You are on page 1of 2

TEACHING CONTROVERSIAL in

zachary truran te 804 friday, march 22, 2013

ISSUES theCLASSROOM
things to consider:

essential question
what do teachers need to be aware of when teaching the

holocaust?

How accurate and truthful does fiction that teachers use to teach the Holocaust need to be?
One of the dangers English teachers face when discussing this event is what literature and media to integrate into their plans. The available materials are no doubt engaging, but their questionable accuracy may not do the events of the Holocaust justice. For example, a popular film choice by students is The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. While students no doubt preceive the film for what it is (a heartwrenching story), they may not immediately pick up on the dramatization. The danger for educators is that students may form misconceptions about the Holocaust. Despite the chance for an increase of student engagement in reading Holocaust fiction, it is best to keep to primary sources and accounts of the events so not as to mislead students.

Teach the events of the Holocaust with consistency.
Since the Holocaust is an event that is rountinely covered in English and history classes, there are often inconsistences between the departments in their approach. This approach can be confusing to students. On the other hand, teachers may be uncomfortable with a multidisciplinary approach, which could further lead to inconsisties amongst students. Ideally, an English and a history department would work together to create the proper hisotircal narrative. Starting with a basic knowledge of the Jewish faith and culture can lead to a wider range of student thought and response than simply diving into the events of the late 1930s. Although English teachers may have a natural tendency to discuss the social and moral perspectives, it is absolutely crucial that there is a thorough historical context.

What about resistant learners of the Holocaust? How can they be approached?
An issue that can be extremely difficult to deal with is how to approach learners who are in denial of the Holocaust. Teachers should expect an initial negative reaction to the subject matter in this case. Their reactions to the material will, of course, largely depend on their background. At the same time, teachers can take comfort in the fact that learning about the Holocaust can be a wonderful anidote to racism and anti-Semitism. A possible way to combat this negativity is learn the views of students long before approaching the subject in order to give ample time for an appropriate response. Anticipation is a teacher’s biggest asset in this case. It also important to consider the possibilities of a student who harbors an unfavorable view towards Jewish people. A grave danger lies in them not seeing Nazism for what it is. Conversely, this brings up another set of ethical questions: to what extent are teachers responsible for shaping the views of their students? Is it the duty of the profession or a moral obligation?

Conclusions: What Can I Draw from This?
As a future teacher of English and history, the Holocaust is a topic of great sensitivity that will surely be a large part of my curriculum. In a world of increasing diversity, not only in terms of race and gender, but opinion too, there is an increased importance on handling subjects with care. It is entirely possible that I could have a student who is a Holocaust denier and one who is Jewish in the same classroom. The thought is equally intimidating as it is inspiring. That situation has tremendous opportunity to turn into a valuable, positive experience or an absolute nightmare. In terms of approach, I have been made aware of the dangers of relying too heavily on historical fiction to give perspective to students. Historical context is crucial for students to get the complete picture.

Personal reflection:
I became interested in the topic shortly after reading and teaching Night in English 9 this year. The students were highly engaged and interested in the subject of the Holocaust. This peaked my interest because I tend to gravitate towards controversial content. I find great value in facing the taboo head on, for it often provides a valable learning experience. The source text for this project, Teaching Controversial Issues in the Classroom, can also be a great tool for facilitating substantial classroom discussion.

elie wiesel’s NIGHT is a harrowing non-fiction account of the Holocaust.