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Holocaust History Course Cut After Teacher Wins Fellowship To Expand It

By Ariel Cheung | May 12, 2015 5:09am
 Rosa Lamb, a Lake View High School history teacher, was one of 17 teachers nationwide chosen for a teacher fellowship program at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Rosa Lamb, a Lake View High School history teacher, was one of 17 teachers nationwide chosen for a teacher fellowship program at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
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Provided/Rosa Lamb

LAKEVIEW — Rosa Lamb was ecstatic to learn in February that she'd won a summer fellowship in Washington D.C. that would help her expand her popular Holocaust history class at Lake View High School.

But a week after she received news of her acceptance into the world-renowned United States Holocaust Memorial Museum program, Lamb found out her class was being cut for the 2015-16 school year.

"It's a highly desired class because of the topic, but unfortunately it won't be here next year," Lamb told DNAinfo Chicago. "It's mostly because we're cutting down electives in general to make sure we focus on things like ACT scores and college readiness."

The cut is one more example of a trend that's "beyond sad" but has become all too familiar to Kristin Thompson, the Holocaust museum's educational program coordinator.

"The challenge we're seeing is time limitations are getting more and more restrictive because of the focus on standardized testing and Common Core. People don't necessarily see how this content can perfectly align with the skills students are required to use and will be tested on," Thompson said in a phone interview from Washington D.C.

Ariel Cheung discusses why the class won't be taught next year:

Lake View High School Principal Scott Grens did not respond to requests to comment on the decision to cut the class. Chicago Public Schools — including Lake View — continue to offer lessons on the Holocaust during 10th grade World Studies classes, spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said.

But it's rare for students to get such an in-depth look at genocide and the intricacies of the Holocaust, Thompson said.

The Global Studies class — which has been consistently filled since Lake View started offering it two years ago — spends the first semester covering the Holocaust, while the second covers the stages of genocide and modern examples. Last year, students discussed whether turmoil in Syria should be classified as genocide.

This year, Lamb's three Global Studies classes worked with English, choir and photography students to organize an assembly on National Holocaust Remembrance Day April 16.

The program included information on Holocaust victims and an original song written and performed by the school's advanced mixed choir.

"Students don't want to sit in class and be bored and read from the textbook. They respond to teachers who are passionate and knowledgeable and who expect the students to learn, and that's how I approach my class," Lamb said.

Lamb, whose master's thesis centered on Holocaust education, said the upperclassman elective course goes beyond just history and lets students grapple with psychological and ethical issues.

"They want to know how did this horrible event happen, and more importantly, why did the world let it happen? They want to understand human behavior, and I find that with every student," Lamb said.

Passionate about the subject and eager to improve the class she'd designed, Lamb applied for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's teacher fellowship program, which she described as the "ultimate step in Holocaust education." She was one of 17 teachers chosen from more than 100 applicants across the country.

"I've been spending 10 years kind of preparing for this. After teaching [the Lake View] class, I finally decided it was probably time for me to apply for it," Lamb said.

The fellowship at the Washington, D.C. museum allows teachers with an extensive knowledge of Holocaust history to spend a week in July crafting new curriculum on the subject. The teachers implement the lessons into their classrooms, then return to the museum the following year to discuss their results.

“We encourage teachers to bridge the history to the contemporary. To hear that’s exactly what [Lamb’s class] did — looking at things like primary source documents, analyzing and thinking critically — but then be cut, that’s beyond sad,” Thompson said.

Decisions to cut electives at Lake View were influenced by student data and are the basis for final decisions on which classes to offer each year, which is left to the teachers, Huffman said. The Global Studies class could still be offered in the future in the rotating selection of electives.

Lamb said the decision to cut her class was hard to take, but she was glad she could still participate in the fellowship.

"It was something I was worried about, but when I talked to [the museum], they said we can't control how schools schedule classes, and it's more than OK," Lamb said.

Although she's unsure which classes she'll be teaching next year, Lamb said she hopes her Holocaust curriculum can be incorporated in a history or psychology class. If she isn't teaching one, she'll share her lessons with another teacher.

"We have new administration, and whenever there's new administration, things change. I can only hope once we figure out our classes at school, it'll come back in a couple years," Lamb said.

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