Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Choosing resources that don't romanticize

This is one of the ten guidelines for teaching the Holocaust recommended by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In my opinion, this is one of the most difficult of the Museum’s guidelines to follow, but nonetheless, very important.

This is difficult for several reasons. Teachers are natural storytellers. We are constantly thinking of ways to present the information in a manner that grabs our student’s attention. Sometimes, because of that, we can be tempted to focus much of our attention on dramatic and/or gruesome details that do not capture the realities of an event, including the Holocaust. One such topic is rescue during the Holocaust. Many of these stories are compelling and do approach the topic of taking action, a social justice lesson many of us hope students take away from studying the Holocaust.

Teaching about rescue should be a part of a Holocaust curriculum, but not romanticized in a way that over emphasizes its part in the history. Less than one half of once percent of European non-Jews were involved in rescue efforts during the Holocaust. “Schindler’s List” is an excellent movie, and I show it for extra credit each year, but it should not be the only instruction students receive on the Holocaust, therefore giving students the idea that this is the typical story of the Holocaust.

As educators, we need to be cognizant of the films we show to our students. In our society, which is inundated with media and entertainment, there are many movies and pieces of historical fiction that tell a great story, but fail to tell all of the history or misrepresent it. Before showing a movie, we should ask ourselves “Why am I showing this? What do I want students to get out of this?” There might be a time and a place for “Life is Beautiful”, but as a Hollywood movie that misrepresents the history, it should not be used in an historical nature. The same can be said for movies like “The Boy in Stripped Pajamas” and “Jakob the Liar”.

There are many engaging and compelling stories that are historically correct. If you are looking for suggestions, feel free to refer to this list of movies and books and also MCHE 's annotated film list.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Accuracy of fact along with a balanced perspective on the history must be a priority.” I firmly believe that we owe this to our students in all studies of history and especially when educating about the Holocaust.

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