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Teaching the Unthinkable
While the state mandates the Holocaust be taught in grades K–12, the legislation does not explain how to teach six-year-olds about the murder of not only six million Jews, but countless homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, “gypsies,” political activists, and patients with mental handicaps. To help teachers gain the confidence and knowledge they need to teach the Holocaust in their classrooms, the University of Florida hosts the Summer Holocaust Institute for Florida Teachers (SHIFT) each year on the university campus.
Established in 2002, the weeklong teacher-training program just completed its sixth year in June. For $150, teachers receive a full week of instruction, books and materials, breakfast daily, a trip to the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, and a culminating banquet at week’s end. In retrospect, many participants describe the seminar as the most emotionally difficult but valuable week of their educational careers.
“When we do not teach the lessons of history, we fail to warn our students of the dangers of prejudice wherever it happens,” said Kay Gonsoulin, a 2007 SHIFT participant and English and reading teacher at DeSoto High School in Archer, Fla.
The program is unique in that it is designed and directed by university faculty whose published research has a direct impact on their teaching of the Holocaust, as opposed to the museum volunteers and continuing education staff who lead similar programs across the state. Most participants are UF graduates returning to their alma mater nostalgic for seminar-style teaching. “Teachers like to come back and get in touch with what’s going on in the world of scholarship,” said Geoffrey Giles, an associate professor of history and SHIFT’s co-director and founder.
SHIFT is divided into three main areas of focus. One-third of the program is dedicated to providing solid historical information led by Giles, who has served as the Senior Scholar in Residence at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Another part of the program is devoted to curriculum and how to transfer this knowledge into instructional units in grades K–12. College of Education Professor and SHIFT Co-Director Linda Lamme coordinates this effort.
“While high school students can handle all kinds of literature about the Holocaust, there are also well-written, award-winning children’s books on the topic, including picture books such as The Cats in Krasinski Square, describing heroic children who thwarted Nazi soldiers, that could be shared with children as young as kindergarteners,” Lamme said. “Many of the books are authentic, written by survivors who lived through the Holocaust as a child or adolescent.”
The third and most emotional part of the week is interaction between participants and those who experienced the tragedy first-hand. Political Science Professor Ken Wald, a SHIFT program coordinator and the son of Holocaust survivors, organizes this effort. Many teachers report that hearing accounts of how people survived the war and rebuilt their lives was the most powerful memory they received from the entire workshop. “I had a very rewarding week,” said Gonsoulin. “Emotional, yes, but often we need to confront some of the hard issues in life so that we learn to be better, more aware individuals.”
SHIFT attracts not only social studies and English teachers, but also educators from a variety of fields including French, music and science. Stephen Davis, a New Port Richey middle school teacher and 2003 participant, used the knowledge he gained about the engineers who designed genocidal gas chambers to teach his students about science ethics.
“We are impressed with how creatively they are bringing this into the classroom,” said Wald. “My faith in public education is always rejuvenated and restored by this experience.”
Calling All Teachers!
The next Summer Holocaust Institute for Florida Teachers will be held on the University of Florida campus on June 16–20, 2008. For more information, including registration materials, please visit www.jst.ufl.edu/shift. You may also be interested in one of the following teacher training programs offered through CLAS:
The Center for European Studies provides learning opportunities for teachers in several ways. It conducts daylong workshops on current European topics, such as the recent “European Prints and Life: Renaissance to Impressionism.” Each July, the center hosts the intensive two-week Language Teacher Summer Institute for foreign language teachers. Additionally, it recently developed an interactive language learning computer program, myworLd, designed to entice students ages 12 to 19 to learn a new language. The program will soon be made available to schools. For more information on any of these opportunities, contact Gail Keeler, Outreach Coordinator, at (352) 392-8902, ext. 211 or visit www.ces.ufl.edu.
Get Acquanited with Asia
The Asian Studies Program coordinates the Florida Seminar for Teaching About Asia, in association with the National Consortium for Teaching About Asia, offering middle and high school teachers the opportunity to learn about Asian history, culture, politics and art. There are two seminar options: an intensive, two-week summer institute, or a Saturday program that runs over eight months. Teachers learn ways to integrate Asia into their curricula and develop and present a lesson plan and meet for a follow-up session to analyze how they were able to integrate their lesson plan into their year of instruction. For more information, contact Patricia Bartlett, Coordinator, at (352) 392-2464 or visit www.clas.ufl.edu/asian/.