As I began to teach Hitler’s rise to power and the Second World War with my Year 9 classes, my student’s interest seemed to immediately be on the Holocaust. As I now embark on teaching the Holocaust to my students I wish to ensure that I am able to do justice to such profound events. Therefore over a series of posts I will record here the process I am undertaking in planning a delivering these lessons.
What are we teaching the Holocaust for?
In teaching, the one word which I believe is more important than any other is ‘why’. When we select a topic we must ask ‘why are we teaching this topic?’ When we chose the content to teach as part of that topic we must ask ‘why are we teaching this content?’ When we select an activity to deliver this content we must ask ‘why are we teaching with this activity?’
In teaching the Holocaust these questions are perhaps even more important. As such an emotive topic, carrying so many connotation it is important that we are motivated to teach the Holocaust for the right reasons.
Interestingly in the work done by the IOE into the current teaching of the Holocaust it was discovered that the aim of ‘learning the lessons of the Holocaust’ was more popular among History teachers than aims which focus on understanding the Holocaust as an historical event.
For me the focus on learning lessons from the Holocaust seems an abstract idea. Of course it is possible for us to draw parallels with the past and contemporary issue but if this is our only objective then we can be doing the study of history a disservice.
Therefore what I aim to do is to understand the Holocaust as an historical event. Giving my students an insight into the development of an historical situation and its impact. In the case of teaching the Holocaust I therefore aim to give my students an insight into how and why the Holocaust developed and what impact this had on the lives of Jews.
How do I hope to achieve these aims?
As well as thinking carefully about our motives in teaching topics I strongly believe in the use of second-order concepts. The use of second-order concepts has become widespread and I hope that an explanation for their need is not required here. What I do wish to outline here is my choice of change and continuity as the second-order concept through which I will organise students thinking.
Change and continuity goes to the heart of what I want to achieve in my teaching of the Holocaust. Through a focus on changes and continuities to Jewish life over the Holocaust I hope that my students will be able to gain an insight into the changing nature of the Holocaust and the diversity of experiences.
Keeping diversity in mind I feel it is essential to emphasise that the Holocaust was a personal event, experienced by individuals. An event which stands out powerfully in my own educational experiences was a talk by a Holocaust survivor. From this very personal account I became hugely engaged and was able to see how his experiences developed and impacted his life. Thus, I intend to use personal accounts from Holocaust survivors to investigate how individuals’ lives were affected. A particularly useful resource for gathering personal accounts, which I will be using in designing these lessons, is a book edited by Lyn Smith, Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust.
However, I also want to provide students with a clear narrative to build their understanding around. For this I will be using Schindler’s List. As history teachers I feel we have become very good at using films for teaching about the past. But there is often a danger that films can become a secondary source like a text book which students learn from without any interpretation. Instead what I want to do here is to study the film critically through comparison with primary accounts.
In order to ensure that this narrative and these personal accounts are given the relevance they deserve I also intend to place these events in their wider historical context. Looking specifically at the events of the war as it develops and different cases to understand what motivated individual’s actions, such as Jewish resistance and the case of Battalion 101.
Here I hope that I have given you an insight into my rational for the teaching of the Holocaust. My next step is to plan a series of lessons to achieve the aims I have set out here, which will form the basis for a coming post. I look forward to hearing any thoughts and insights that anyone can offer.