Two Clackamas County educators are attending a five-day seminar focused on implementing Holocaust education and other instruction on racial and ethnic discrimination in Oregon.
The program, called "Lessons from the Past: Understanding the Holocaust and Human Rights Violations" is taking place Aug. 2-6 at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education in Portland, sponsored by The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights (TOLI).
TOLI began sponsoring the program in 2017, the same year Oregon passed a pair of education bills directing public school curricula to include idigenous and ethnic studies. Two years later in 2019, Oregon became the 11th state to pass a law requiring school districts to teach students about the Holocaust and other genocides in social studies classes.
Program co-facilitator Carrie McCallum said their seminar explores the convergence of topics from all three education bills by making connections between the Holocaust and other historical manifestations of bigotry.
"Our focus is helping teachers have the tools to help their students talk about difficult subjects and human rights issues that are throughout history." McCallum said. "We try to find different avenues so that we don't just talk about the Holocaust, we talk about how it relates to Oregon and what has happened in the past in Oregon with discrimination and racism."
Oregon City and North Clackamas middle school teachers Angela Schroeder and Tammy Brown were among roughly a dozen educators attending the seminar, which includes a professional development program, live testimonies from genocide survivors, and visits to the Japanese American Museum of Oregon and a synagogue.
Schroeder, a teacher at Gardiner Middle School in Oregon City, said Holocaust and genocide education into is especially relevant today as the U.S. increasingly reckons with its ongoing history of discrimination.
"I feel like we're in a very 'othered' time in our society," Schroeder said. "We're doing a lot of differentiating of people by color, by religion. And we're really seeing that kind of come to the surface again, and so to teach these things, it's really important to see what happens when that goes too far."
Brown, who teaches at Wilbur Rowe Middle School in Milwaukie, said she appreciates that the program makes connections between past events and present realities.
"One thing that really appealed to me about this class was relating it to modern day," Brown said. "Just thinking about what was it in history that caused this to be able to happen, and how do I educate my students to be able to stand up and make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again."
McCallum said part of how the seminar connects the past and present are live testimonies from guests including Holocaust survivor and Oregon resident Evelyn Banko. She added that TOLI emphasizes the importance of "individual stories" that "help us connect" to these topics.
"I think bringing in speakers and doing readings and personal accounts are some of those ways to really bring it home and not just see it as a historical thing," Schroeder said. "What I try to do in history in general is tell the story of people...people did it, people experienced it and people had repercussions because of it."
Schroeder and Brown both said that guest speakers help keep students engaged in the classroom, which will be a big focus for educators as many schools return to in-person instruction this fall.
"Creating a safe space in your classroom and making sure that students feel safe, feel heard, feel seen, by their teachers and by their classmates — that all plays into their comfort in how deeply they're going to engage with these really difficult topics," Brown said.
To learn more about the seminar, click here.
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