02/07/18 — Teaching a dark history

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Teaching a dark history

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 7, 2018 5:50 AM

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Alfred Schnog uses a projector to display propaganda cartoons used by Germans. The cartoon depicted is about a non-Jewish lake.

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Alfred Schnog, whose family fled from Germany, speaks about his experiences as a child Tuesday during a North Carolina Council on the Holocaust seminar for local educators.

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Local educators listen to Holocaust speaker Alfred Schnog at the end of a workshop held Tuesday at the School Street Learning Center organized by the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust.

Wayne County Public Schools hosted a multi-county teacher workshop Tuesday on "The History of Anti-Semitism," equipping middle and high school educators to teach on the subject of the Holocaust.

The training was provided by the N.C. Council on the Holocaust, an agency of the state Department of Public Instruction. It was held at the WCPS Professional Development and Family Engagement Center, formerly the site of School Street Elementary School.

The event was designed for social studies and language arts teachers as well as media specialists. Between eight and 10 are held each year across the state, said Audrey Krakovitz, a member of the N.C. Council on the Holocaust.

"We have several different topics -- the history of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, propaganda and resistance," she said. "We kind of focus every workshop on a different topic."

Presenters provide concrete lessons the educators can apply in their classrooms, whether they have one period, a week or a month or a semester to accomplish this, she said.

"What we're going to do is teach the human story, because at the end of the day, what students will remember are the stories," said Jen Goss, presenter for the morning session.

She told her audience that getting students to engage with the Holocaust is one of the guiding principles in effectively teaching this subject.

Those in attendance received a wealth of materials to draw upon, Krakovitz said -- from class lessons and survivor testimonials to access to a speakers bureau, traveling plays and lending libraries.

Karen Klaich, member of the council and a teacher fellow with the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., also helped co-author a Holocaust curriculum for Pitt County Schools. A retired educator herself, she focuses on "best practices" in the classrooms.

The subject matter can be sensitive, she said, which is why it is not taught in some of the younger grades.

"We suggest reading testimonies, listening to survivors, reading diaries and non-fiction text," she said. "You can't replicate the conditions or the emotions."

It is also important to make it relevant, she said, which isn't too difficult these days with the climate around the world.

The subject has been a passion of hers for a long time, Klaich said.

She had two great-uncles who fought in World War II, so while she did not choose to go the military route, said she embraced the opportunity to pass along the important message to her students.

Tamara Ishee, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction with WCPS, was especially pleased to have the workshop offered locally. She said 21 local educators signed up and took advantage of the free training.

"I'm hoping our people will take this and make it a much larger part of the discussion," she said.

Jennifer Stevens, a seventh-grade English teacher at Eastern Wayne Middle School, enthused about the opportunity.

"Thank you for bringing this here," she told Ishee.

Stevens said she had already attended a version of the workshop in Wake County and went on a trip to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. this past summer.

"I was so excited when I heard (the workshop) was coming here," she said.

It is still a socially relevant topic, she said, especially since survivors of World War II and the Holocaust are becoming fewer.

She said she is currently reading "Night" with her students, a popular book about Elie Wiesel's experience in Nazi Germany concentration camps at the height of the Holocaust.

"A lot of our kids have a hard life," she said. "We're making it socially relevant to that -- genocide going on all over the world and why it's important to say something."