Monday, November 2, 2009

Meeting language arts standards with Holocaust education

In this day of testing and the emphasis in meeting state and district standards, it is important to have good justification for taking the time required to teach the Holocaust. When teaching Language Arts, the standards are not based around specific materials, but rather general learning standards which can be met using many different materials. The Holocaust is not something that needs to be taught separately, alongside the state standards, but instead, standards can be taught within the Holocaust unit.

One objective in the Kansas middle school standards is to understand fact and opinion, and to recognize propaganda, bias and stereotypes. The Holocaust is a great unit to incorporate these topics. It is very important to teach students how to distinguish between fact and opinion, regarding the Holocaust. This can be done through looking at materials and judging whether or not the information is fact or opinion, and therefore credible or not credible. Websites, books, and even primary resources can be examined for credibility. Another important factor to look at when examining resources is bias. Understanding who wrote or created the piece, and then understanding their opinions, will help students better judge materials and understand the bias of the author.

One way to help students distinguish between facts and opinions and identify bias is to give them a set of criteria on which they can judge a source. There is a great example of this on the Cornell Library website. This stresses accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency and coverage when looking at resources and their validity. Using this set of standards, you can guide your students through some examples.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a great resource for articles which are valid. Using the Holocaust Encyclopedia on this site, look up a term, such as Nazi, and evaluate the resource. Then go to a website such as Wikipedia, do a search for the same topic, and compare and contrast the validity. Holocaust Controversies, another website, is a great place to show fact, opinion and bias. While this website’s intention is to debunk Holocaust deniers, it can illustrate how opinions, even those that we agree with, are still opinions.

The Holocaust is also an excellent resource for teaching stereotype. It really helps students understand the cause and effect of stereotype. Teaching the history of antisemitism can help students understand the progression of a stereotype and how and why people choose to believe what they do. One great way to do this is through pictures and photographs. Much of the Nazi rhetoric was based on the idea that a Jew could be recognized from outward appearances. I begin by showing my students photographs of Jews and non-Jewish Germans around the time of the war in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's photo archive. It is important for the students to see that there was no way of telling, based on what someone looked like, whether or not they were a Jew. They need to understand that not all Germans were Nazis, not all Jews were practicing, and that the two groups lived among each other for a long time before World War II. Then you can show them the visual propaganda that was used during the war from sources such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the German Propaganda Archive.

One excellent resource for teaching this visual stereotype is using the pictures from “Trau keinem Fuchs auf grüner Heid und keinem Jüd auf seinem Eid” (“Trust No Fox in the Green meadow and No Jew on his Oath”), a childrens book published in 1936 by Julius Streicher as a form of propaganda. This book depicts Jews as dirty, lazy, money hungry and untrustworthy. It depicts Germans as strong, hard working and being victimized by the Jews. You can show students the pictures and have them analyze the propaganda being used, such as name calling, glittering generalities and half truths. Putting the pictures of the Jews and the Germans side by side really shows the bias and slant in the pictures and propaganda.

While there are many important reasons for teaching the Holocaust, it is also important to be sure that what is being taught ties in with state and district standards. This is just one example of how this can be done. The Holocaust can be a tool used to integrate many areas of curriculum, allowing the students to learn on many levels and in many areas at the same time.

USHMM photo archives
USHMM encyclopedia
State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda
German Propaganda Archives
"Trust No Fox..."
"The Poisonous Mushroom"

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