Podcast Conversation about Pedagogy and Narrative Art in Human Rights Education

Transcript (PDF)

A conversation with Drs. J. Matthew Huculak, Charlotte Schallié, Andrea Webb, with Becky Turner about how pedagogical resources are being developed for the Narrative Art and Visual Storytelling in Holocaust & Human Rights Education SSHRC grant. Keywords: Pedagogy; Education; BC Curriculum.

Interview Date: 2021-11-04
Posting Date: 2022-01-24
 

Transcript

Dr. J. Matthew Huculak (Matt): Hello everyone!

Dr. Andrea Webb: Hi Matt!

Dr. Charlotte Schallié: Hi!

Becky Turner: Hi!

Matt: It’s good to be here today with three important people on the Narrative Art project. Today we’re joined by Dr. Charlotte Schallié, who is the project director and sort of founder, the initial force of this project so to speak; Dr. Andrea Webb, who is in charge of producing educational materials for the project; and Becky Turner, who’s our welcomed guest, our practicum student through the University of Victoria’s HUMA program, where students get teamed up with an actual project on campus. Welcome Becky!

Becky: Hi there everyone!

Charlotte: Hi Becky, very nice to see you and for participating in our project. 

Matt: And welcome Andrea!

Andrea: Thank you very much for having me, I’m really excited to be here. Nice to meet you, Becky!

Matt: And just want to state that Andrea is joining us from the University of British Columbia. Thank you for Zooming in with us!

Andrea: I’m excited to be coming from the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh people.

Matt: Thank you, and one of the reasons why we’re gathering here today is because we have the great news that the graphic novel that is being produced as part of this project is coming out in May 2022, and as part of the release of that graphic novel, many of our knowledge mobilization initiatives happen to be around education and getting this book into the classroom or into classrooms—high school classrooms, university classrooms—and more so, producing educational materials that can be readily used by teachers and professors in the teaching not only of this graphic novel, but the teaching of the Holocaust and the experience of those who experienced the Holocaust. 

So I wanted to start off today’s conversation first by asking Charlotte, how did this project start? How did it even begin? Now that we’re at this milestone where this publication is being produced. 

Charlotte:  That’s a great question, Matt. I have been teaching a course in representations of the Holocaust for many years, first at UBC, and then at UVic, and oftentimes at the end of the course I’ve asked students, ‘What was that one text that most profoundly resonated with you?’ and very often the students replied Maus by Art Spiegelman. So I got very interested in using graphic novels to—not just in that course, but—to address very difficult, dark histories. At that time my son also was very reluctant to read so I introduced him to graphic novels. He loved it, he found it really very accessible. And so I looked into the genre and found out that there’s so many amazing graphic novels on very difficult histories, social injustices, historical injustices, and that really got me started. But I’ve also come from a very traditional background of conducting oral history and I wanted to try something else. I was looking for a sustained engagement with witness testimonies, survivor testimonies. I love art, so at one point I thought, how about I pair an artist with a survivor, and have them to co-produce the story. So art was not just used as merely a means of knowledge transfer or of making the testimony relevant to a broader audience, but art was really at the core of—at the heart of—our project, becoming a critical tool of knowledge inquiry. 

Matt: Yeah, thank you, and I really want to focus on that point because it seems to be what makes this methodology special: the fact that you’ve paired an artist with a survivor to co-create that narrative. Can you just speak a little bit more to that? And why is that unique? 

Charlotte: Well, I think that it allows us to be mindful of how testimonies are actually co-created. Testimonies are not created in a vacuum, they are always built on a relationship. We tell our life stories differently with different people asking us. And oftentimes with a very traditional approach you see the focus is entirely on the survivor and the testimony is presented as a monologue, but testimonies are always dialogical in nature. And so I also felt that I didn’t want to have a scripted way of asking questions so I wanted the artists and the survivors to spend longer time with one another, explore the narratives together, and I felt it was important because it—and Andrea will tell more about this—because it allowed for trauma-informed approach, an approach that was well-supported. Because we cannot abandon the survivors after the testimony, and if we use a community extraction model, we collect the testimonies and we leave again. But we have an ethical obligation and a moral obligation toward our survivors that we engage with, that we really… Another critical point is really we do not conduct research about them, but with them. And art is such a powerful tool to have sustained, deep, reflective engagement with very very difficult histories and so I had a feeling it would work, but I was wonderfully surprised to see how amazing it actually was and that is a compliment to the integrity and the artistry of our three graphic novelists and, of course, to the amazing commitment of our three survivors. 

