Article review of "Teaching our students about integrity, courage and human rights"

Disclaimer: This article is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect that of all Teachers' Christian Fellowship members.


Teaching our students about integrity, courage and human rights

By Erin Hick, Shellharbour Christian College.

This is a challenging article by Erin Hick. Its focus is teaching about the Holocaust and is based on the foundation that forgetting or ignoring this event is to be guilty of complicity in its causes.

Erin advocates teaching about the Holocaust is more than the facts and retaining history. It is about working with students to mould attitudes and explore values. In this methodology students can gain a growing understanding of the character of God.

From an early love for the Diary of Anne Frank, comes a desire to use English classes as a medium to develop students’ understanding and actions. I have found that grappling with this intensely challenging subject matter is something that has created significant overlap in most of my teaching areas. Furthermore, as a Christian, I have really found that my image of God and understanding of human behaviour and free will has been developed by reading about it, studying it and critically questioning. She also acknowledges that teaching in a Christian school gives her considerable latitude for these studies. However, I am not so sure that Christian teachers in public schools could not follow a similar non-denominational Christian approach to exploring values and still be acting with the Department’s values policy and Education Act 1990.

Erin emphasises the need for an age appropriate approach to the content. She parallels teaching about the Holocaust with a growing understanding of God, a move from simple language and familiar concepts to those of increasing complexity and challenge. She cautions about introducing too many horrific details too early and recognises that none of our students are on an even playing field when it comes to their knowledge and experience of God. This section of the article could be assisted with some examples from both primary and secondary classes.

A theological framework is provided for secondary students to help them through the issues of the Holocaust and students’ understanding of God. Her focus is on five central ideas:

  1. Why does God allow suffering to happen?
  2. How can you keep following God in times of suffering?
  3. Bystanders
  4. Nations who ignored or followed their religions command to care for others
  5. How have Christians tried to repair their relationship with Jews?

Erin makes clear the goal: for students to be more accepting of people of other faiths and to realise that passive complacency can be as destructive as inaction.

While this article is a helpful contribution to teaching controversial issues from a Christian perspective and a welcome approach to teaching the Holocaust through English, it raised some additional questions for me:

1. The broader curriculum
Where is the Holocaust mentioned in the Australian curriculum, particularly history and in the NSW curriculum namely the primary history syllabus and the modern history syllabus? Surely history is the key vehicle to carry the content of this topic.

2. Optimism
This can be a very depressing study and lead students to feel hopeless and powerless to bring about change. As with the teaching about disasters in geography in the 1980s, students can feel that they have little hope of influencing world events and bring about change. How can students take action to prevent anything like the Holocaust happening again? What other cases of genocide could be related and where are the good stories of successful action? Perhaps teaching about the Holocaust needs to occur within a bigger context of world history and current events.

Erin has made a significant contribution to teaching about the Holocaust and supporting the values of integrity, courage and human rights. Perhaps someone can build on this work to see its inclusiveness across the broader curriculum, especially history in both primary and secondary schools.

John Gore