Teaching about the Unspeakable

Posted by Jack Lipinsky on January 13, 2013

It's January already and a new year! NHL hockey has returned, and my students remind me endlessly of how they intend to breathlessly watch the revival of rivalries they already have grown to love. Many of them also play hockey for various teams, some for school teams as well. They are busy with all kinds of social events and spend endless hours surfing the Net, on Facebook, enjoying TV shows, and a bit of time doing homework.

I have learned that busy though they are--the subject matter of Facing History really captures their interest. But before I tell you why, let me introduce myself. I'm Jack Lipinsky, a Grade 8 teacher at Robbins Hebrew Academy in Toronto. My course in Jewish History is a Facing History scope and sequence study of Genocide seen primarily through the lens of the Holocaust, but with considerable supporting discussion from the Armenian Genocide and the Truth and Reconciliation Committee that revisited the crimes of Apartheid in South Africa.

What is it that Middle Schoolers find fascinating about Genocide? Many of them have a deep sense of justice and fairness, and they are horrified that "othering" can have such brutal outcomes. I also suspect that, since Middle Schoolers are keenly aware of their social status, and a great deal of jockeying for 'peer power" is taking place--some of which comes across as bullying--they are very keenly aware of what it feels like to be "the other" or participate in "othering" a peer. I would not go as far as Barbara Coloroso and link bullying to genocide. in fact, I would argue that the spotlight on bullying today serves to make students very aware of it.

When I first encountered Facing History 5 years ago, I often wondered how to engage these students in a serious discussion of the Holocaust, of the travails of those under Apartheid, or of those millions murdered because of their ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. I have since been privileged to have many transformative educational encounters with my students and I want to share some of the things that worked for me (and some that didn't) in a manner that that you will find interesting. I look forward to teaching History, and my students love it--not because it is fun to learn but because, as they put it, "it is really powerful to understand what makes people tick and not simply say that Hitler was crazy."

I will take you on the journey I went on...and hope you will come along for the ride. Considering how well I drive--I don't have a license--I hope you are a trusting person! Your feedback is the most welcome response to this blog.

Topics: Middle School, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanities Course


This is where Canadian Facing History and Ourselves teachers and community members meet to share reflections, scholarship and teaching practices that will inspire, challenge and improve teaching and student learning. Our stories provide a window into diverse Facing History classrooms in Canada, and invite you into the discussion.

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