"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." — George Santayana
Ashli Dexter, an English teacher at Logan Elm High School, hopes to bring a new approach to Holocaust education to her classroom this year after attending a three-day educator conference at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.
Dexter participated in the language arts session of the 2018 Arthur and Rochelle Belfer National Conference for Educators from July 23 to July 25. There was also a conference for social studies and history teachers from July 26 to July 28. Over 200 teachers from across the United States participated in the conference alongside her during its two sessions.
According to the museum's website, their goal is to teach everyone about the Holocaust to prevent something like it from happening again in the future. The Belfer National Conference for Educators is one way the museum is trying to inform the public about the Holocaust.
The conference was established in 1993 by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for middle, high school and community college teachers to "train them in effectively teaching the Holocaust to their students."
From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, Dexter and the other teachers would tour parts of the museum and come back to a classroom to discuss what they saw in detail and go over ways of teaching the material and answering questions that might arise from students. They also had the opportunity to meet Holocaust survivor Margit Messiner and hear her story of survival.
Dexter says she wanted to go to the conference to gain skills in showing students how personal the Holocaust was.
"Whenever I teach Holocaust literature, I want to be able to put a face to the stories because that kind of makes it more serious, and it kind of helps them connect," Dexter said. "I just want [my students] to be able to see that, yes this can happen, yes this did happen, and it can happen again if we don't know about it."
Although she's been studying the Holocaust since college, Dexter said the conference taught her a lot she didn't already know and gave her a new perspective of the tragedy through the eyes of survivors.
"These people were the age of my students when they went through this, and this is how they survived," Dexter said. "I wanted my students to be able to put their own lives in perspective and see how people can survive in these kind of situations."
For her unit on Holocaust literature, Dexter will be teaching the books Night by Elie Wiesel and Maus by Art Spiegelman. She said she's excited to bring some of the techniques and information that she learned at the conference back to her classroom.
"[The Holocuast] is an amazing thing to teach. You totally see a different side of your students," Dexter said. "Students who are maybe goofy and messing around the whole time get to this unit and they are totally engrossed in it. It's just powerful."
The conference gave teachers goals when teaching about the Holocaust, such as making the information personal, not over simplifying the answers to hard questions, contextualizing the information, and not shocking students with vivid, graphic images. Dexter said she hopes to implement these goals in her classroom this year.
"I'm just really excited that I can bring this kind of world knowledge back to a small town and help those students who maybe don't see all of that hate and persecution ... and help them realize what's going on in the world around them," Dexter said. "I asked [Margit Messiner] 'What would you tell your students if you were a teacher?' and she said 'Tell them to be world learners, tell them how important it is to know what's going on in the world around them.'"