Teachers’ conference focuses on teaching Holocaust, genocides

Posted: November 10, 2011 in News

By Mike Cohen

MONTREAL – More than 100 school teachers from across Quebec – most of whom are not Jewish – took part in an a day-long professional development conference here presented by the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre. The theme was Teaching the Holocaust and Other Genocides: Opportunities, Challenges and Successes.

One session, for instance, focused on effective approaches and the use of life stories.
University of Ottawa’s Rebeccca Margolis’s theme was Out of the Mouths of Students: Insights on Teaching the Holocaust  to High School Students, while Bronwen Low of McGill University dealt with Teaching About Human Rights Violations and Genocide through the Study of Life Stories. The latter included an intervention by Michele Luchs of the Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sports (MELS), who is about to begin a tour of high schools to tell stories like one involving Leontine Uwababyeyi via a program called Mapping Memories (http://www.mappingmemories.ca).

In a video, which is part of the program, Uwababyeyi shares her extraordinary story of surviving the Rwandan genocide.

“In our family we say it is better to live twice than to die twice,” said Uwababyeyi, now 23 and residing in Montreal.

“Can anyone imagine bringing Leontine’s story into your teaching?” Margolis asked.
Several hands went up, with teachers making the connection to a modern-day genocide to what happened in the Holocaust decades ago.

“For high school students, how do we make this meaningful?” Margolis inquired. “They are sitting in a classroom 60 years (after the Holocaust). It is not an event that has personal significance to them.”

There were many suggestions to use the documentary Paper Clips, in which students at blue-collar Tennessee school, collected six million paper clips, to symbolize what happened in the Holocaust.

“I do not think Schindler’s  List is a good teaching tool,” commented Margolis. “It is too long. I would recommend having Holocaust survivors in the classroom. This makes an impact. Field trips are also good. Students like to go places.”

Sabrina Moisan, a PhD in didactics, specialized in the teaching of history, and education coordinator at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, felt that the day’s focus was right on the mark.

“Although any historical phenomenon is unique, it is sometimes necessary, for a better understanding, to use comparison with other similar phenomena,” she said “How can we ensure that the uniqueness and complexity of an event is maintained, along with the search for universal principles? Our goal is to identify successful and well-thought-out practices that could be passed on to all those teachers who tell us they need tools and practical methods for teaching phenomena as difficult as the Holocaust and other genocides.”

Charles Heimberg, a professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland where he is responsible for the continuing education of teachers in history and citizenship education, chaired the conference. His recent research focuses on the conditions of the transmission of history and memory in Switzerland, on the development of a critical historical thinking by the students, which will help them exercise critical thinking about the world, and on the role of museums in transmitting history and memory.

Brenda Trofanenko of Acadia University and Steve Quirion of MELS were also on hand.
The Teachers Conference was part of the 2011 Holocaust Education Series,   organized by the Holocaust centre. It ran from Oct. 26 to Nov. 6. Programming featured 10 days of testimonies, workshops, films and discussions.


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