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Lakeridges new course is thought-provoking for students, public

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Holly Swanson puts the finishing touches on a display that prods viewers to ask what they might do to prevent genocide.  REVIEW PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKEFor the first time this fall, Lakeridge High School history teacher Karen Hoppes taught a course titled “Facing History and Ourselves: Comparative Genocide.”

The course is intended to provide students with a conceptual and historical overview of genocide.

“This is the first time we’ve offered the class, and it’s taught primarily to juniors and seniors,” said Hoppes, who modeled the class on a college level course she teaches on the Holocaust and German history. Through regular classroom lectures, blogs, screenings of documentary films and discussions, Hoppes gave the students an introduction to the subject of genocide and explained the United Nations’ definition of genocide. She used a study of the Holocaust as a theoretical model of the stages of genocide and victimization. She presented a range of empirical case studies along with some of the historical and philosophical debates they sparked. Finally, the students analyzed themes of memory and denial, mechanisms of justice and redress, including the evolving international law on genocide, and strategies of prevention and intervention. This fourth part of the class led to the creation of a museum exhibit about genocide in the world today.

Gigi Gallagher helped create an exhibit about the Rwandan genocide.“The purpose of the exhibit is to increase awareness of genocide, genocide stages and the role of public response. It should show how we, as human beings, face this history and ourselves,” said Hoppes.

Students worked together in small groups to create portions of their exhibit, titled “Dehumanized Genocide in the Modern Age: Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.” Students were instructed to include pictures, dioramas, metaphorical symbols, music, charts and tables, captions and important quotes, visual collages, annotated maps, replications of art and artifacts or primary source documents, timelines and other audio-visual displays. Each display included a written statement that introduced viewers to the importance of the topic. The students had to determine as a group an artful, logical way to arrange their exhibit and were responsible for acting as a docent for the exhibit.

From their groups, they chose students to serve as curator, historical writer/contractor and graphic artist for the exhibits.

The museum included an introductory exhibit showing genocide events occurring in modern ages — with artful use of yellow caution tape and maps — then, viewers moved into separate exhibits for Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur that used black, metal wire screens made to look like jail cell bars. The museum ended with an exhibit that prompted viewers to consider what they could do to end genocide, again with yellow caution tape streaming from the ceiling.

The exhibit opened to the Lakeridge community and then the public was invited to view it Jan. 16.

Lia Newman adjusts a display describing the Cambodian genocide.“I think the biggest thing I learned (in the course) was that people thought they could kill off all the people,” said junior Holly Swanson, who helped with the Cambodian display. “You just can’t discount people as crazy — they really thought they could kill everyone and they thought through what they did.”

Abigale O’Boyle worked on the Bosnian exhibit.

“It made an impression on me to see only 8,000 out of 200,000 deaths were considered genocide,” she said. “People were killed by their neighbors.”

The exhibit was also intended to spur students and others to take action, which Abbie Rooney was intending to do.

“I’m interested in history and understanding the perpetrator’s mind,” she said. “Why would they do something like this?” She said she was looking forward to being a better informed member of the school’s Model United Nation’s team.

It was apparent that the course fulfilled its objectives.

“In general, this is so large, so dehumanizing,” said Quinn Milionis. “It’s crazy, but it happens. That is reality and it is eye-opening.”

“The museum project was totally student-driven,” said Hoppes. “I’ve just acted as their gopher. When young people become knowledgeable they will take the next step to push political will to bring about change.”

The final display of the exhibition provided space for viewers to post “Take Action Promises.” Hoppes shared several of these comments:

“I will educate my peers and raise awareness about genocide.”

“I wish to never be ignorant (about genocide) ever in my life.”

“I have learned that it is important to not turn away from news just because it is horrendous. It is essential to face reality in order to prevent tragedies such as genocide.”

“I hope that through awareness and compassion I will be inspired to take an active rather than passive role to face the challenges of genocide. I hope I won’t be one who thinks ‘aw, that’s so sad,’ and move on with my life unaffected.”

The museum exhibit will become part of the school’s world history curriculum and is available for viewing by the public and other classes. Hoppes will teach the course again next fall.