notes from the world classroom, endowed chair series

Centropa
guest author: Richard Gair, reading professor, East Campus
I attended the CENTROPA Summer Academy for Teachers, held in Berlin, Germany. The idea for attending the academy was that they use a unique approach to Holocaust education. While many institutions focus more on the horrors of what the victims went through, CENTROPA focuses on their lives before and after the Holocaust.

Many survivors have voiced concern that their identity is often tied to the fact that they are a survivor. They say the Holocaust does not define who they are. They had beautiful, rich and fulfilling lives before the horrors occurred. Likewise, they have rebuilt their lives with offspring and often many grandchildren, which they say is their greatest revenge against the Nazis. With that in mind, CENTROPA fanned out across Europe to find survivors who were willing to tell their stories. Instead of video recording their testimony, as most institutions do, they asked these survivors to tell their stories and show pictures of their families as they spoke. Recorders wrote down or audio taped their testimony, focusing on their life in the Jewish community before and after the Holocaust.

Using this material, CENTROPA works with educators to build instructional lessons for teachers to use, and places all information on their website. The philosophy is quite simple. “Nobody teaches teachers better than other teachers.” Through this process, the beauty and fabric of Jewish culture in these countries is expressed.

Students can then make their own video projects similar to the ones CENTROPA has on their website. Instruction in basic movie making with Windows Movie Maker or Apple iMovie is on the CENTROPA website in the form of video tutorials and a sample project.

Teachers can submit student or class projects that use the CENTROPA model for placement on their own website. This approach appealed to me because it was a chance to develop instructional strategies and content that focus more on life rather than death. The Holocaust as a whole is a difficult subject to teach in any case due to the sadness and horror that is such an integral part of it. Here was an opportunity to show more of the other side in my course and encourage students to pursue that line of thought in their required projects.

Those same tutorials are now on my website. Upon my return from Berlin, I added a new option for the final project in my Holocaust course syllabus: To use the CENTROPA material and style to create an original video slideshow telling the life-family story of a survivor in the CENTROPA archives and databases. A few of my students did video projects for their final in the fall. They can be viewed on the “Student Video Showcase” page of my website which is www.professorgair.com. This spring, several students will also be making similar videos which will go online when they are completed. Students are required to meet with me as they plan so I can guide them and suggest ways to make sure it is done well.

The endowed chairs are important and we at Valencia are quite blessed to have such a resource. They offer us an opportunity to hone our skills, further knowledge of our craft, and regenerate and broaden our commitment to the profession and thus directly influence student learning through better scholarships and teaching. The benefactors, as always, are the students sitting in our classrooms. The chairs give us an opportunity to enrich the already rich environment that Valencia is known for. It adds a dimension to our “learning centered approach” that the normal budgetary funds cannot cover. It adds to our skill set and makes us the leaders we are in the world of community colleges. I am so proud every single time I am a recipient of an endowed chair. My face lights up and I truly get excited with the new opportunity it provides me. Words are not adequate to express my deepest gratitude to Valencia Foundation and administration of the college for giving me the opportunity to be reborn each time my project is accepted for a chair.

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