HomeAugust 2011A Distinguishing Dimension

A Distinguishing Dimension

A new component in the Jewish Studies Program at California State University Long Beach has paired the university with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Belfer First Step Program, a program created to help facilitate the teaching of Holocaust material to high school teachers, who in turn, will teach their students.  Along with other participating campuses across the country, the museum this summer invited student representatives from the Long Beach campus to Washington, D.C., to participate in a special conference on the subject.
This is just another distinguishing addition to augment the mission of the Jewish Studies Program, said Professor Jeff Blutinger, who holds the Barbara and Ray Alpert Endowed Chair for Jewish Studies at the university.  This connection, said Blutinger, is a way “for the Jewish Studies Program to distinguish itself from other Southern California programs, to specialize in a particular area, and the area that works best for this campus is teacher training.”

While it may seem to many of us that we’ve heard enough about the Holocaust, and now it’s time to focus on other issues, sadly, the residue of the ugly and tragic world of 1939 to 1945 Germany keeps popping up around the world, and those who are required to teach our children are sometimes nonplussed and in the dark as how to approach the subject. “Holocaust education is a state standard,” Blutinger said, “usually taught at the 10th and 11th grades. Part of the instruction comes in history and part in language arts.  But those who instruct the Holocaust may not have [ever] taken a class in the subject.  Their knowledge may be limited to whatever movies they’ve seen, or whatever world history textbook they have read.”

To fill this void, several organizations, institutions such as the USHMM, and philanthropists have stepped in to help.  With seed money contributed by Holocaust survivor Gerda Seifer, who often lectures on the subject to students, and her husband, Harold, the Jewish Studies Program at CSULB in 2009 set about creating a Teacher Workshop that brings high school teachers to campus and provides training methods through curriculum workshops on how to teach their students about the Nazi genocide.

Blutinger said the theme for this year’s workshop, “Art and the Holocaust,” was illustrated with materials prepared by the Anti-Defamation League, “Echoes and Reflections,” as well as issues of memory and representation offered through the classic illustrated texts, Art Spiegelman’s Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History, and Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began.

The Teacher Workshop, presented last year for the first time, was held for five days during August, and participating teachers received a $100 stipend, which covered their parking and food for the period.  They could also receive up to two units of credit, if needed.

The summer of 2010, the inaugural workshop featuring the theme, “Children and the Holocaust,” was a great success, noted Blutinger.  Both 2010 and 2011 workshops began with a faculty-led review of genocide and introduction to the themes.  This year’s theme examined art as “perpetrator of the Holocaust and art as resistance,” explained Blutinger.  “We studied the theory of art and propaganda within a totalitarian system and looked at film as a tool in the killing process.  Teachers also viewed the creation of Nazi films that advocated genocide.”  At that point, the class “switched gears” and with a new perspective looked at art created by the victims as a way of resisting the Nazis.  To wind up the five days this year, the teachers visited the recently-opened Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

Observing that the workshop fits into the mission of the university by moving the program more and more into the field of teacher preparation and education, Blutinger said that this workshop “works well with one of the CSULB’s core missions — to prepare teachers.”

Among those area teachers who experienced the workshop last year was Carolyn Frost of the Brethren Christian Junior/Senior High School.  She explained that the workshop gave her more of a global view of Holocaust issues and cleared up misconceptions.  “It also helped me to become more aware of opportunities available to me as a citizen and as a teacher, to keep me more current on what is happening, to create awareness of preventing further hatred and intolerance in the world.  My presentation of Elie Wiesel’s book in my curriculum was really enriched by the seminar topics.  I also appreciated the viewpoint of the children and how they viewed the horrific events they experienced,” she said.

John Trovato of Torrance High School said he shared the materials he received with his school’s history department.  “I have engaged [my] students in discussions on the definition of the Holocaust and what is genocide,” he said.  “The conference has made me aware of how important it is to discuss the Holocaust and genocide in the world to students, who are really so far removed from realities of history and their impact.”

Participation in the Belfer First Step Program is another way for the Jewish Studies Program to put itself on the map, added Blutinger.  “I think this partnership benefits both institutions.  It’s a way for CSULB to expand Holocaust education and awareness. I think that’s a good first step.”

Currently, the campus is seeking to raise endowment funds that will make the workshops a permanent fixture on campus.  Blutinger believes these workshops are a “terrific idea.  It’s a chance to fill a major need, and there’s nothing like it available in Southern California, plus it gives [the university] a chance to increase our visibility and help to make a name for ourselves in Los Angeles and Orange County.”

For further information about the Jewish Studies Program and/or the Teacher Workshops, please contact Dr. Jeffrey Blutinger at CSULB, (562) 985-2196 or e-mail at jbluting@csulb.edu.

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