Matt: Great, and Andrea I think that opens up a lot of avenues of discussion for you, but first, how did you get involved with this project and what do you see that’s special about this methodology for the classroom?

Andrea: Yeah, I think that that’s a really interesting, really more important part of this and I got involved in this project tangentially in some ways, because I had been a high school teacher for about ten years and then about a decade ago I was seconded to the University of British Columbia and I started teaching in their social studies teacher education program. But one of the constants of my career up to that point had been my involvement with the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, and I had been working with them as a volunteer and as a teacher advisor since the year 2000. And it was a wonderful opportunity for me to be involved in thinking about teaching and learning outside of the classroom and so when I had done some additional graduate work and I had finished that, the VHEC was starting a project that was about the digitization of their collection, and a huge portion of their collection is the testimony collection that they have. And part of their project at the time, they had received a grant from Citizenship Canada to create educational materials that were focused on the survivor testimonies, as part of this digitization project. So I spent weeks and weeks and weeks watching testimony that had been collected from the VHEC beginning in the 1970s, and Professor Robert Krell had started collecting testimony from survivors, many of whom were his friends, but from a psychological perspective or a psychiatrist perspective which is where he came from. And so I was really interested in the ways that some of the survivors told their, or gave their, testimonies multiple times across a period of time, so some of them have provided three or four testimonies to the collection, and it was really interesting to see how those testimonies were different, how they changed their patter in some ways as they went through this time period. And one of the survivors was a gentleman named Peter Parker, who was a wonderful example of somebody who had given their testimony in the early 1980s and then had done it again in the year, in the 2000s, after he had become a survivor speaker, and you start to see the way that his testimony has changed. And I really became interested in the idea of how testimony can be a historical source for students, not just the single testimony but both the creation of the testimony and the evolution of the testimony, especially as we start to look at a post-survivor world when we’re having young people study the Holocaust. 

    Partial to that, or a part of that story, is the fact that the Holocasut is not required within the BC social studies curriculum, so it is a recommended topic but it’s not necessarily a required topic. Obviously based on my long-standing involvement with the VHEC, it’s something that I am very passionate about making sure is part of teachers’ engagement. But a lot of them feel very uncomfortable with those difficult, challenging histories that Charlotte was talking about. That we have an amazing collection of teachers in the province and across the country, who are very talented individuals, who deal with very difficult topics, but are not always confident in their ability to do that. And so when it comes to creating educational materials, my interest is really in making sure that these are approachable for teachers, they are adaptable for the new teacher but also for the experienced teacher, and that we are making it connect with the ways that they are teaching in the classroom. And one of the things that’s really happening in the BC curriculum now, is the fact that we have sort of gone away from traditional textbooks and are much more looking at historical sources instead of textbooks. And then it is the deft educator who makes that work in the classroom, but they need help in doing that, they need support in order to not necessarily teach the histories that they have been taught, which often is a very colonial history, is a military history, and one that many of us are familiar with. And so when I had the opportunity to join this project, I was super excited to do that, because I see this as an opportunity to blend the things that I’m interested in, right, which is in teaching English language arts, teaching social studies, working at that intersection between higher education and K to 12 education, but also on topics and areas that I’m passionate about and how it is that we help young people address difficult and challenging histories in order to become better citizens.

Matt: Great. I want to focus just for a second on the BC curriculum. For those of us joining us outside of British Columbia, when we say BC, that’s what we mean. What is this big curriculum change that has happened?

Andrea: So, the BC curriculum, the British Columbia social studies curriculum and the curriculum writ large has undergone a very major overhaul over the last 10 to 15 years. And it has moved from a fairly content-prescriptive curriculum to predominantly an inquiry-based curriculum. It draws on many of these ideas of 21st century learning, which is technology-enhanced and personalized for students, and gives the students autonomy, but it’s also allowing that opportunity for student inquiry. And teachers themselves are no longer givers of just material and sharing of information but they are people who are really helping to facilitate that learning, right? We talk about the guide-on-the-side as opposed to the sage-on-the-stage and I think that that is really inherent in the intellectual paradigm shift in the curriculum as it is right now. 

