August 12, 2022
By Todd Finkelmeyer
Beginning in the upcoming 2022-23 school year, schools in Wisconsin will be required to provide education about the Holocaust and other genocides under a bipartisan bill signed into law last spring.
In an effort to give educators the tools they need to discuss these topics with students, the UW-Madison School of Education is hosting an on-campus workshop August 18 called Teaching the Holocaust.
This one-day workshop will include valuable sessions for both social studies and English language arts educators, and prepare social studies teachers to implement Bill 30, which requires schools to include a curriculum about the Holocaust and other genocides at least once from grades 5 to 8. and at least once from grades 9 to 12. Educators will receive tangible resources and lesson plans to complement their new curriculum, and time will be set aside for educators to talk and work with each other to discuss their plans for implementing the new law.
Holocaust education is hosted by the UW–Madison School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction and the Office of Professional Learning and Community Education (PLACE). The event is organized in partnership with the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center (HERC), which led Wisconsin schools’ mandate to teach about the Holocaust and genocide. This partnership was made possible through the generosity of donors to the School of Education’s Impact 2030 initiative.
Workshop presenters include: Simone Schweber of UW–Madison, who is the Michael and Judy Goodman Professor of Jewish Studies and Education; Sam Goldberg, director of education for the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center (HERC); and Irene Ann Resenly, Holocaust educator and doctoral candidate in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.
One of the highlights of the workshop should be UW-Madison alumnus and award-winning author Liza Wiemer’s closing presentation on her young adult novel, “The Assignment.”
The book is inspired by a real incident and explores discrimination and anti-Semitism, and reveals their dangerous impact.
This work is centered around the question: Would you defend the indefensible? That’s what the book’s Logan March and Cade Crawford are called upon to do when a favorite teacher asks a group of students to advocate for the Final Solution – the Nazi plan for the genocide of the Jewish people. These two high schoolers then decide that they need to take a stand, and soon their actions attract the attention of the student body, the administration, and the community at large. But not everyone feels like Logan and Cade – and it’s not long before the situation explodes, and acrimony and anger ensue.
What makes “The Assignment” unique is how it examines a critical moment in history – but does so through a modern lens. Through this book, Wiemer teaches what it takes for tolerance, justice and love to prevail.
“The book doesn’t look at the Holocaust as a date on a timeline,” says Wiemer, who graduated from the School of Education in 1986 and has more than 25 years of teaching experience. “It connects the past to what is happening in students’ lives today. And it empowers not just our young people, but all people to be allies and advocates, and to speak out against hate, bigotry and injustice.
While Law 30 was widely welcomed, the legislation provided little guidance on what to teach and no state funding to support it. To ensure quality education, HERC offers over 100 free lessons to fulfill its mandate and has a speakers bureau, including first, second and third generation Holocaust survivors. They have also created “The Assignment” book fund, providing free sets of this novel (10-120 copies per school) for use in their program. Additionally, Wiemer notes that there’s a free comprehensive teacher’s guide, as well as a Google doc for educators across the country to share their lessons, activities, and assignments.
Wiemer, who has traveled across the country — and even to Australia and New Zealand for multiple conferences — to give presentations, notes that “The Assignment” is proving to have a significant positive impact on students.
Wiemer says that in a rural school in Wisconsin, only three out of 101 students said they would be allies and advocates against any form of injustice before reading and discussing this book as part of a school assignment. Afterwards, Wiemer says, that number rose to 82 out of 101.
In addition to English, her book has so far been published in Russian, Polish, Italian and Korean.