USHMM MTF, EIHR International Project Coordinator, USC Shoah Foundation Master Teacher
Q: If you could travel by luxury train across any one of the seven continents, which one would you most like to see by rail?
A: Maybe because of loving Agatha Christie, I would choose an Orient Express-like train through Europe. But I also want to explore India and China, so maybe by train?
Q: What made you decide to become a Museum Teacher Fellow?
A: Easy: A copy of Night. My department chair insisted we teach this “novel,” even though I had very little historical background. I watched the mini-series Holocaust as a kid in 7th grade, but that was all I knew. My first few years teaching about the Holocaust were fairly terrible without solid context in history. I needed to educate myself, so I attended the Belfer Conference in 1998; this was the first time I traveled by myself…the first time on a plane alone! From there I was so inspired to continue to teach about the Holocaust, even working with a group of students after school to create an art project for a traveling Anne Frank exhibition that was coming here to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. That same year I attended the English teachers’ national convention and USHMM had a booth. The late Dan Napolitano was at that table. When I told him I was at Belfer in ‘98 and had just created this Anne Frank art project with my students, he said, “You need to apply for the Fellowship.” I can still remember every detail of this conversation, down to the suit he wore and the brochure he gave me. Dan was the reason I applied and was accepted for the Fellowship.
Q: Why start your own project (Educators Institute of Human Rights) with other Museum Teacher Fellows?
A: I originally was not a member of the EIHR, just a few years ago I was invited to assist them with social media and their website. Originally I thought I might do work in Rwanda. However, Mark Gudgel, the director at the time and co-founder of the EIHR, posed the question for all of us: What would we like to do? Where would we like to go next? What can we do together?
So two years ago I blindly emailed the Documentation Center of Cambodia, introducing myself and the EIHR. Youk Chhang, the Director of DC-Cam, quickly replied and put me in contact with Christopher Dearing, an American who had co-written their textbook on the history of Democratic Kampuchea and who creates their teacher training communes. I didn’t have any personal connection with Cambodia at the time; it wasn’t a place I had studied in detail other than as a comparative genocide to the Holocaust. I knew about the killing fields, but that was about the end of my knowledge. But I knew that the DC-Cam was instrumental in providing documentation for the ECCC trials and had more than a 15-year history of training teachers on how to teach about their own genocide, and that we would be ideal partners with their work.
Two years later this past October I was able to travel to Cambodia and present at a teacher commune in Battambang and to tour and meet the DC-Cam staff. This is just the beginning of our work together hopefully as one day we hope teachers from different areas of conflict can travel and work with one another in different regions (Rwanda, Bosnia, and Cambodia currently). We want the teachers in Cambodia, for example, to know as teachers (and in some cases survivors of genocide) teaching some of the grandchildren who might have been Khmer Rouge that they are not alone in this world. Eventually, we would love to see this teacher exchange program.
Q: Human rights seem evident, why are they so for you? How would you articulate?
A: The only way to bring change is through education. People can truly change through education. Gathering people together and sharing stories is a great way to combat hate and genocide.
Q: Any person you admire? Why?
A: I regret never hearing and seeing Elie Wiesel. He was in Ohio on a school night just three hours away, and I will always deeply regret not making that trip to go see him. I also have great admiration for Samantha Power. Her voice. She has a way of making people aware even if it’s uncomfortable for them. And I admire so many teachers I meet. It reminds me how important it is to talk about issues relevant in our own areas. I’m constantly meeting people around the world that influence me and dare me to be better. But besides my parents, the first person I truly admired was my third grade teacher. Because she was a black woman teaching in an entirely white elementary school in the late 70’s, it would have been easy for her to try not to challenge the curriculum, but that was not who Miss Sheila Lapsley was. We created biographies about influential African Americans. She invited us to attend her church and to challenge prejudice around us. She taught me to see others as equals and to celebrate our differences. She was the first person outside of my family I admired. But I haven’t yet met the last person I admire.
Q: Yehuda Amichai, interviewed by “The Paris Review” in 1992 and a survivor of the Holocaust, got asked the following question: Were you an artistic child?
A: Yes, and I continue to be. I’m a musician, I work outdoor concerts as my summer job, and I have a great admiration for theatre. I was a jazz saxophone player throughout high school and all four years of my undergrad at Ball State University. I thought I was going to be a band director, but I knew that while I loved playing, I did not love the administration work of a band director. The arts are very much a part of me. I can only draw stick figures, but I seek our art museums anytime I travel, especially modern art galleries. When I was in Cambodia, I walked with staff members through many winding neighborhood streets in Battambang to find a small house studio. Art and travel are intertwined for me.
In the classroom I use art to help my students express how they feel along with writing. One of my favorite projects is having my advanced students create “stained glass” pieces to represent the themes in Romeo and Juliet.
Q: When you travel, what’s on your device?
A: The National, an Indie rock band out of Cincinnati, Ohio, has always been my obsession band and the best live performance, besides the Foo Fighters, I have seen; Ryan Adams, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Death Cab for Cutie, Sufjan Stevens, and the soundtrack to Hamilton.
Links for further information:
Educators Institute of Human Rights
Documentation Center of Cambodia
Holocaust TV Mini-Series
USC Shoah Foundation