Croton-harmon Teacher Draws Lessons From Inhumanity In Social Studies Class And At The Holocaust And Human Rights Education Center In Purchase

As a Social Studies teacher, Brett Bowden often hears the question, "Why do we have to learn this stuff?" For him, the explanation begins with "we" and "they." For instance, "we" might have been the blonde blooded German neighbors, while "they" could have been the Jewish family that looks a little different than us. "That's the first step to dehumanizing people," says the Croton-Harmon High School Teacher.
Croton-Harmon Teacher Draws Lessons from Inhumanity in Social Studies Class and at the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center in Purchase
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As a Social Studies teacher, Brett Bowden often hears the question, "Why do we have to learn this stuff?" For him, the explanation begins with "we" and "they." For instance, "we" might have been the blonde blooded German neighbors, while "they" could have been the Jewish family that looks a little different than us. "That's the first step to dehumanizing people," says the Croton-Harmon High School Teacher.

Unfortunately, the subsequent steps are recorded throughout history and fill the curriculum of an elective he teaches at Croton-Harmon and The Scarsdale Teacher's Institute.
"Humanity and Inhumanity through History," will be offered the week

of August 18th as a professional development course through The Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center in Purchase. "If they just want to be students and learn from it, that's great. If they want to pick up pedagogy from it, that's great too," he says.

He sites the latter case in his own effort to draw lessons for others from the Holocaust. "I took a facing history course and I just got hooked so I brought it to the high school," says the Somers resident.

Nonetheless, his initiation into the subject doesn't highlight the differences between Nazi Germanyand America but rather what we have in common. "How does one of the most enlightened Western European communities go from having a democracy under Weimar to electing Adolf Hitler," he asks.

Of course, the answers come in many forms but the lesson plan is looking forward in one direction. "Democracy isn't a destination, it's the journey," he says.

So what should we do when the rights of immigrants are infringed upon or if POWs at Gitmo lose Habeas Corpus? "The best you can do is raise awareness," he says - even if it might sound a little weak in the wake of so much money, noise and power.

To that, he tells them that the late senator Paul Simon revealed that if each U.S. Senator and Representative had received only a hundred letters in regard to genocide in Rwanda, the United States would have acted. Or we could just take the time to vote, but one chad here or there can't make a difference. "Tell that to Al Gore," he says.

To emphasize such points, The Holocaust Center established "Upstander Day" so that students can see it first hand for themselves. "A bystander watches things happen, an Upstander takes action," he says.

As a result, kids may volunteer at a local nursing home or say something at school


when the teasing gets out of hand. "Are you joining in or are you standing up," he says, and that certainly could be asked of those who turned away in Cambodia or as segregation ruled in America.

Recognizing those who step out of their seat, Croton-Harmon celebrates Upstander Day by having the year's participants present their efforts, but there's more to it than congratulating themselves. "I want someone who is sitting in the audience to say, 'wow, that's what someone did in my community,'" he says.

Getting to them look even further out, Mr. Bowden brings in various speakers to detail how they have made a difference. That impact has been recorded rather prominently in the form of one of Mr. Bowden's young graduates. Inspired by a Canadian who became involved in Jamaica with an organization called Free the Children, 18 year old Maggie Lipton has raised $7000 dollars in the last two years by putting on a dance show in her grandfather's basement.

Still, the mountains might seem high and the anonymity overwhelming so he recommends altering therelationships of those around you. Get versed on the subjects of concern that come our way - especially those online. Then raise those issues with others. From there, "If you don't want to feel powerless, print out that petition," he says, get it signed and upgrade the way you see yourself in this democracy, he adds.

Back in class, the Holocaust and inhumanity teaches children and adults to be aware when people are being pigeon holed into narrow categories. "That makes you a "we" or a "they," truly denying your identity," he says, and laying the ground work for history that ends badly.

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