By Christine Agosti
Christopher Columbus High School, New York
Christine Agosti, a graduate of Cold Spring Harbor High School, attended the first educators' conference at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The following text is a copy of a letter she sent to us answering some of our questions.
Christine Agosti (Right) & Students
As promised, please find enclosed my responses to your students' questions regarding my participation in the first educators' conference at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC in the summer of 1994.
What motivated you to apply to the USHMM for their first educator's conference?
Having read an announcement of the conference in New York Teacher, I was motivated to apply to attend the conference primarily because I had not yet visited the Museum, and I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to make the most of my visit, in terms of learning how to teach my students about the Holocaust, as well as finding out what resources were available.
What was the main focus of the teachers' conference?
Since it encouraged applications from educators with "little or no access to Holocaust education resources who are interested in developing classroom materials," I believe that the conference's main focus was to provide educators with an opportunity to learn approaches for presenting this difficult and complex topic to students, as well as suggest methods for planning units of study for teaching about the Holocaust. Access to the museum's staff, permanent and special exhibitions, in addition to the Learning Center and Research Institute, informed us about the resources which are available within the Museum. To give you an indication of the offerings over the course of three days, some of the sessions that were offered included: "The Holocaust: Making Choices about what to Teach," "Developing Curriculum: High School and Middle School," "Using USHMM Educational Resources," Interdisciplinary Approaches: Using Literature," and "Survivor Testimony in the Classroom."
Where were other teachers from?
There was representation from all parts of the country.
What was the most moving experience for you there?
Having never before visited the USHMM, I was most moved by my tour of the Permanent Exhibition -- including the freight car, Hall of Remembrance, and the artifacts from the concentration camps.
What did you learn about the Holocaust that you didn't know before?
I learned much about the history of the Holocaust from the Museum's senior historian, Sybil Milton, and from the primary sources in the Permanent Exhibition. For example, topics on which I expanded my knowledge included: the extent of the complicity of the French government; the involvement of the Poles; the extent of the Danish rescue effort; and, the attitudes toward, and treatment of, Romanian Gypsies and the persons of African/German ancestry.
What will you tell your students about the experience?
I would try to convey to them that the Museum is an excellent resource for study of the Holocaust; it has collected a wide variety of artifacts, primary resources, and undisputable evidence -- and presents all of the information using a multimedia, multi-sensory approach that is very effective. I would share with them the video of Daniel's Story and various books which were available in the bookstore.
What can you tell other teachers about your experience?
I would highly recommend the educator's conference as appropriate for any educator who is interested in teaching about the Holocaust -- from those beginning their training to more advanced instructors -- since the conference was easily adaptable to everyone's needs. Having access to the Research Institute and Learning Center, as well as a private tour of the exhibition after regular hours, and a generous gift certificate for the bookstore, were all very helpful in arming us with the resources necessary to return to our classrooms much better prepared to share this knowledge with our students.
Do you plan on revisiting the USHMM?
Yes, I would like to have the opportunity to revisit the Museum, since I found that the three days allotted to us were not sufficient for absorbing all the Museum it had to offer. I would return to the Permanent Exhibition and continue my reading at the Research Institute.
How is the USHMM a good "teaching tool" for teachers who are interested in trying to work with Holocaust education?
I think the Museum is an excellent teaching tool for teachers, because it gives teachers access to an expertly trained and knowledgeable staff of scholars on this topic, an excellent collection of artifacts and primary source materials, and assistance in methodology and curriculum development to make our job -- to develop an awareness of the history and implications of the Holocaust, as well as the value of diversity -- more manageable and effective.
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