Museum Fellowship Book Reviews
Several years ago, Holocaust education was mandated in the state of New Jersey. It became evident that the textbook that we were using in social studies was not going to be adequate to support Holocaust education. The book we were using devoted approximately one page to the topic of the Holocaust. Although there is an abundance of supplementary materials available that cover other aspects of Holocaust studies, I felt that it would be helpful to our staff, our students and their parents to have the support of a textbook. The current textbook, The Holocaust, published by Globe Fearon, a division of Simon & Schuster, has been extremely successful in our social studies program.
This book is appropriate for middle school students. The readability level is grade 6, but the interest level is between grades 6-9. It is organized so that the material is not overwhelming. The chapters are relatively short, with around six new vocabulary terms introduced in each lesson, and numerous graphics (photographs, maps, charts etc.) to enhance the topic. In each chapter, dramatic human stories (called case studies) are used to help clarify the significance of a specific event. For example, in the case study of Kristallnacht, an excerpt by Frederic Zeller (When Time Ran Out: Coming of Age in the Third Reich, 1989) is included. First-person accounts such as this excerpt truly help students humanize the topic. Many primary sources are interspersed throughout this book.
The book is divided into eight case studies: The Jewish World Before the Holocaust: A Rich Heritage; Kristallnacht: The Beginning of the End; The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: Jews Fight Back; Auschwitz: Death Camp, Slave Labor Camp; The Youngest Victims: Children of the Holocaust; Non-Jews Who Helped Jews; World Reaction To the Holocaust; Adolf Eichmann On Trial; and Remembering the Holocaust. Because the students are only given an overview of these topics, the teachers can easily supplement with other materials. Some suggested videos and an annotated bibliography are included in this text. Although this text is only about 128 pages, I have suggested that some chapters be covered by the sixth grade and some by the seventh grade. By doing this, the teachers can spend a reasonable amount of time on this unit and still ensure that the students get a thorough and detailed Holocaust education throughout the middle school.
A Student Text and a Teacher's Resource Manual are part of this series. I am especially pleased with the Student Text. At the end of each case study is a review that helps students examine what happened and its impact on today's society. This helps in developing and enhancing our students' critical thinking skills. Also included is an activity involving some form of active learning, such as writing a script and role-playing; writing an editorial; writing a diary entry; or creating a memorial. Although these particular activities are not that novel, it does help teachers by giving them ideas they may not have thought of themselves. The Teacher's Resource Manual serves primarily to give the teacher an overview of the case study, with a suggested lesson plan. Some of the ideas have been useful. The reproducible activity sheets included are varied; political cartoons; poetry interpretation; interpreting a primary source. The exercises are challenging and encourage higher level thinking skills. However, the tests included are extremely literal and not very creative. I have not used them and have had to create my own assessments.
Students of middle school age like this book for a variety of reasons. They like the fact that it is a paperback and easy to carry around. The book does not look like a typical textbook that the students are used to seeing in school and appears to be more grown up to them. This is a very important factor to a middle school student who wants to be treated as a young adult. Because they like this topic and the lessons are short, they do not complain about the length or difficulty of the reading assignments. The amount of material is palatable and the assignments are interesting. I have found that many of my students have been so interested in a specific topic that they have independently researched the topic in more depth. I have also had many of my students read further in the book than was assigned. From my experiences with other textbooks in social studies, that does not happen very often.
Overall, I am very pleased with our selection of this Globe Fearon Historical Case Studies series as our textbook on the Holocaust. This seems to be a consensus of opinion also from the other social studies teachers, our students and their parents. This book is an
excellent reference for our parents, who may have only a minimal background on the Holocaust. It is a well-organized, easy to read textbook that explains the facts and significance of the Holocaust, providing teachers with an adequate amount of material to develop lessons about the Holocaust and its relevance to our world today.