Matt: And I think one of the interesting things about your collaboration with Charlotte and the team here is, in many ways, the BC curriculum shift is also asking the university grant-holders, university professors to sort of rethink their knowledge mobilization efforts, right? That we’re not just putting something out on a website, or putting something up on Twitter, or producing a book, per se, but that there really is an engagement piece, particularly for the younger audience in producing these educational materials that can be easily picked up by teachers who are gonna be guiding students through this process. I wanted to just shift over to Becky, who is a first year university student, who has recently gone through the high school education. Becky, do you have any questions? 

Becky: Yes, to start off, Andrea, how do you think that the teachers’ lack of resources, or understanding, of the information has affected the teaching of the Holocaust in classrooms, and further, the students in those classrooms? 

Andrea: So, I want to clarify, first of all, I don’t think the teachers misunderstand the topics. I think that, in fact, the teachers understand these topics so well that it makes it challenging to do service to it in a high school classroom environment. And I think that that is actually what the point is, is that so many of our teachers they look at the curriculum documents and they may say, for example, social studies 10, in British Columbia, is supposed to cover the time period of 1914, so essentially the beginning-ish of World War I, all the way up to the present day. So we’re looking at 100 years of history and the 20th century, which many of us are closely associated with and we have lived through, and so we have a connection to some of that history. So when it comes to allocating space in the classroom for things like the Holocaust, the challenge for me is that teachers often don’t feel that they have the time to do it the justice that it deserves. And that is a really big challenge, because I do think that if you were to ask teachers they would say of course it’s an important topic and it’s important that I teach it, but how much time should I allocate within a study of World War II? Does it get a day? Does it get five days? Does it get an hour? And one of the challenges that a lot of, we have found—and this is through my work with the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre over the last 20 years—has been that teaching are spending a day. They spend one day teaching the Holocaust and they do it predominately from a timeline perspective. Right? 1933, 1939, blah, blah, blah, blag, blah. And it becomes, the problem is that it becomes the parade of history, right, it becomes the parade of facts. And so if we are actually, if a teacher wants through their approach to teaching and learning, to have students engage with challenging topics and difficult histories so that they can become better informed citizens, which is sort of the mandate of the social studies curriculum, then I think we have to get away from this idea of the parade of facts and change the way that we look at the allocation of time in the classroom. And in some cases that means encouraging teachers to spend, say, two weeks doing World War II, if that’s what they’re going to do, but allowing different students to engage in inquiry in different areas of World War II. So, many years ago, I had a student who knew everything there was to know about panzer tanks. He was fascinated by panzer tanks, and that’s amazing. He can go forward and study that, but that’s not every student, right? And providing that opportunity for every student is a really profound thing. So I’m really hoping that what we are doing is creating materials that can help and support the teacher whose student wants to spend time in the Holocaust, but they don’t have the knowledge themselves or don’t have the time to allocate to individual education of that student. The other thing I’m also really hoping for is this idea of being able to bridge social studies and English language arts. And one of the amazing things about working with graphic narratives specifically is the way that they are approachable for struggling readers, they are conceptually dense, so they are intellectually challenging but they are not literarily challenging, and they combine those two things of the history and the representation of history in a literary form. 

Matt: Andrea, that’s a really interesting point and from someone who’s not involved in education, it never occurred to me that with this model change to guide-on-the-side, rather than sage-on-the-stage, how does a teacher support the interests of their students in a way that’s meaningful? And I think it’s great the way that you’ve framed this for me in the sense that this allows teachers to have students on their own, sort of in a self-guided way, support them in that journey, which maybe brings us back a little bit to Charlotte, in terms of the graphic novel form itself. Andrea, you just mentioned how you like bringing language arts and the arts together here. Charlotte, I wonder if there’s something special about the graphic novel form. And I know through our conversations that what sort of piqued your interest was watching your son read graphic novels. So for the teacher audience, who might be interested in sparking curiosity or cultivating the curiosity that they see in their students, what is it about the graphic novel that you think will aid in that sparking of imagination?

