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TAH Projects and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

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Video Transcription


During the course of the time that I've been at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, we've had quite a few calls from TAH grant directors who are bringing teachers to Washington who would like a tour of the museum, and sometimes they might ask for a short professional development session.

So this really piqued our curiosity and we began to think of how we could work more intentionally with the TAH program, and it led us to really look at our resources and how our resources support American history, because even though the Holocaust took place in Europe, it is also very much a story about the United States and American responses and how those responses inform a lot of what we're teaching in schools today and issues that we're dealing with here in the United States.

We ask what the theme of the grant is and if there's any particular focus that they are looking at within the grant. For example, we had one TAH project director telling us about the focus on President Roosevelt. So we worked with our historians, our Senior Historians Office; we also work with collections, to see what collections we have that support American history, and we also look at using our permanent exhibition because our permanent exhibition does have a focus on the United States and the role of the United States.

So we try to put in time, of course, for the teachers to see the exhibit, that's very important. and a session on how to teach about the Holocaust and if there is a direct focus within the grant, we can look at our senior historians office to support a lecture about some historical topic that's related to the grant.

We also encourage teachers to hear Holocaust survivors, their testimonies. We do have Holocaust survivors who are at the museum every day. And if we have a phone call and if the project directors make contact with us early on, we can arrange to have Holocaust survivors speak, and that's very important, because we are losing that generation. So while we still have our survivors with us we do encourage teachers and the project directors to incorporate Holocaust testimony in the visit.


The standards in the United States for teaching U.S. history are either very explicit on teaching the Holocaust, where they state responses to what was happening in Nazi Germany and what was happening in occupied Europe during that time—those are very explicitly stated in many states. But when you look at other themes, American response, foreign policy respond, the rise of fascism, American responses to fascism—if you look at American responses to dictatorships, all of these strands within the elements and standards are very much a part of what we focus on at the museum. It's a very natural fit.

Pretty much everything you will see at the United States Holocaust Museum fits in perfectly to support U.S. history teachers when you're looking at 20th-century history. And even the precedents that were set before. You can look at the 19th century, you can look at the role of antisemitism. There are so many elements. And then of course, today, focusing on our responses to genocides since the Holocaust—that is an incredibly important topic to our museum. And, so, we would encourage U.S. history teachers to look at American foreign policy in trouble spots in places like Darfur, in the former Yugoslavia, like Rwanda, and how we've responded to those situations, and how the Holocaust gave us this, I don't want to say opportunity, but it gave us this light on the subject that is still very much with us today.

Because our primary focus is on the victims and our survivors and their testimonies, but, for example, in working with a Teaching American History group a few weeks ago, I focused on some interviews with an African American athlete, John Will—John Woodruff, excuse me, who was a participant in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and he speaks very eloquently about his experiences in Berlin in 1936, representing the United States and being proud to represent his country and his race and what he saw there and the euphoria of the crowds in reaction to his gold medal victory—also Jesse Owens, which is a story that many people know very well. And then when he returns home, he speaks about being excluded from the hall of fame, from the university where he, that he attended.

In looking at that, to show again what we do in a professional development is to show how expansive this history really is. And we use survivor testimony, we use witness testimony, we use liberator testimony. we also focus very much on photos and other primary source documents. And what we really want to do is to complicate the thinking of the teachers that come to us for professional development, to show that this history is so complex and so vast in its context from the years that it took place, but what happened in the years before, the decades and centuries before, and what's happening after.


June and July are very, very busy months for us and usually we're booked about a year before in our schedules, so I recommend to project directors that they contact us, perhaps in the fall, but as soon as they know that they want to come, they need to be in touch with us, and we will do our absolute best to get them in the museum—because that's very important and if there's time and if there's space and we're available to do so we would be very happy to provide professional development to them, as well.

And for groups that they cannot come to Washington, DC, we offer many resources offsite. First of all, our website is filled with archival material—our photo archives, for example. We also have exemplary lessons that have been tested by teachers and education experts, and they have been vetted for historical accuracy. We also have online exhibitions that contain collections that we encourage teachers to use for a more hands-on approach. More importantly, we have traveling exhibitions, and on our website, you can see a schedule of what exhibitions will be in certain venues around the country and when.

And from our standpoint, from the educational standpoint, we have a network of museum regional educators, our Regional Education Corps, and these are 30 educators who are deeply involved with our museum who are spread out around the country, and if you contact us in the Education Division, in the National Outreach for Teacher Initiatives branch, we can be in touch with our museum regional educators and they can work with a TAH project anywhere in the country to provide professional development even before a group comes to the museum, or after, or if they never come at all—we still have that on-ground support. We also have 246 museum Teacher Fellows around the country, one in each of the 50 states, and they are also resources whom we turn to to provide professional development in places where we're not able to go.


The value of Teaching American History is that it works so closely with a group of teachers and it provides sustainability, and sustainability in the career of a teacher is incredibly important. Sometimes you feel like you're alone as a teacher in your classroom, and when you have that network of support and it's ongoing and it's centered on a theme and a particular rational, that makes a teacher feel incredibly rewarded for having that experience, but more importantly that translates into student success.

And students will only benefit from a teacher having that kind of quality interaction with professionals around a sustained program that will keep them going. The network and the broad availability of resources in the form of other teachers and other grants and what is available online is astounding, and I hope that it continues, and I encourage teachers and educators throughout the country to look at this program, because it does sustain teachers, and if you sustain the teacher, the teacher can better sustain the student, so that that translates into success in the classroom for the student.