York students learn how to teach about the Holocaust


Teaching about the Holocaust and racism can be complex and delicate. Not every teacher is aware of exactly where some of the sensitivities lie.

York is helping would-be teachers to explore how to counter racism and anti-Semitism in the classroom, by sending 13 University students to Europe for three weeks this summer to study ways in which the subject of the Holocaust, and racism in general, can be taught well.

With other university students from Germany and Poland, they will visit several former concentration camps, including Auschwitz (right), and participate in a series of workshops and conferences about the Holocaust and Jewish life in Europe before and after the Second World War. The group includes students from many ethnic and religious backgrounds, including Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim.

The field study is part of the Mark and Gail Appel Program in Holocaust and Antiracism Education, “Learning from the Past, Teaching for the Future”, which brings together university students, primarily from teacher education programs, to explore how best to counter racism and anti-Semitism in the classroom. For more information on the program visit http://www.yorku.ca/ycom/release/archive/092502.htm.

The Mark and Gail Appel Program in Holocaust and Antiracism Education was conceived in 2001 by York Professors Michael Brown, past director of York’s Centre for Jewish Studies, and Mark Webber, co-director of York’s Canadian Centre for German and European Studies. The students travelling to Europe are the second group to go through the highly successful program.

Left: The Ethnographic Museum and the Roma Socio-Cultural Association in Tarnów, Poland, have a reconstructed caravan that follows a trail connected with their history, between places commemorating the martyrdom of fellow Gypsies.

Visits to sites, such as the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum and the Ethnographic Museum of Romani (Gypsy) culture in Tarnów, can be deeply moving and emotional experiences for many of the students, said Webber. “This program offers future teachers a unique opportunity to connect the past with modern realities that can’t be properly conveyed by textbooks alone.”

Brown added, “Recent world events such as 9/11 and the Iraqi war have perpetuated many racist stereotypes. This program aims to give the next generation of teachers the tools that they will need in multicultural classrooms to dispel these stereotypes based on firsthand reflections and personal experiences from their trip.”

The York students departed from Toronto on July 27 and will return Aug. 21. A 10-day follow-up symposium, which will re-unite the students – 27 in all – from Canada, Germany and Poland, is scheduled for February 2004 at York University.

A Web site with program details is located at: www.yorku.ca/tftf.