Combating discrimination and hatred through education

Three strategies for teaching tolerance through the lens of the Holocaust
Sue Stott is a consultant for the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, a national alliance of educator preparation programs.
Sue Stott is a consultant for the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, a national alliance of educator preparation programs.

We live in a society where truth is decaying and hatred and discrimination are on the rise, and can have a detrimental impact on a school’s culture and climate. Teaching and learning about the roots of hate is essential in fostering an inclusive classroom environment.

Teachers play an essential role in creating a more humane and tolerant world. They are stewards of culture and are in a position to protect history, promote facts and prevent inhumanity. However, to provide students with the most effective instruction, educators must have the tools to understand the nature of hate crimes and how they impact the culture and climate of schools. Additionally, they must know how to address issues of bias and discrimination in the classroom.

Teaching and learning about the roots of hate is essential in fostering an inclusive classroom environment.

Addressing prejudice through the lens of the Holocaust

Members of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) are committed to preparing future educators to build a more tolerant world through teaching. Recently, AACTE members Rick Ginsberg (University of Kansas), RenÁ©e Middleton (Ohio University), Margaret Grogan (Chapman University in California) and Marvin Lynn (Portland State University in Oregon) participated in a Holocaust Education Program abroad that was sponsored by the International March of the Living; Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience at Rutgers University in New Jersey; and Rutgers Law School.

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The program was developed for education and law school deans to explore how they can apply the history of the Holocaust to teach the broader concept of combating hatred and discrimination. After all, the roots of genocide are the marginalization and dehumanization of cultural and religious groups, actions that are not foreign in our contemporary world. Children and adults can easily watch the news and see these phenomena happening, sometimes even in their own communities.

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Through the lens of the Holocaust, educators have an opportunity to address prejudice in an intentional way, challenging students’ beliefs and building bridges among different cultures. AACTE participants recommend:

  • “The inhumanity of humanity should be the core of what and how we teach about all hate and discrimination,” says Ginsberg, of University of Kansas, reflecting on the Holocaust Education Program. He stresses that educators have a duty to be a moral compass; to discern what’s real from what’s fake; and to teach, speak out and model appropriate behaviors and reactions to discrimination to help students become socially and emotionally aware.
  • “Educators need to become more self-aware, challenging our own biases, being willing to listen to another perspective, breaking down walls that politicians are good at building to divide us, and speaking out for other groups that we don’t belong to in order to add another credible, unbiased voice,” says Middleton, of Ohio University.
  • A more globalized understanding of race and racism is important, adds Lynn, of Portland State. “We need to better connect significant historical events across time and place to effectively engage in discussions about race that are broad, inclusive, and transcendent of time and place.”
  • “Not only is it important for teachers to commit to remembering the Holocaust by insisting it remains in every history curriculum, but they must also commit to drawing the parallels in their own backyards,” says Grogan, of Chapman University.

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Broadening student understanding

Here are three opportunities for school administrators to use current tools to broaden their students’ understanding of and connection to the Holocaust.

  1. Allow students to meet directly with Holocaust survivors. Chapman University, for example, runs an annual art and writing competition that attracts high school and middle school students and teachers from around the world. In addition to monetary prizes and trips to Holocaust museums, winners can meet with survivors and their family members. The contest is housed in Chapman’s Barry and Phyllis Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education, which provides a wide variety of resources and programs throughout the year.
  2. Reach out for support. Many nonprofits, in addition to AACTE, explore the topics of discrimination and hatred through their work to build a culture of tolerance. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center program, Teaching Tolerance, provides professional development and other materials for educators, and Rethinking Schools offers educational materials and initiatives for building a humane, caring and multiracial democracy. These groups, among others, have a strong track record supporting teachers in learning more about diversity, equity and inclusion.

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  3. Leverage curriculum. Teaching tolerance can be integrated into state and national frameworks through different subjects, especially humanities and the arts. Ginsberg notes that the emphasis on social-emotional learning in many states and school districts today should include instruction about understanding and combating hatred and discrimination in all forms.

Legal policies also protect the study of the Holocaust. For example, Oregon recently approved Senate Bill 664, which requires school districts to “provide instruction about the Holocaust and genocide.” The state now provides resources for teaching about the Holocaust, in addition to ethnic studies and native history. Schools are also encouraged to link their Holocaust instruction to other forms of discrimination that exist in Oregon.

On a national level, in recognition of the importance of International Holocaust Day in January, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to expand the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s education programming. The Never Again Education Act requires the museum to develop accessible resources and education program activities that improve awareness of the Holocaust and engage teachers and education leaders.

Sue Stott is a consultant for the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, a national alliance of educator preparation programs.

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