Holocaust education can play a major role in making both students and adults more aware of the genocide, say two educators with experience in the field.
Paula Olivieri, the education coordinator at the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center, in Providence, said in an interview that the legislation recently passed by the R.I. General Assembly to create a permanent commission to promote and continually improve genocide and Holocaust education will go a long way toward making more people aware of the atrocities of the Holocaust.
Asked if she thinks Holocaust education can reduce anti-Semitism in schools, such as at Duxbury High School, in Massachusetts, where the football team reportedly had been using “Auschwitz” as a term to call football plays for several seasons, she said she’s optimistic that it can.
“You find that students are more aware of the Holocaust and genocides” in states where Holocaust education is mandatory, she said.
Currently, 18 states, including Rhode Island, require Holocaust education, and there will be 19 next year, when Arkansas’ law takes effect, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Another educator, Charlotte Sheer, who founded the Holocaust Stamps Project at Foxboro Regional Charter School in the 2008-09 school year, knows that Holocaust education works, because she did so on her own at a time when only five states required it.
The stamps project was embraced by the entire school, she said.
“For 10 years, students in kindergarten through grade 12 worked together, trimming and counting stamps, and creating 18 stamps collage artworks depicting aspects of the Holocaust. Making children aware of the historical facts opened the door to understanding how destructive prejudice can be,” she said.
“Today’s children are tomorrow’s parents – and leaders. What is taught in school today provides the foundation for how tomorrow’s adults will conduct their lives and treat each other,” Sheer added.
Recent remarks by public figures using the Holocaust to make political points seem to support the notion that more Holocaust education is needed. Two recent incidents – one national and one locally – illustrate this point.
Both the Anti-Defamation League of New England and Dighton-Rehoboth schools Superintendent Anthony Azar strongly condemned her remarks.
The educators said they believe that mandatory Holocaust education will reduce such incidents.
LARRY KESSLER (email@example.com) is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro. He blogs at larrytheklineup.blogspot.com.