Six Teaching Orientations of Holocaust Educators as Reflections of Teaching Perspectives and Meaning Making Processes

April, 2018

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education Volume 71, Pages 86-97 


This study explored processes of curricular reinterpretation made by teachers who teach about the Holocaust. We conducted holistic narrative analyses of in-depth interviews with 31 American Holocaust educators. Six teaching orientations were identified: passionate historical, mythologizing-transforming, social-contemporizing, empathic-personalizing, riveting-shocking, and pragmatic-socializing. We offer vignettes for each orientation and compare them to other teaching perspective typologies, highlighting the novelty and utility of the presented typology. The findings demonstrate how narrative identity, meaning-making processes and teaching perspectives interconnect and lead teachers to reinterpret the Holocaust in their teaching. These findings have implications for teaching complex and value-laden topics.

We interviewed 31 teachers (13 males, 18 females) who teach about the Holocaust in states in which Holocaust education is mandated, such as Florida, California and New York. In selecting the interviewees, we sought a racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse sample. We interviewed 24 teachers attending a workshop on Holocaust education as part of their continuing education requirements, three teachers from Miami who did not participate in the workshop, and four additional American teachers from other HE-mandated states. This was a highly experienced group of teachers: their average age was 52, and their average teaching experience was 21.07 years.The teachers taught eight disciplines, the most common being history (35%), social studies (24%), and language arts (17%).

Recommendations for teacher education and for future studies
Although studies show that teachers affect students more than curricula, textbooks, or educational programs do (see Hattie, 2012 for a series of meta-analyses), not all policy makers may be pleased to learn of what takes place in HE classes under the umbrella of a state-mandated and standardized-testing setting. Our first recommendation is to ensure that all teachers involved in HE are well versed in historically-based and contextually-grounded facts about the Holocaust. Following Schweber, we note that in HE, imparting historical information is in itself a form of meaning making: “informational coverage itself communicates moral meanings, meanings that can function as lessons regardless of whether they're defined as such” (Schweber, 2004, p. 155).

Our second recommendation pertains to HE training workshops in which hundreds of American teachers participate each year, which typically focus on transmitting historical and pedagogical information to the teachers. We suggest adding a dual-stage process in which teachers are prompted first to identify and then to evaluate the effects of personal, ideological and meaning-guided elements on their teaching choices. This calls for teachers to be active participants in their training rather than passive recipients of information. Participants should be encouraged to reflect upon their teaching philosophies, personal connections to the Holocaust, and the ways in which they have “fit” the Holocaust into their existing meaning systems, to illuminate their choices in teaching the Holocaust. Equipping teachers with tools to identify their underlying motivations may be challenging, but we believe it can enable the teachers to take ownership of their teaching choices in the long term. This applies not only to HE, but to other value-laden educational topics as well.

Finally, what is the exact relationship between narrative identity, teaching perspectives, and meaning systems in guiding teacher choices in classrooms? The preliminary model we proposed indicates that each of these concepts may hold an important key in explaining the diversity among teachers when interpreting textbooks and curricula. A full answer, however, requires a broad, mixed-method study spanning several value-laden educational topics. We hope that the model that we proposed here may be a useful departure point for such future studies.

Updated: Mar. 13, 2018