Studies Weekly Florida: Foundations of Holocaust Education
How do you teach elementary students about the Holocaust?
Studies Weekly curriculum specialists had the challenging but rewarding task of creating the Foundations of Holocaust Education unit for Florida fifth-grade social studies. The team worked tirelessly to ensure teachers could meet the standard and stay true to history while also keeping the content appropriate for fifth graders.
Sally Flaherty, Studies Weekly social studies curriculum director, spent years helping educators teach difficult history.
“As the head of Holocaust genocide and human rights violations education for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, I traveled all over the state for five years showing teachers how to get safely in and safely out based on the guidelines of Holocaust Education organizations.”
Flaherty made sure her team understood the importance of keeping children’s well-being in mind when teaching about the Holocaust.
“You may think you’re just telling children about the past, but you have to get them safely in and out so you don’t traumatize them. That’s just sound pedagogy,” Flaherty said.
In the end, Flaherty and her team were able to create an age-appropriate Foundations of Holocaust Education unit that fulfills the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards for Social Studies and accurately represents history’s most extreme example of antisemitism.
Here’s how they did it:
What Is Foundations of Holocaust Education?
Flaherty taught her team the difference between Holocaust Education and Foundations of Holocaust Education.
“In Foundations of Holocaust Education, we look at government actions and events and how the Holocaust happened,” Flaherty explained. “Holocaust Education involves details in each aspect of the Holocaust including perpetrators, collaborators, victims, resistance, liberators, and survivors.”
Organizations that specialize in Holocaust Education include:
Yad Vashem: The World Holocaust Remembrance Center
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Echoes and Reflections (free curriculum that is available to all teachers at no cost with training).
USC Shoah Foundation
“We teach foundations because these organizations have spent a lifetime creating Holocaust Education. We will support them – not supplant them – by urging teachers to look to them for more information.”
She also recommends teachers check out local groups that teach Holocaust Education.
Creating Grade-Level Appropriate Content
Flaherty and her team made sure every article, image, and activity was age-appropriate to ensure students would get safely in and out of the content. The publication passed through many different hands so Florida educators could feel comfortable using it to teach the Holocaust in elementary school.
Flaherty’s team also embedded these strategies into the curriculum to protect students’ well-being:
Florida Studies Weekly gets students safely in and out of learning about the Holocaust by demonstrating human resilience.
“You have to talk about the positive human spirit,” Flaherty said. “Perseverance, determination, courage, empathy – all of these things have to be accepted. The scar is proof of the healing. So many times people want to talk about the wound, but we have to talk about the healing and show people are here to help each other.”
Flaherty said students see evidence of human resilience by reading about those who survived the Holocaust and seeing images of living people.
“Those survivors turned out to have amazing lives and contribute to society even after everything they went through. It is remarkable!”
The Teacher Edition of Studies Weekly Florida gives teachers instructional tools to help them guide students safely through the Foundations of Holocaust unit.
Barbara Lane, California educator and consultant, gave the example of instructing teachers to read the articles with their students instead of having them read independently. Teachers can then see how students respond and address any concerns.
“Even though these articles are written with kindness and forethought, a student or two may struggle with the information. We’re making sure the teacher walks through this with their students,” Lane said.
Presenting Two Schools of Thought
There are two schools of thought regarding the Holocaust:
Never Forget – this focuses on remembering those who died during the Holocaust.
Never Again – this focuses on making sure this level of systematic discrimination and genocide does not happen again.
Florida Studies Weekly includes both schools of thought so elementary school students can decide how they will respond to learning about the Holocaust.
“People who are comfortable with Never Forget will do what they can to perpetuate and keep this memory alive,” Flaherty explained. “Never Again requires activism, and everyone has a different level of activism they’re comfortable with, and that is okay. Each person has to have that journey and make a decision themselves.”
Forgoing an Assessment
Most Studies Weekly units end with an assessment, but the social studies team decided it was inappropriate to test students on Foundations of Holocaust Education.
“This is not something we want to assess children on,” Flaherty said. “We don’t want to quiz them on how many people were killed. That’s not what this is about. This is about seeing what happens when governments do not protect the rights of people, and students seeing the consequences of that.”
The team decided to have students ponder this quote from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, “It is true that not all the victims were Jews. But all the Jews were victims.”
Teachers can have students go over this as a class or have students read it individually and write their thoughts in a journal.
Meeting the Florida Social Studies Standard
When writing this unit for Florida Social Studies, Flaherty and her team wanted Foundations of Holocaust Education to meet the standard right away.
The first two articles teach students the Holocaust was “the planned and systematic state-sponsored persecution and murder of European Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945.” This definition comes directly from the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards for Social Studies (see SS.5.HE.1.1).
Jo Mooney, Studies Weekly senior editor, said they also align with the standard by giving examples of antisemitism and identifying the Holocaust as “history’s most extreme example of antisemitism.”
“We were very careful to use the same terminology as the standard so it matches perfectly,” Mooney said. This included using Nazi German, not Germany, and the Nazis, not the Germans. “We do not blame the country. We are simply stating what happened because of the government and authority that was in power at that time,” she added.
The articles mention other groups persecuted by the Third Reich, such as gypsies, communists, and people with handicaps.
The social studies curriculum team made sure the unit did not add to or take away from the standard by comparing the Holocaust to other events.
“We have not related anything to Civil Rights in America,” Flaherty said. “This is about systematic persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1943.”
She added it is up to students to connect Foundations of Holocaust Education to their experiences.
That doesn’t mean students get a surface-level introduction to the Holocaust. Flaherty said Florida fifth-graders would be able to engage in deep learning because they will have covered civic duties and responsibilities, the role of government, and the difference between a constitutional and democratic republic by the time they get to Foundations of Holocaust Education in week 7. And since Studies Weekly Florida uses the same terms and definitions throughout grades K-6, the students would have a solid understanding of these concepts.
Using Primary Sources
When it comes to teaching history, Studies Weekly’s curriculum specialists strive to be as accurate as possible.
“Every article in the Foundation of Holocaust Education unit is based on primary sources, which makes us a secondary source,” Flaherty pointed out.
Mooney said the team used primary documents to create a timeline showing how Nazi Germany legalized and perpetuated the persecution of Jews and other minority groups.
“Our job is to present the facts,” she said. “This is what happened; these were the consequences.”
But Studies Weekly is not in the business of putting students to sleep with dry facts. The curriculum team included first-hand accounts from Holocaust survivors to keep students engaged and show these historical events happened to real people.
Mooney explained how they went through the company’s exclusive video interviews with Holocaust survivors and pulled quotes to include in the text.
“We let these eyewitnesses tell their stories in their own words,” Mooney said. “We don’t interpret them.”
Teachers can access the full video interviews on Studies Weekly Online to show them to their students.
While Flaherty and Mooney believe the videos are age-appropriate, Noelle Carter, Studies Weekly chief curriculum architect, recommends teachers watch them first before showing them to students.
“What some teachers may find appropriate, others will not, so it is always better to play it safe,” Carter said.
The team also used primary source photos in the publication to help students understand the content.
Flaherty said, “We designed the curriculum so that all images support the text, and the text supports the images. That way even striving readers will still get the understanding and achieve the learning.”
Florida Studies Weekly meets the standard to teach elementary school students Foundations of Holocaust Education while keeping the care and welfare of children in mind. Thanks to Flaherty and her team’s hard work, fifth-grade teachers can get students safely in and out of this sensitive topic.
See a digital sample of Florida Studies Weekly Grade 5.