Charlotte: So from my point of view—and Andrea please add to this—the graphic novel is really very complex because it has so many layers of meaning, meta-meaning, and so we have, we have a visual narrative, and then we have writing, and then we have direct speech, then we have narrated speech, and it’s almost like watching a film and just pausing it and allowing for stills to be reflected upon. In our case it works very well because many of the survivors can no longer directly access memories so they’re oftentimes, they have an empty testimony and for certain events, they don’t remember. And graphic art, visual art, can really represent this space of non-remembering as well. I want to say, we encourage the artist to also immerse themselves within their own stories because I did not want the graphic narratives just to tell the story without us, without showing the reader how the story is mediated. And again graphic novels, graphic life narratives allow for that mediation to be also being brought into the story. The other thing that works so well for difficult history, they work with alienation. And so, in a way, they have this immersive quality, they generate empathy at the same time, they also allow for a critical distancing effect. And so you get both; you get the emotional connection but you also, through the drawing, through the alienation effect, almost like Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt effect, you really get a sense of distance again that allows for the reader to, or the viewer to step aside and reflect upon it. And Andrea do you want to add to that? 

Andrea: I think what’s really important is that you’ve highlighted both the history and the writing of history, right? And I, that is one of in our new curriculum—I shouldn’t call it new anymore—but in the BC social studies curriculum, we have an underpinning of historical thinking, and sort of the six parts of historical thinking. And one of those is that idea that history is a construct and it is written by people, and so when we look at the graphic narratives and the way that the artists have interacted with the survivors and are part of the narratives, and when you read the narratives you see that the artists have all drawn themselves into the narratives. It really highlights the way that these are constructs. And I think that too often, young people specifically, when we teach history often out of a text, they reify the text itself as some sort of, you know, “It’s written in a textbook so therefore it must be true,” which is not necessarily the case that it is all written and constructed. And this process of having the graphic artists very much part and parcel of what is created is really powerful, because as Charlotte has highlighted, the text is so complex. It is deceptively easy to read a graphic novel. And to go through a graphic narrative and to go through it and say, “Oh, well that was 30 pages, no big deal.” But having to go back, and look at where each of the panels is drawn, where the gutters are, how the panels have been re-allocated so that some of them are long and some of them are small. And it changes the pacing, the same way that you do in a novel or in a story, you know, with the artistry of the author. But it’s done in such a very subtle, visual way, that’s amazing for students to spend some time learning. 

Matt: Excellent point, Andrea… We do have a young person here, and not to, not to call us out, those of us who were a part of the 20th century and 20th century history. Becky, I mean, I think we have a really interesting opportunity here to listen to your experience, right? And what Andrea and Charlotte were just discussing was the deceptiveness of the graphic novel and the fact that it’s drawn might allow the reader to have that distance that they need to realize that the text is a constructed text, versus reading the words as written truth, right? “It is written.” So I’m wondering, if you could just give us an example of your learning in high school and maybe even your first year of university, about what those reading and interpretive experiences were like, and what worked for you? 

Becky: So, when I was in high school, most of my textbook learning was pretty much exactly that, it was textbook learning. You read the page, maybe answered a couple questions about it, we maybe talked about it in class, and then we moved on to the next page or the next chapter. And, well, discussion of a topic is definitely—in my experience at least—a lot more, a better way to actually absorb information and take it in. And like in this class that I’m in right now, the HUMA 180 class, it’s almost entirely discussion-based. We do a couple readings every now and then, but we hear from speakers and we get to ask them questions and even as the speakers are talking to us, we have a Discord channel that we can talk and discuss amongst ourselves and come up with other questions like, collaboratively, and I think that’s been really beneficial in actually be able to absorb what we’ve talked about in that class. 

Matt: So there seems to be a really interesting use of technology, right, and form, the medium so to speak, in this case the Discord channel. And for those of you who don’t know what Discord is, I’m with you! I mean, it’s one of these, I believe it was a gaming conversation platform that has been widely adopted, even in education, for students, faculty, to have this communal conversation space that is written while other things might be going on or after as a way of processing, which I find very interesting. So mental note, maybe we need a Discord server for this graphic novel, I don’t know, just saying! But Becky, what you’re really talking about here is sort of a multi-medium way of learning, where you’re sort of accessing different ways of engaging with the speaker or text and other speakers at the same time. And I think that echoes, Andrea, the point you made, about the artists co-creating this narrative and sort of forefronting that. So I want to switch here to a bit about technology in form, and how you see these educational materials sort of playing out in that arena.

