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Comprehensive Holocaust education: Two UK professors lead statewide initiative

Source: SpectrumNews1

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Two professors at the University of Kentucky are leading a new initiative to help create a comprehensive Holocaust education curriculum across the state. The project aims to empower middle and high school teachers with knowledge, content creation resources and information on approaching the difficult topic.

Professors Karen Petrone and Janice Fernheimer said they’re essentially creating a network of educators from across the state who can rely on each other to help execute the mandate.

Petrone is a professor in the Department of History and Fernheimer is the Zantker Professor and Director of Jewish Studies.

It’s part of a state order called the Ann Klein and Fred Gross Holocaust Education Act.

“In 2018 it was mandated, and there is a law and there are instructions to teachers, but there’s not really a lot of discussion about how to properly [teach],” Petrone said. “It’s a difficult subject. Teaching hard history is something that is not easy to do.”

Prior to the mandate, there was very little training for teachers on how to conduct difficult lessons in the classroom. The mandate provides instruction on the Holocaust and other acts of genocide in Kentucky’s public schools, but doesn’t offer teachers a plan on how to navigate those lesson plans.

“There’s just a huge gap between what is mandated by the state and what the teachers are prepared for,” Petrone said.

Both Petrone and Fernheimer led a couple of smaller pilot program workshops last fall at Fayette County Public Schools. What they found was that teachers needed space to work together and discuss the challenging ideas.

“I think one of the key takeaways that we got from the feedback that we received is that we really want and need space to talk with one another to think through these very challenging ideas about how to approach the material,” Fernheimer said. “And how to be prepared, like Karen said, to teach significant context in a short amount of time.”

Through a grant funded by the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, the duo is now expanding their work in the Jewish Studies department at the University of Kentucky’s College of Arts and Science.

“We have just made it through the process of selecting 20 teacher leaders who will be our key facilitators,” Fernheimer explained. “They will attend an orientation this summer of significant training with UK faculty and members of our steering committee and will be equipped with what we consider the necessary elements of Holocaust education.” 

The program is set up to empower teachers to educate other teachers on the curriculum, meaning the first group of teachers will host workshops back in their respective school districts or in the region across the state.

The professors said this summer’s program will take place end of July to teach 20 teachers from across the state.