The Thomas Hardye School

THS teacher visits former Nazi death camp to develop better ways to teach about the Holocaust & Genocide

A few of the 75,000 commemorative stones at Treblinka extermination camp each stone represents a community that was destroyed at Treblinka

A few of the 75,000 commemorative stones at Treblinka extermination camp each stone represents a community that was destroyed at Treblinka

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Thomas Hardye School Humanities teacher, Kevin Matthews, has recently visited sites of the Nazi genocide in Poland as part of a select group chosen to pioneer the way the Holocaust is taught in England’s secondary schools.  Mr Matthews joined 19 other teachers from around England.  They visited the remains of the former extermination camp of Treblinka, where some 900,000 people were murdered in just 16 months, and Warsaw to seek out traces of the community destroyed in this genocide.  The 20 teachers are from schools chosen earlier this year by the University of London’s Institute of Education (IOE) to develop sensitive and innovative ways to help young people explore the traumatic history of genocide.  As an IOE Beacon School, The Thomas Hardye School supports a network of schools, sharing the IOE’s innovative approaches to enhance the way they teach and learn about genocide.

Kevin Matthews says:   “The trip was challenging on many levels and a valuable learning experience for all involved.  I firmly believe that learning about these events is essential for all people since these devastating watersheds in our past are a crime, not only against the individuals who suffer directly, but against the whole of humanity.”

Mike Foley, Headteacher at the Thomas Hardye School, said: “We were keen to support Kevin’s visit as part of our commitment to Holocaust education. It provides an invaluable link with the past and an opportunity for Kevin to bring his own learning experience into the classroom at Thomas Hardye.”

Memorial to Janusz Korczak and the children from his orphange at the Jewish cemetary in Warsaw

Memorial to Janusz Korczak and the children from his orphange at the Jewish cemetary in Warsaw

The teachers – 13 women and seven men – visited Poland during the recent October half term for four days. Their visit was also to take in sites associated with the courageous doctor, educationist and children’s author Janusz Korczak.  In the years before the war, Korczak set up an orphanage with radical new approaches to the care and education of its young residents.  After Nazi Germany’s occupation of Poland, Korczak and his children were forced into the Warsaw ghetto, where half a million people were crowded into just a few streets. In 1942, as the Nazis began to deport thousands of people every day to their deaths in Treblinka, Korczak was offered the chance to escape the ghetto but refused to abandon the children in his care.  He and all the children and staff from the orphanage, nearly 200 of them, were forced into wooden cattle wagons and taken to Treblinka. None survived.

The IOE is part of the University of London, and is Britain’s leading centre for educational research and teacher training. Its Centre for Holocaust Education, which leads the Beacon School programme, was established in 2008 with the aim of: “working with teachers to transform Holocaust education”.  Combining extensive research into classroom needs with a programme specifically designed to meet these challenges the IOE is uniquely responsive to the issues that teachers and pupils face in studying this complex and emotionally-charged subject.

The Director of the IOE’s Centre for Holocaust Education, Professor Stuart Foster, says:

“The Holocaust is explicable – as a human event with human causes it is open to study and understanding, even though its scale, complexity and the emotional demands it places upon both teacher and learner can feel overwhelming.  The value in studying the Holocaust is enormous as it reveals the full spectrum of what human beings are capable – from the worst forms of hatred and cruelty to the most inspiring stories of courage and the resilience of the human spirit.”

The Beacon School teachers, who also attended a four-day seminar in London during the summer, are given continuing support by the IOE to help develop effective ways of teaching about the Holocaust in a wider context.  The Institute says that they should develop ways to: “reinforce the importance of certain key themes that are often neglected from Holocaust curricula, pre-war life of the communities that were destroyed; how the victims responded to the unfolding genocide; and the legacy and significance of the Holocaust’’

November 2013