The Holocaust, Armenia, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur: over the past hundred years, violence against populations has occurred on a previously unimaginable scale. Education about genocide—including causes, warning signs, and effective interventions—is vital to maintaining an informed, democratic citizenship. Yet today, young people display a disturbing lack of awareness of the Holocaust and other genocides. To prevent such atrocities from occurring again, we must make an intentional effort to educate the public about them.
Penn State is working to revolutionize the Commonwealth’s educational programming through the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Education Initiative, a collaborative effort involving the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), various nonprofit organizations around the world, and multiple units across the University. By developing new and enhanced programming and by training K–12 teachers statewide to effectively deliver this material, the initiative will transform the way students encounter and make meaning of these challenging subjects.
Penn State Harrisburg will draw from its wide collection of Holocaust archives, programming, and survivor stories and build upon the groundwork laid by Penn State’s Colleges of Education and the Liberal Arts and the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications to implement the Holocaust initiative in schools throughout central Pennsylvania. Given budgetary and staffing limitations—exacerbated by COVID-19—private philanthropy will be crucial. We are inviting alumni, friends, and community members to join us in this effort to strengthen Holocaust and genocide education throughout Pennsylvania—and beyond.
These elements will give Pennsylvania’s teachers the training and resources to tackle Holocaust and genocide education in ways that are memorable and meaningful for their students. This programming will encourage students to recognize the conditions that lead to large-scale violence and to find ways to apply those lessons to their own lives—for instance, to counter hateful attitudes among their peers or take a stand against smaller injustices.
This innovative initiative is housed in the Bellisario College and directed by Boaz Dvir, a journalism assistant professor and award-winning documentary filmmaker. With the support of a strategic seed grant, Dvir and his colleagues have begun the initial work of partnering with other educational institutions—such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation—and hiring doctoral students to develop curricula and conduct teacher training. A partnership with Penn State Harrisburg is the next step in bringing the program directly to our teachers.
The Next Steps Forward: Penn State Harrisburg
Penn State Harrisburg, located in the Pennsylvania state capital, is excellently positioned for leadership in the Holocaust initiative. The college’s Center for Holocaust and Jewish Studies coordinates a wide array of research, teaching, and outreach efforts. Housed in the Penn State Harrisburg library, which also features the Linda Schwab Holocaust Reading Room, the center maintains extensive holdings that include the Holocaust and Genocide Collection of more than 1,000 books and other media, and oral history tapes and documents collected from Holocaust survivors and liberators not duplicated in any other institutions or media. All of this makes the center a powerful and unique resource for researchers and educators.
Penn State Harrisburg is therefore a logical location to serve as a hub for the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Education Initiative. Faculty at the college will expand the work already done at University Park into central Pennsylvania’s schools, starting with grades 5–12 but eventually comprising grades K–12. Penn State Harrisburg is currently working with a ten-year implementation plan:
- Years 1 to 2: Create and fund faculty and graduate student positions and then develop curriculum materials
- Years 3 to 10: Implement teacher training at a steadily increasing number of schools each year, from six schools in Year 3 to thirty-five in Year 10.
At the end of ten years, we will have trained teachers in 156 schools across 105 districts—representing 80 percent of the districts in south central Pennsylvania and virtually all districts in the capital region. As a result, thousands of Pennsylvania’s youth will reach college age with a deeper understanding of these challenging topics.
Transforming Holocaust Education
Despite the oft-repeated slogan “Never Again,” research shows that today’s young people know remarkably little about the Holocaust and other acts of genocide. Understanding these events is essential to a strong society in an increasingly polarized world and can help to prevent future atrocities. But these are difficult subjects to teach, and school systems across the country struggle to present them to students uniformly and effectively.
Pennsylvania took an important step forward in 2014 by passing Act 70, which calls for the state’s public schools to incorporate Holocaust and genocide education into the K–12 curriculum. At the national level, the president recently signed the Never Again Education Act, which expands Holocaust education throughout the country. Penn State has entered into an agreement with the PDE to revolutionize Holocaust and genocide education, building a national model for training and instructional programming on this topic. Penn State’s Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Education Initiative will be the first effort of its focus and scope.
Drawing from expertise across a range of fields, Penn State faculty and graduate students will implement a multipronged initiative:
- Provide teacher professional development: Enhance existing trainings and develop new trainings, informed by best practices in professional development and designed for educators at multiple grade levels.
- Curate, customize, and deliver content: Select the best content from multiple partners; customize it for delivery in different subjects and grade levels; and disseminate it through a robust, easy-to-use, and freely accessible learning management system.
- Create immersive new-media technologies: Explore ways to enhance this education with new technologies such as augmented and virtual reality
- Study the initiative and Act 70: Research the program’s effectiveness and disseminate lessons learned and best practices to the academic community.
The pieces are in place to make this initiative a success in the capital region, but we simply cannot move forward without outside support. Budgetary considerations were already a limiting factor, but the COVID-19 pandemic has placed further strain on our resources—for example, we are unable to fill open faculty positions and face reduced funding for graduate student support. In the face of these new challenges, philanthropy can make all the difference.
Our top priorities are to create the following faculty and student positions to implement the plans described above. These may be funded initially through annual gifts, but we will eventually seek to create permanent endowments:
- Professor of Jewish and Holocaust Studies and Human Rights Education ($90,000 annual; $2 million endowed)
- Graduate fellowship in Jewish Studies for a Ph.D. student in the American Studies program ($25,000 annual; $500,000 endowed)
- Graduate fellowship in Holocaust and Human Rights Education ($25,000 annual; $500,000 endowed)
- Graduate student wage position ($10,000–$15,000 annual)
Smaller gifts can contribute to these positions or may be directed to a general fund designed to help ensure long-term sustainability.
At any giving level, support for the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Education Initiative is an opportunity to powerfully impact the lives of students across our region. Your philanthropy will help to ensure that they learn from the tragedies of the past and will in turn empower them to become empathetic, engaged citizens well equipped to build a better future.
For more information, contact:
Director of Development and Alumni Relations
Penn State Harrisburg