Andrea: One of the things that I’m really excited about in the opportunity for technology is the way that we’ve had both interest and pick-up from educators internationally. So, while we are writing for the British Columbia curriculum, as the curriculum that is most known, we do have teachers who are wanting to pilot the material in Saskatchewan, in Ontario, and overseas. And so, it’s an opportunity that we have that we normally wouldn’t have been able to tap into, is to engage with educators who are in different contexts, who have a whole different curriculum, engagement with history education in their locations, who still can pick up and use these materials because, again, we’re trying to design for the idea of humanity and human rights, taking on this trauma-informed approach which has been really important in terms of recognizing the social contexts in which students live, and many of them have come from traumatic circumstances and may be re-engaging, but we are building these materials to make sure the students are safe, that they are engaging in challenging conversations in a brave way, rather than a scared way. But it’s always supported, it’s with a supportful, a supported educator who is then taking them through this process, and I think that that is one of the things that is really an amazing opportunity that we have the opportunity to pick up on, is being able to learn from and grow with different contexts. So again, as I said, we have the BC context or the British Columbia context that most of us are familiar with in terms of the educational team, however, we have educators in other parts of the world who are also engaging with us. So we have a team of educators in Germany, who are creating materials with their own students, we have an educator in Israel, who is working with his teacher candidates to create materials, and then we have teachers across Canada, who are engaging with us as pilot sites for these materials. 

Matt: You know that’s a great point, about the different contexts. This reminds me, Andrea, that you and I met in Berlin, and we met in Berlin because Charlotte had just been the partnership development grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, what we refer to as SSHRC here, which builds upon a connections grant which brought artists and students together from around the world and brought us to the Ravensbrück memorial site, just North of Berlin, and what struck me was how different the teaching and experience of the Holocaust was for our Israeli colleagues, which has a much different context, frankly, than what we learn in North America. Again, I’m not going to, I was raised in the United States so my context is different there, too, because for me the world war was much more of a “rah rah look at what we accomplished!” And it wasn’t until I moved to Canada that I was like, “Oh wait a second, the Red Army had a lot to do with that destruction of the Nazi regime. Hmmm that’s interesting, right?” So this idea of context and the student experience, what then do you think are some of the challenges and opportunities perhaps of using your specific expertise in this BC curriculum and bringing it to the international context, working with international partners, to develop these educational materials?

Andrea: Yeah, that is one of the things that I am continuing to work on and be hearing what other people are doing because I think that our colleagues in Germany and our colleagues in Israel who are part of this partnership development grant have a very different educational context: the Holocaust is required topics, it is allocated a very set amount of time, you must make sure that you are teaching so many hours as part of this educational experience. So for us, we’re not worried about that. Our worry is making sure that it is addressed within the social studies curriculum across Canada and that it isn’t forgotten as a topic in a crowded curriculum. One of the things I do think that we can learn is the way that they’ve allocated their time and space in the curriculum context to see what they talk about in the time that’s allocated to them. But I also do think that they should be aware that elsewhere in the world there isn’t that same emphasis and that the curriculum that we have that is developing in BC and Ontario and some of the other provinces really has this inquiry focus and that there is an opportunity when you reduce the regulation of the curriculum, people will come to these topics by choice because they are important and because students want to be engaged in these challenging, ethical discussions, but they need to have support, they need to have resources, they need to have materials that they can draw upon.

Matt: Excellent point. Becky, speaking of those ethical points, sort of, what opportunities have you had to really dive into ethical considerations or discussions around human rights? Would you say there’s room, or space, for improvement or amelioration in those areas, given your personal experience. 

Becky: I would definitely say, in my experience, that there could’ve been more time allotted to learning about the different human rights issues and actual, like, injustices that people have suffered. And when we did talk about it, it was a fairly, like, surface-level discussion. I wouldn’t say that any of my at least high school classes have gone really into depth about what people have been through, and how we have talked about it today. 

Andrea: What courses did you take? Did you take social studies beyond grade ten? What were your electives?

Becky: Yes, I was in social studies grade ten, eleven, and twelve, so I did the… I’m from Alberta, so I…

Andrea: Oh, okay.

