THGC Announces Recipient of Inaugural Dr. Anna Steinberger Outstanding Educator Award
L-R: THGC Executive Director William McWhorter; THGC Commissioner Suzanne Ransleben;
award winner Cheryl Holland; THGC Education Coordinator J.E. Wolfson;
Robinson Junior High School Principal Shelly Chudej
The THGC’s mission is primarily one of education, and one of the most important things we can do in that regard is to help teachers. In that vein, the commission created an annual award to recognize the Texas teacher most dedicated to Holocaust and/or genocide education. This year, we received applications from most of the 20 educational regions in the state. Please join us in congratulating Cheryl Holland of Robinson Junior High School as the first recipient of the Dr. Anna Steinberger Outstanding Educator Award! Ms. Holland has graciously shared a letter with the commission, which explains why she believes teaching the Holocaust and other genocides is so important (below).
Dear Dr. Steinberger and honored commissioners,
I am honored to have been chosen as the first recipient of the Anna Steinberger Educators Award. I am beyond honored; I am overwhelmed with this recognition. I became an educator, not simply as a career, but because I was called to a mission. I have been teaching junior high students about the Holocaust and genocide for many years. I am not a history teacher and by no stretch of the imagination do I claim to be an expert on the history of the Holocaust or WWII. I teach English. I teach literature and writing because I can impact not only students’ literacy but enlighten and develop their ability to think about their world and their place in it.
Many students enter 8th grade having never read a complete book, and those who have, do not see any significance in reading. That problem in itself is shocking, but the effects of this missing piece are devastating to not only these children but to our society as a whole. Ignorant people are easily controlled. Hitler knew this.
We hear and read about the entitlement and lack of empathy in young people. I do not accept that this is just a sign of the times. The lack of connection to others is at least exacerbated if not caused by the lack of reading meaningful literature. I have seen what reading Holocaust literature such as Night by Eli Wiesel does for my students. Eyes are opened and hearts are broken. My students question why and how these things could happen, but when they read that the Holocaust was not the beginning or end of genocide and crimes against humanity, they become enraged. I hear, “How can this keep happening?” Their frustration with the lack of simple answers leads some to question, “What does this all have to do with me? I live in Robinson, Texas.” My answer is that I believe it does relate to them and where they are.
By reading historical accounts and examining propaganda, students recognize the power of words as a catalyst for hatred and a weapon. This discovery takes us back to their question, “What does this have to do with me?” I have them document and write about the “language of hate” they observe in their world-- junior high. Admittedly junior high kids can be mean. They speak and write cutting, judgemental, and downright ugly remarks constantly. Can this be dangerous? The teen suicide rate tells us that words can result in death.
Our study of the Holocaust confirms that words have the power to kill. All it takes is one individual to take the next step from persecution to destruction. We must honestly examine ourselves as humans in order to become better, in order to become humane.
My retirement does not mean that my mission has ended. I will continue to help other teacher incorporate Holocaust studies into their curriculum. I will have more freedom to bring humanitarian learning to our youth. Thank you for your encouragement through this award. It has solidified my belief and my mission.
Ms. Holland was notified of the commission’s decision in person, at a surprise ceremony that took place at her school on May 30, 2017. THGC Commissioner Suzanne Ransleben, Executive Director William McWhorter, and Education Coordinator J.E. Wolfson made the announcement at a special school assembly.
Local press was present to cover the event; you can find their articles at the following links:
This outstanding educator award was generously funded by Dr. Anna Steinberger, through Friends of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission. Dr. Steinberger is a Holocaust survivor, and a founding member of the THGC.
The award is open to all Texas educators of grades 5-12 (this includes teachers, librarians, and curriculum specialists). Contenders need to demonstrate their commitment to teaching about the Holocaust and/or the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, or Iraq/Syria, by completing an application. The winner receives a $1,000.00 prize.
The THGC knows how hard Texas teachers work every day, and the commission is excited to offer this annual award. If you know a Texas teacher (including yourself) who demonstrates a commitment to educating their students about the Holocaust and/or other genocides, please keep an eye on our website for information on the 2018 Dr. Anna Steinberger Outstanding Educator Award!