by George J Elbaum
Castro Valley High School (CVHS) is a comprehensive 9-12 public high school with approximately 3000 students of high diversity. In the 10th grade students study the history of the Holocaust as part of the coverage of World War II, and English teacher Yvonna Shaw takes them on a parallel journey using literature including Maus by Art Spiegelman as well as a presentation by a Holocaust survivor. Many students in that grade level have also read The Diary of Anne Frank or Elie Wiesel’s Night.
This two-pronged, cross-disciplinary approach ensures that students not only have a factual background and an understanding of how the Holocaust evolved in the context of World War II, but also a sense of the psychological and individual toll connected with this history. Maus is drawn from personal experiences of a child of survivors, a graphic novel depicting the relationship between a father and son deeply impacted by history. The legacies of the Holocaust are not only global and geo-political, as the students learn from their study of history and literature, but also personal and rooted in the family lore of all who survived. Some of the students had heard the testimony of a Kindertransport survivor earlier this semester, as part of another curricular journey in social studies.
CVHS has a long-time connection with Facing History and Ourselves through several teachers on staff who have accessed support and materials over many years. With recent shifts in faculty through retirements and other changes, Yvonne Shaw now represents a new generation of Facing History teachers at the school. She is introducing the resources to others on the campus, including veteran and newer members of the staff. One result of my talk is that some teachers may now choose to attend an upcoming seminar with Facing History so that they can broaden and deepen their exploration of the subject next year.
The Q & A session after this presentation, as also at most of my presentations at schools over the past year, included questions not only about my Holocaust childhood but also about the rise of domestic and international tensions sweeping the world’s political landscapes as triggered by the tides of refugees seeking safety from mid-East conflicts. The students’ questions reflect their and perhaps their parents’ concerns and fears.
My presentation to the school’s 10th grade students was organized by Yvonna Shaw and arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History, who gave the introduction to my talk plus an ending about the importance of first-hand witness testimony. Other teachers attending the presentations were Lena Frazee, Stacy Kania, and Katie Stacy, and Principal Blaine Torpey.