APRIL 26, 2018 – SWAMPSCOTT – In a Swampscott High School classroom of nearly 30 students, Lisa Green is teaching the history of the Holocaust using a curriculum known as “Facing History.” It focuses on the integration of current and historical events, relying on students to forge the connections.
In a community with a substantial Jewish population, teaching the Holocaust has a personal and weighty meaning. Green, who is Jewish, facilitated an American Studies class discussion on immigration. Students defend cases in teams, using both current statistics and historical evidence. Their peers were then given the opportunity to cross-examine each group.
One group, presenting the option of an open immigration policy, stated that there was a 30 percent increase in business ventures following the influx of Jewish immigrants to the United States during World War II. Presentations tied in modern issues, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals bill, with historic landmarks such as the American Revolution and the ratification of the Bill of Rights.
“Students remember these lessons, they’re not reading the traditional textbook,” Green said. “So when I teach traditional text and test them on it, it goes in and out pretty quickly. When they engage with the material, it’s because they’re going to remember that lesson. It’s because they’re going to hear on the news about immigration, and they’re going to remember the uncomfortableness of the debate.
“The one thing I want them to walk away with is just how complex the story is.”
Green has been teaching American Studies using the Facing History method for nine years. The curriculum was created by Facing History and Ourselves, a worldwide education group based in Brookline. The group’s mission is to “heighten students’ understanding of racism, religious intolerance, and prejudice; increase students’ ability to relate history to their own lives; and promote greater understanding of their roles and responsibilities in a democracy.”
“I teach the Holocaust because my goal is to teach students to examine their own choices in the context of a larger society,” Green said. “The Holocaust is something we promised would never happen again and yet it is happening again … We need to help this next generation be upstanders and not bystanders.”
Swampscott High students agreed the class heightens their ability to understand more complex aspects of history.
“I used to just blow off the saying ‘history always repeats itself,’” said Joshua Badal. “But now I don’t. I realize that knowing history helps you look for the issues in life by looking at past examples. I feel like by just knowing history, I can have a better understanding of what steps I should take to prevent unfortunate things from happening.”
“I think it’s important to learn from the mistakes we’ve made in the past, and study how to not make those same mistakes,” said junior Fiona Herring. “Educating yourself is the most powerful thing you can do. Ms. Green has given me a more confident voice in class when discussing challenging aspects of history.”