Becky: I had an Alberta curriculum, but I went all three years of high school. 

Andrea: Yep, you did. I think one of the challenges that we’re continuing to see in the British Columbia context is that social studies ten is the last required social studies course, and then the students are obligated to take one course in grade eleven or in grade twelve, either time, in order to graduate. So, if they are going to do that, they have the option. And then the courses in grade twelve, so in grade eleven, it’s an opportunity to have a course essentially that draws from all of the grade twelve courses, but the grade twelve courses are very specific. So we have things like First Nations studies twelve, we have genocide studies twelve, we have 20th century history, we have ancient civilizations, so we have a very, a broad spectrum. And so, my hope is that we’re able to find a way to get both our project and the materials into both genocide studies twelve, 20th century world history, political studies, you know, the social studies eleven course that is a conglomerate of a whole bunch of other ones, as well as the grade ten courses. So that teachers are finding ways to take this up in all of those different ages, so then there’s that opportunity for students to have that ongoing conversation, right? If a topic comes up in grade ten, and it comes up again in grade twelve, hopefully you’re engaging in it with a little more depth by the time you’re in grade twelve because your maturation as a student is aligning with that as well. 

Matt: Charlotte, this is one of the first grant projects that I’ve been a part of where there has been such a focus on education, where I’ve had an opportunity to meet and work with Andrea and benefit from her expertise. Where did this come from, in terms of your initial thinking of this grant, and how did you develop those relationships with educators when you were bringing this project together?

Charlotte: That is a good question too. I think I would humbly consider myself a Holocaust educator as well, and so, I’ve always been reaching out to educators. So I got to know Andrea through the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, we also reached out to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. It’s absolutely, again, at the heart of the educational question, so we are producing these materials with a clear goal of producing human rights educational tools, of strengthening human rights. That’s something—maybe Andrea can talk a little about it too—because it’s not necessarily easy to link Holocaust with human rights studies so there’s a lot of conceptual issues that need to be very thoughtfully pursued, but Matt, I don’t think so, I just woke up one day and thought, “I need to work with educators!” It’s always been, you know, it’s always been part of it. I mean, I’m a Germanist, so I have a literary background and literary training but, you know, I’ve been troubled maybe in my own classes by the fact that I’ve exposed students to atrocity photography, to imagery of deep human suffering. And so the question is, what’s the purpose? What constitutes a successful teaching unit in Holocaust history was always at the forefront. Why do I do what I do? What’s the purpose and aim? And these are questions of often educators so even though I don’t have that training really—and my apologies to Andrea—I was always very concerned because as Andrea said, we need to use a trauma-informed approach, we need to avoid moral injury, we need to avoid causing more harm. And that’s absolutely paramount in our approach. I’m just very, I should say, really very fortunate to have met these amazing educators that came on, generously came on board. And so the project has organically grown and oftentimes, a project participant invited another project participant to work with us, and so yes, so I cannot trace it back, Matt, really, it just came together. This is a very, we should say, very process-based work with one another. So even though we have goals and intents, the actual process is a research outcome as well. And I would like to say that the work we do with one another is very time-consuming and is really because we have a deep consultation across board with one another all the time and I’m mentioning that because I think that that’s an educational framework as well that we are using. Education is really… An educational approach not just in terms of developing the teaching materials, but also in the research design of the project as well. Andrea, do you want to follow up on that?

Andrea: Yeah, you can’t see me, but I’m furiously nodding over here because I think that there is so much in terms of, there’s a difference between somebody who is a teacher because that’s their job, and somebody who is an educator by disposition. And I think that that really highlights what Charlotte is talking about, that we work with teachers, but we all are educators. And to me, you touch on this idea of knowledge mobilization, which, this is a huge part of everything that we do, because, a) this is an important topic that needs to be still in the public discourse because unfortunately genocide continues to be perpetuated and so therefore we have to continue to talk about these topics and the ways that people treat each other, in order to hopefully at some point in the future, not have to be addressing these topics the same way anymore. But at the same time, there is this approach, this disposition towards education in the public good, and that’s this idea of making the public scholarship, sharing what we are doing across the board in order to raise everybody. And I think that one of the things that’s really important, particularly in this project and where we hope to go in the future, is this idea that the Holocaust is very much a part of—as we’ve talked about—the 20th century understanding of history, but it isn’t the only genocide. And so much of what has been learned by working with survivors, understanding survivor testimony, engaging survivors as advocates for the study of the history, is something that needs to be taken forward in terms of looking at other genocides. And these are very much current and contemporary issues that are happening around the world that I hope what we learn from this experience and this project is becoming again, public educators or public scholarship. That we can take that forward when addressing or exposing people to other genocides, because again, I go back to that idea that education is a disposition, it’s not a particular person or their job, it’s that idea that, “I have learned something, it’s important, I want to share that with you.” And that’s what education is, not just being a teacher. 

