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Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies partners with school districts on new genocide education requirement

Salem State’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) is playing a central role in implementing the Commonwealth’s new law requiring that middle and high schoolers are educated on genocide and mass atrocities.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) recently awarded grants to school districts to support the implementation of “An Act Concerning Genocide Education,” signed in December 2021 by then-Governor Charlie Baker. Several districts have since formed partnerships with CHGS, which has a long history of preparing educators to teach about the Holocaust, genocide and other difficult topics. 

CHGS will partner with the school districts of Beverly, Lynn, Lynnfield, Masconomet Regional, Melrose, and Woburn, as well as with Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School and Shawsheen Valley Technical High School, all of which have received grants. The Fitchburg, Peabody and Salem Public School systems will also take part in aspects of the programming.

“There are ways to teach about the horrors of the past that highlight important lessons for the present and future,” said Chris Mauriello, professor of history and director of CHGS. “There are opportunities to tailor these lessons to school communities and focus on the societal conditions that allow mass atrocities to occur. We want to work with our partners to prepare future generations to identify threats to human security and dignity.”

CHGS’s school district partnerships will vary by districts’ needs and will include regular meetings to review the districts’ progress and develop curriculums that integrate genocide education. Teachers from several partner districts took part in a February 15 educator workshop titled “Genocide: A Crime Without a Name,” and others will engage in the below upcoming events:

  • February-June: Ongoing virtual Professional Learning Community on the challenges and opportunities of implementing the new Genocide Education Act.
  • April 12: Teacher workshop titled “Case Studies and Comparative Genocide: Armenian and Rwandan Genocide” will explore the history of the Armenian Genocide and the Genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda, followed by a discussion on similarities and differences between the two cases. 
  • April 15-21: Travel study course called “Race and Rights in the American South” will allow students to visit Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee after studying the complex dynamics of race, rights and power structures in the American South.
  • July 26-28: Conference titled “New Directions in Teaching the Holocaust.”

The workshops will be facilitated by CHGS faculty, staff and Brad Austin, professor of history, secondary education coordinator for the history department, and faculty fellow for CHGS.

“It's tremendously rewarding to help lead some of the programs CHGS is offering in response to the new Genocide Education Act,” said Austin. “We get to build on existing relationships (and to build new ones) with classroom teachers and school leaders, while helping our partners in regional school districts create opportunities for meaningful conversations about what led to past atrocities and how we can support human rights in the present. It's hard to imagine more meaningful and important work."

Austin is the series co-editor for the Harvey Goldberg Series for Understanding and Teaching History with the University of Wisconsin Press.

CHGS has long been a resource in the region for helping prepare educators to teach sensitive topics, including systemic racism, antisemitism, and hate crimes. Past workshops have included Teaching Native American History; Teaching America and the Holocaust; Nazi Medicine and Experiments; Immigration, Refugees, and Democracy; and Redlining, Roads, Residential Segregation in 20th-century Massachusetts.

“One of the stated objectives of CHGS is to be a regional hub for education and teacher preparation in the areas of comparative genocide studies,” said Mauriello. “The more we can learn from the past and apply our understandings to the present context, the more we can lower the temperature of current political conflicts and find resolutions based on respect for differences and human and social rights for all.”

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