By Chris Bavender
When Kelly Watson began teaching in the mid-90’s, she realized she was “woefully unprepared” to answer students’ questions about the Holocaust when she was asked to teach Elie Wiesel’s “Night.”
“The only Holocaust-specific learning I remembered was reading Anne Frank’s diary and watching the mini-series ‘The Holocaust’ in middle school. So I looked for any professional development, but at that time Indiana had none to offer,” said Watson, an eighth grade teacher at Fishers Junior High. “I applied and was accepted to the Belfer National Conference for Educators at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. This, combined with meeting my first Holocaust survivor, Mike Vogel, led me to a fellowship and eventually being a part of the Regional Education Corps at USHMM, as well as speaking for the Indianapolis Bureau of Jewish Education and writing curriculum for the USC Shoah Foundation.”
Watson, who serves as an educational program director for the Educators’ Institute for Human Rights, will take her expertise to Cambodia Oct. 10 to Oct. 14 to present at a training for 100 Cambodian teachers on the history and guidelines for teaching about the Holocaust. She’s worked two years to create the partnership.
“I was looking for other places in the world that have seen conflict, since we had already strong programs in Kigali and now Bosnia and soon Iraq,” she said. “It is essential that teachers, some of whom are survivors and children of survivors themselves, feel supported and a part of a network that understands what it means, for example, to have children or grandchildren of perpetrators in their classroom.”
Watson said she believes it’s important to train others how to teach about the Holocaust because teachers influence generations and inspire students who go on to change the world.
“When you study the Holocaust or any genocide, you see what happens when people remain silent in the face of the suffering of others,” she said. “You see what happens when we think of someone as ‘them’ and not as an individual to be valued, so it makes prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination acceptable. You see how fragile democracy can be and that we must continue to be engaged citizens as the Holocaust occurred only because individuals, organizations and governments passed laws allowing for discrimination and eventually genocide to be legal. We can make this world a better place, but only if we work together.”