You have a total of 3 hours (in two 90-minute chunks, minus the usual housekeeping time) to teach your students about the Holocaust and other modern genocides. You have some state standards to guide you, but they focus on terminology (what is genocide?) and a laundry list of genocides to mention. Your students will come to the first lesson fresh from spring break.
How do you teach this weighty topic without trivializing it?
I don't have an answer. I struggle with this every time.
The hardest thing about teaching history, for me, is to do justice to the tragedies of the past without turning it into sensationalism. It seems there's a fine line to walk between glossing over what happened (11 million people died) and turning it into a horror-show (look at these pictures of concentration camp survivors) that, rather than building empathy and compassion, appeals to the enjoyment of the grotesque that so many of us have learned from tv and movies. How do you use the tools of modern media to tell a real story, with real people? (Now I'm starting to sound like Claude Lanzmann.)
My students, by the way, are fascinated with the topic. I don't know how to respond to that.
Part of my problem is that I spent an entire semester studying Nazism in college. It was a senior seminar, so we read a lot, had the sort of discussions that continue for an hour after class is over, and thought long and hard. Everything I do will seem too shallow after that, I suppose. I can't take the reading and discussion of a variety of "biographies" of Hitler and easily turn it into something my students can do in a block, and yet I want to. I can't show Shoah. (I'm not sure I want to, really.)
I'll probably do what I did last year, and piece together fragments of the things I'd love to spend more time on. I just know it's not good enough. It never is.