 2015

Echoes and Reflections

By Jeff Burns

I recently had the privilege of participating in a day-long session of professional learning about the Holocaust called Echoes and Reflections. Echoes and Reflections is a Holocaust education program created ten years ago as part of a partnership of the Anti-Defamation League, the USC Shoah Foundation, and Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum.  In those ten years, more than 25,000 educators across the country have been introduced to the program and its curriculum.

About forty-five educators from across my district, representing fifth through twelfth grades were present, and we left with great new ideas, strategies, and knowledge that will have a great impact on our students for many years to come.  The curriculum is divided into 10 lessons, and each lesson can be accessed online through the website.  The lessons are:  Studying the Holocaust, Anti-Semitism, Nazi Germany, The Ghettoes, The “Final Solution”, Jewish Resistance, Rescuers and Non-Jewish Resistance, Survivors and Liberators, Perpetrators Collaborators and Bystanders, and The Children. Each lesson contains a wealth of primary and secondary documents and activities that promote critical thinking, discussion, and participation by students. To implement the entire curriculum in the classroom would take weeks, but any teacher can pick and choose and adapt elements to easily fit his/her needs and style.

Perhaps the most important part of the curriculum is the use of video testimony selected from the Shoah Project, the massive collection of interviews initiated by Steven Spielberg years ago. Each unit has video clips of survivors that range from about 1-3 minutes in length, and the clips perfectly dovetail into each lesson.  The testimony is moving and informational, and the producers of the curriculum intentionally chose survivors, for the most part, survivors who were teens or very young adults during the Holocaust.  This is an inspired choice, since it provides a major connection between the survivors and the students who will be watching them. Through the testimonies and activities, students will readily see the relevance of these “ancient” events to their lives and to current issues in the nation and world.  The curriculum is constructed so that it is easy to connect current events.

The program and website are also linked to iWitness, a project of the Shoah Foundation .  This site allows teachers to register and create and share lessons and activities based on the testimonies and resources. Teachers can assign activities to students, and the class can interact online.

The afternoon concluded with us hearing Mr. Murray Lynn, a Holocaust survivor, tell his story.  I’ve heard four or five other survivors speak, but Mr. Lynn stands out. As a young boy in Hungary, he experienced anti-Semitism before the war, his father was murdered, and he and his surviving family members were taken to Auschwitz.  Only he survived, and he went on to build a very successful life.  Like many survivors, he refused to tell his story for many years.  Now, in his 80s, he is on a mission to educate young people about the horrors that he survived and about how they must be vigilant so that the horrors aren’t perpetuated.  His story is much more than horror and sadness, however; ultimately his story is very powerful, uplifting, and unforgettable.

Murray Lynn
Auschwitz Survivor

I have attended many professional learning experiences in my twenty-three years of education, and, frankly, not all have been totally professional or promoted learning in any way, but this was a great experience that I will definitely be putting to use.

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