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Difficult lessons

Sat., April 14, 2012

East Valley Middle School teacher Julie Scott believes Holocaust studies create a more tolerant world “one student at a time.” (Jesse Tinsley)
East Valley Middle School teacher Julie Scott believes Holocaust studies create a more tolerant world “one student at a time.” (Jesse Tinsley)

Holocaust observance pays tribute to educators

When former East Valley Middle School students run into teacher Julie Scott, they always ask: “Are you still teaching the Holocaust?”

When Brad Veile teaches his Lakeside High School students in Plummer, Idaho, about the Holocaust, they always wonder: “Why didn’t someone do something?”

Steve Bernard, now retired from Central Valley High School, said students who learn about the Holocaust always want to know more.

“It’s a highly fascinating piece of history,” Bernard said. “Kids are just blown away by what human beings did to other human beings.”

The Holocaust is touched upon only briefly in history courses for many Inland Northwest students. But these three teachers incorporated comprehensive Holocaust study classes into their schools’ curriculums, and they urge – and help – other teachers do the same.

On Thursday, at Temple Beth Shalom in Spokane, they will participate in the Spokane Community Observance of the Holocaust. This year’s theme: “Honoring the Holocaust Educators.”

These Holocaust-study educators:

Emphasize the human story

The teachers do not use graphic Holocaust images.

“I want my students to know these victims as people,” said East Valley’s Scott, whose Holocaust elective class is taken by about 90 percent of the eighth-graders.

“These were kids their ages who had hopes and dreams. I use a lot of images from the (U.S. Holocaust Museum) archives showing their everyday life – weddings, picnics.”

It’s not ancient history

All three teachers tie the Holocaust into modern injustices and atrocities, from genocides to hate groups to bullying in schools.

Veile, whose school is on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation, discusses how Nazi leaders eradicated Jewish culture, law by law. The students then discuss how Native American children, forced into boarding schools more than a century ago, saw their culture erased, too, by not being allowed to speak their tribal language, for instance.

Watch Rebecca Nappi talk with KHQ’s Dave Cotton about the Holocaust-studies teachers

“There are so many lessons that can be taught connected to the Holocaust – government power, freedom of speech,” Veile said.

Teachers can educate themselves

Bernard, Scott and Veile received teaching fellowships from the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. They urge interested teachers to look for fellowships and other Holocaust-study workshops, and then return to their schools and lobby for in-depth courses.

When Bernard retired in 2010, his Holocaust class was so popular the school offered 12 sections of it. A teacher he mentored, Geoff Artie, has taken over the course.

“I have a semester-plus worth of materials I am more than willing to share with anybody,” Bernard said.

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