Holocaust museum representatives train future teachers

By C. Brandon Chapman, College of Education

Bettis-80PULLMAN, Wash. – Two representatives from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will train education students to teach about genocide on March 8 at Washington State University.

“This workshop is an incredible opportunity for our English and social studies pre-service teachers,” said Pamela Bettis, associate professor in the College of Education. “By their very content, these two realms of knowledge challenge kids to consider what it means to be human and how power and privilege operate in our society.

Associate professor Pam Bettis, right, explains some of the materials she received from the holocaust museum to graduate assistant Nicolas Manuel.

“Complicity with human rights atrocities can be found in every continent,” she said. “Kids need to understand that this kind of behavior did not disappear when the Holocaust ended.”

Addressing genocide forces learners to examine their own thinking and views of “other” groups of people and what they would or would not be willing to do, said Tariq Akmal, the college’s director of education.

Teaching a difficult topic

The training will include up to 60 pre-service teachers. More than half will be from the WSU College of Education; other participants will include the University of Idaho, Eastern Washington University and Lewis-Clark State College.

“Many teachers are afraid to get into a topic that is fraught with discomfort and emotions,” Akmal said. “Most teachers don’t have the background they need to really talk about the Holocaust or genocide in general.

“For pre-service teachers to have this opportunity, to have these resources at their disposal, raises the likelihood that they will actually teach about it,” he said. “Kids really do want to learn about meaningful topics such as this one, and teachers have to be prepared in order to respond to students’ natural curiosity (and horror) at this topic.”

Museum advances understanding

In May, Bettis attended a one-week workshop at the museum to learn more about its online resources, artifacts, role and scholars.

“I was overwhelmed with the experience, both emotionally and intellectually,” she said.

When she started her career, she struggled with teaching about Cambodia, slavery, Native Americans, the Middle East and the Holocaust.

“Museum resources help young teachers navigate this tricky terrain and not shy away from it,” she said.

“It is easy to teach about genocide as something that happened far away and long ago; but that is not the case,” she said.

The training will help pre-service teachers understand the workings of propaganda, the conditions that make genocide possible and the pedagogical strategies to promote conversation about these difficult topics in the classroom, she said.



Tariq Akmal, WSU College of Education, 509-335-4703, takmal@wsu.edu

Pamela Bettis, WSU College of Education, 509-335-2653, bettis@wsu.edu

John Lupinacci, WSU assistant professor of cultural studies and social thought, 509-335-6838, john.lupinacci@wsu.edu