CSUN College of Humanities Newsletter
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Teaching the Holocaust

The Holocaust was a watershed event in human history. Even as time passes, questions continue to perplex us. How could it have happened? What motivated the perpetrators? How did ordinary citizens behave? What lessons, if any, have we learned? Why are other genocides still occurring?

These issues are raised and discussed in the California State University Northridge graduate course Teaching the Holocaust and Genocide Studies. The purpose of the course is to teach current and future teachers how to teach the facts and lessons of the Holocaust accurately and sensitively, and how to relate these lessons to modern day genocides such as Rwanda and Darfur. The course originated in the College of Humanities and is cross listed in Jewish Studies and History.

The State of California mandates the teaching of the Holocaust and historical genocides in public school education. CSUN treats this mandate seriously, and has deemed this graduate course an academic priority. The course has received generous, consistent funding from The "1939" Club.

Most of the students in the course are currently teachers. Others are studying to become teachers at the level of middle school, high school and college. Students create new, curricular materials. One future college instructor created a PowerPoint presentation on the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Another student (a future museum professional) developed a curriculum in which high school students create a museum exhibit. Another student created a middle school curriculum using literature on hidden children.

Visiting Holocaust scholars are an important aspect of the course, as are first-hand accounts from survivors. These firsthand accounts are in turns grueling and enlightening.

Students of the course are connecting theory with the insights gained from practice. They are being prepared to engage fully in professional, personal and community life:

"This course furthered my professional goals. By learning methods of teaching the Holocaust I am better prepared to apply that knowledge in the classroom."

"I have discovered from my class on the Holocaust that study must be met with action."

"The course has given me a heightened awareness of bigotry and racism in the world and the need to educate others in tolerance and personal responsibility."

— Submitted by Joshua Einhorn

A flood of support

Hurricane Katrina was one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States. It was the sixth-strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded and the third-strongest hurricane on record that made landfall in the United States. Katrina formed on August 23 during the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season and caused devastation along much of the north-central Gulf Coast. In Louisiana, the federal flood protection system in New Orleans failed in more than fifty places. Nearly every levee in metro New Orleans breached as Hurricane Katrina passed east of the city, subsequently flooding 80% of the city and many areas of neighboring parishes for weeks.  At least 1,836 people lost their lives in Hurricane Katrina and in the subsequent floods, making it the deadliest U.S. hurricane since 1928. The storm is estimated to have been responsible for $81.2 billion in damage, making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

Following the tragic Hurricane Katrina in 2005, many CSUN students felt that not enough was being done to help families in their efforts to rebuild their homes, their communities, and their lives. CSUN Hillel took the lead and established a program in which students could spend their spring break doing something meaningful, helping to rebuild homes in the Gulf Cost. Rick Talbott, Associate Professor in Religious Studies, joined the effort. In 2008 he was a "scholar in residence" on the trip and, in 2009, he created a service learning course in which nine Religious Studies majors joined 18 other CSUN students on the Alternative Spring Break trip.

Although the hurricane ripped through the Gulf Coast years before, in 2009 many cities were still struggling to clean up the devastation that remained. Last spring, when the CSUN students arrived in the Ninth Ward, one of the poorest sections in New Orleans, they were greeted with a harsh reality: large portions of the area were filled with abandoned and rotting houses. Condemned houses were marked with large painted red circles with an "X" in the middle. Also painted onto the houses was the number of people and pets that died in the house. Water marks could be seen as high as the roofs of the houses.

The house the students worked to repair last spring was the home of an elderly woman in her 80's. She was still not able to live there. When she came by and saw the team of students painting, replacing wood paneling, and cleaning brick she became very emotional.  Her gratitude touched the lives of the students, and made a lasting impact. Their consciousness level has been raised. Many have pledged to continue service learning projects, making community service a core value in their post-academic life.

One homeowner from a previous year was so grateful for the help he received he thanked the students Louisiana style, by cooking up and serving a huge pot of crawfish!

— Submitted by Joshua Einhorn

"I have discovered from my class on the Holocaust that study must be met with action."