Holocaust and Human Behavior: Lessons Learned & Shared

Posted by Dan Alba on December 21, 2012

HHB frontAfter each school year, do you look forward to summer vacations, travels, hobbies and relaxation to recharge your batteries? As a former classroom teacher, I remember my own need to "get away from it all" and as "far as possible." But not Malia Frutschy from Beverly Hills High School! Malia confesses:

I know that when I plan my summer vacations my initial thoughts rarely include planning for work. However, I always seem to end up visiting places of historical importance and bringing home lots of material to work into my curriculum for the next year. Does anyone else do this? I remember even dragging my parents off the beach in Hawaii to take me to Pearl Harbor when I was a kid.

I particularly seem to end up at Holocaust memorials or museums. It seems that every major (and minor) city and town has chosen their own way to honor those lost. The effects of the Holocaust were seen world-wide and it is so interesting to see how other cultures choose to remember.

Some of the ones that I have visited and suggest to you if you’re nearby: -

Malia's class is one of thousands throughout the country and world which explores Facing History's principal case study, Holocaust and Human Behavior. The lessons learned from this study of the past and examining human behavior reveal the early conditions and circumstances where prevention is possible. Through the many lenses of Facing History and Ourselves, such as multiple perspective taking, reflection, a paradigm of inquiry and critical thinking, teachers have introduced to students a vocabulary and language to negotiate and participate in their world as doers of good and making a difference. Facing History and Ourselves gives students voice and ownership of their own learning in ways they have never experienced before. Students, through Facing History "in themselves", develop new ways of pondering the past with a stronger sense of purpose and participation in their lives.

By raising universal questions from this particular case study, we have deepened our understanding of:

  • identity issues
  • the concept of Us and Them
  • questions of human behavior,
  • the fragility of democracy
  • obedience and conformity
  • judgment
  • memory
  • resistance and
  • participation

Some teachers find it helpful to ask essential questions for each lesson or unit when teaching Holocaust and Human Behavior. These questions help focus and guide students in their thinking about big ideas and themes. Below, Malia offers some of her essential questions when examining human rights and justice after mass violence. Malia writes:

Who is responsible for protecting, preserving and nurturing human rights? What does it mean to be an upstander? What tools do upstanders use to make a difference?

Towards the end of the year, when my classes begin to cover more recent events, I like to challenge my students with the questions above. I also use Facing History and Ourselves’ Be The Change website to introduce my students to younger adults that have made a difference in their own communities and beyond. The people profiled aren’t your typical superheroes; they were regular folks that decided to make a difference. I ask my students to consider what influenced these upstanders to act? We also consider obstacles they faced and how they overcame them.

I like to ask these discussions over a few weeks. When we have a full class period available, I turn the tables and ask my students to identify their universe of obligation and any actions they would take to protect those within. What changes do they want to see in the world? How might they be achieved?

Over the past 36 years, Facing History teachers have shared many thoughts, ideas, connections, lessons, resources and activities with other educators when teaching Holocaust and Human Behavior. We invite you to share your classroom experiences as well. Your shared insights and classroom stories will help us deepen our teaching practices which help develop and strengthen students' voices, critical thinking, informed decision-making and the connections they make in their lives today.

+ What essential questions have you asked students to reflect upon when teaching Holocaust and Human Behavior?


Topics: Choosing to Participate, Holocaust and Human Behavior

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