Matt: That’s beautiful, and I think, is also a beautiful segue to sort of my last question here. One of the reasons why I immigrated to Canada was because Canada always sort of represented this human rights place for me. Of course that’s very complicated, not saying it upholds the value of human rights all the time, right? So I say that with, you know, the knowledge of the history of Canada, but this project is funded by SSHRC, it has brought us together, it has allowed these conversations. My first memory of Canada—and I don’t know when this happened, I don’t even know what the event was—but on television, it was at the height of the Cold War, and there were a bunch of Canadian children on television with Soviet children, holding hands and talking. And it was the first time I had ever seen Soviet children just being on stage. It had something to do with peace and all of that, but that is my first memory of exposure to the Canadian context. So I want to ask the three of you, what is your hope for this project, within the larger context of the country and the world? We’re also recording this during the climate summit in the UK right now. This global consciousness… and I want to start with you, Becky. What is your hope for human rights education, and what that means for your future? 

Becky: Well, I hope that, in terms of human rights, that it can be a more inquiry-based learning process, at least in high school, where it’s a lot of the teacher teaches you from the front of the classroom and then they give you an assignment and you go home and do the assignment. I’m hoping that with these changes to educational resources in our country and in general, that students can actually—as Charlotte and Andrea both mentioned—have the chance to explore what they actually are interested in because it is important to them and it’s something that is important to their values as a student, and as a Canadian, and as a person in the name of human rights. 

Matt: Charlotte, what about you?

Charlotte: As we are centering the voices of the Holocaust survivors in our project, I would like to showcase them as advocates of and for human rights. They are human rights defenders and they are standing up for human rights so I hope with this project we can make a very small contribution to human rights. It is desperately needed, we never again became an empty credo, we—as Andrea said—this is genocide, and mass atrocities continue to be perpetuated and so we no longer have the option of looking away. So if students that learn about the Holocaust learn about gross human rights violations start to take action, start doing something even if it’s contained within their local environment, that is the first step. So we hope, I hope that with this project we can bring about a shift, and a change, and put a spotlight on the urgency of human rights protection. 

Matt: Andrea?

Andrea: I really love the idea that is part of many curricula, the idea that we are hoping to create educated and informed citizens. And both these are people who have learned things, but they also know how to learn things, and that citizenship itself is this idea of opportunities and affordances, but also responsibilities. And so for me, the big hope is that students are able to engage with these materials, that educators are able to present the perspectives on the Holocaust both from the survivors and the artists who are working with these survivors, and the contextual materials that we bring together around historical materials, all of that in order to become good learners so that they can then take that approach to understanding and learning and balancing and grabbing all the sorts of information in order to be global citizens. That global citizenship, to me, means that the students don’t forget the things that have happened in the past, they have been exposed to them, they understand how important these are, and that they then become advocates—much like Charlotte was talking about. That they understand enough to be advocates in the future and where the Holocaust survivors have been huge advocates for human rights and for telling their stories so that that never again does become so powerful and pervasive and that the young people today are able to pick up that and carry it forward. Because again, we are not in a post-genocide world, we have to address these situations again and again and again, whether it’s in their local context and saying “no, don’t treat people like that,” or they become, I mean, we hope that every student will go on to become the prime minister of Canada or have another powerful position where they can be that voice because they understand the importance of standing up and being an advocate and being a citizen who takes on the mantle of responsibility as well as the opportunities that are afforded to them.

Matt: I cannot think of words to follow that, except thank you, and thanks to all of you from whom I continue to learn, I think our colleagues continue to learn from, and I think we all hope, as these materials are disseminated, many others will learn from too.

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