For a teacher who has a limited amount of time to spend on the Holocaust, it can be hard to figure out how to get started.
What should the curriculum be? Where can the teacher get a curriculum that fits their needs and the time they have?
In general, teachers can have a lot to plan and not as much time to do it as they’d like. “They’re always looking for resources that are free, for things that are tried and true that they don’t have to spend a lot of time preparing themselves,” said Scott Lone, a teacher at West Bend East High School.
It’s feedback like that which led the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center, a program of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, to plan to launch a Holocaust curriculum website. It will be different from sites offered by large, national organizations, said Dan Haumschild, who managed the project during his Holocaust education fellowship with HERC. He said the more streamlined HERC curriculum website – called the Holocaust Education Map – is designed to take the stress out of Holocaust education.
In September, Haumschild left HERC and started as the executive director of the Bardejov Jewish Preservation Committee. The nonprofit seeks to restore, educate and commemorate regarding the Holocaust in the town of Bardejov, Slovakia. Haumschild is based in Shorewood, and though he’s no longer responsible for the HERC curriculum website, it remains close to his heart.
“When you do first try to teach the Holocaust and you don’t know what you’re doing, you get an ocean of information dropped on your head,” Haumschild said. The project essentially gives the teacher a boat to navigate to success, he said.
“We built this website with a teacher in a small school in central Wisconsin in mind,” Haumschild said.
Yet the site can be used by anyone, anywhere in the world. Haumschild believes there is nothing else quite like it, and it has been built and refined with the work of various volunteer educators and HERC intern Samantha Goldberg. HERC is adding more content to the site and testing it. Its launch for use by teachers is slated for January 2021, said Brittany Hager McNeely, director of operations for HERC.
How it works
The curriculum site prods teachers to bookend two history pieces with two context pieces. Thus, it offers teachers modules in four different areas. First is “Intolerance,” for context. This is followed by “Nazi Germany” and “The Holocaust,” which are the two history areas. The final area is “Responsibility,” for context.
Teachers can build their own curriculum by navigating the site into each of the four areas. Need something for high school students? Or middle school? Have you got 30 minutes? Or longer? Set your parameters and search.
The site is built with the recognition that teachers tend to take from different places to build a curriculum, but they’d often like a simpler process, Haumschild said. “The intention is to create a unique one-stop shop for teachers to create a toolbox of lessons,” said Lone, the West Bend teacher, who worked on the site idea with Haumschild.
Earlier this year, the state Legislature came close to passing a bill requiring Holocaust education but was delayed by the pandemic. The bill wasn’t the genesis of the website project. Rather, the project got started as an effort to have curriculum available for HERC volunteers and employees. It morphed into a larger project because it just made sense, Haumschild said.
“That was just a nice confluence,” Haumschild said, referring to the bill and the website.
The confluence could work out perfectly, should the bill pass, which legislators have said they expect will happen with strong bipartisan support. The bill would require some teachers to teach the Holocaust, which could make the HERC lesson plan engine a valued resource for educators suddenly thrust into the subject matter. “Hopefully this will ease some anxiety that some teachers have about having little or no prior knowledge regarding the Holocaust,” Lone said.
“Holocaust education is a very tricky landscape. Teachers can get lost very, very quickly,” Haumschild said. “Holocaust education is very, very important. I think when we look at the darkest corners of human history, we can learn a great deal about humans themselves.”