After the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel eloquently stated “never again.” Since he first uttered this compelling sentiment, genocides have erupted across the world—from Guatemala to Cambodia.
April was chosen as Genocide Prevention Month since the Holocaust, Rwandan, Bosnian, Armenian and Cambodian genocides are commemorated during this time. The commemoration began in April 2009 and combined genocide remembrance with prevention.
When educators teach about genocide and mass human rights violations, they shoulder the tremendous responsibility of revealing to youth the most heinous side of human nature. The subject of genocide warrants its own pedagogy and approach. It cannot be ignored and requires the greatest care and planning to ensure that students will neither veer into depression nor become callous to the heavy toll genocide has taken on the world in the past 100 years.
Two main concepts must be incorporated into any lesson on genocide. First, individual histories should be remembered. Those who were victims of genocide, including the survivors, should be remembered and their testimonies taught. Testimonies connect the student more intimately with the event. A new film about a survivor of genocide designed for classroom use can be found here.
And second, students must be exposed to genocide prevention techniques that should be cultivated and applied during future conflicts. The study of genocide offers a chance to examine moral issues that are part of the fabric of any society. In extreme cases, the lack of understanding or indifference to the denial of human rights can lead to genocide. Our goal as educators must be to ensure the next generation remembers victims of the past so that they can fight extreme prejudice in the future. These students are, in fact, tomorrow’s leaders.
Genocide is a complex subject. By creating lesson plans that reveal the structure of genocide, analysis of international responses to genocide, and provide a space for students to read or hear the testimony of genocide survivors, students will learn about this difficult subject in a manner that will give them the tools necessary to take an active role in preventing genocide.
Cohan is education director of The Genocide Education Project based in California. She is also a member of the Teaching Tolerance Advisory Board.