I’ve spent the last decade+ teaching about the Holocaust.
It began with teaching Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (in book form) as a thought experiment asking undergraduate ethics students to reconsider their assumptions about human nature and the essential goodness of people. We also read about Stanley Milgram’s (ethics concerns noted) experiments with his book Obedience to Authority. Zimbardo probably made a few appearances, as well, as he was the third in that trinity of “Maybe it could happen here,” philosophically minded academics from the post-war period.
Since I began working with school-aged children in 2013, I’ve been working through how to meet the challenges of Holocaust education with that age group. Should I show images of bodies? (Sometimes, but not with closeups best I can, not in heaps, and it depends on the age of the students, etc..) Should I try to tell the story chronologically or thematically? (Both, actually, seems the best approach, given the time.) Where should I find reliable sources to help in debunking conspiracy theories about the Jews and about the Holocaust (in terms of Holocaust Denial)? (See what follows.)
In the last three or four years, in my present position, I’ve spent a lot of time working through lessons about the Holocaust, but it’s always been somewhat piecemeal and never wholly satisfying in terms of what I had to leave out and what I was able to communicate to students.
Last year, I engaged in a weeklong study with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum over the summer of 2020 learn their approach to teaching young people about the Holocaust. I’ve also attended eight or ten webinars and workshops in the last year, the whole time building a unit-length course aimed at my middle school students.
So here it is – I’ve built this unit. It’s the plan I bring with me into a 7-week course on the Holocaust with my current sixth graders. If you’ve got an eye for this sort of thing, you’ll notice that it’s overplanned like mad – that’s how I always do things. I drop and add resources, projects, and ideas as needed. I zero in on particular standards, and I help students meet our goals with a flexible schedule that tends to come to completion only as we sail the Ship of Theseus that is my classroom. I talk with students about what works and what doesn’t, and I make changes as needed to help them find success. Then I make it better for next time around – and there will be a next time around for this unit, we can be sure. The lessons of the Holocaust are more important today than ever before.
I welcome feedback, as always.
You can find me on Twitter at @CaponeTeaches or leave a comment here with any reactions or suggestions.