A Need for More Holocaust Education

A Need for More Holocaust Education

By Cheryl Rattner Price, Executive Director & Co-Founder
It cannot be stressed enough how important the lessons of the Holocaust are to the future of humanity. For the past six to seven generations, the Holocaust has been taught in classrooms around the country and across the globe to ensure that the world never forgets the atrocities that occurred. And yet, as time goes by and we become more removed from the history, the lessons from the Holocaust don’t seem to be the educational priority they once were.
The New York Times reported in April 2018 that the Holocaust is “fading from memory”. In this worrisome article, they reported upsetting data such as:

  • 66% of Millennials can’t say what Auschwitz was
  • 58% of Americans believe something like the Holocaust can happen again
  • 52% believe that Hitler came to power through force
  • 41% of Americans believe that fewer than 2 million Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust

Despite these statistics however, 93% of people surveyed said that feel that Holocaust education should be taught in schools, suggesting that the country agrees that learning these critical lessons from that dark time are of utmost importance.

Our Work is More Important Than Ever

The Butterfly Project is both honored and humbled to be a key player in Holocaust education in classrooms across the country. We are proud to report a significant increase in our classroom visits and butterfly kit programming in the 2017-2018 school year, which tells us that despite the statistics shown above, communities around the country are more committed than ever to educating their youth about the dangers of hatred and bigotry, and the power of one person to make a difference.
We have seen a significant increase in schools bringing The Butterfly Project into classrooms since 2016, with more teachers came to us in the first four months of 2018 than in the entire school year of 2017. Our Education Team visited 64 classrooms in the 2017-2018 school year, telling their families’ stories and teaching about the Power of One to more than 2,000 students. Another 21 San Diego classrooms participated in our programming on their own. Notably, some of these highly motivated teachers are not only bringing The Butterfly Project to their classrooms, but they are also creating beautiful installations from their students’ butterflies to serve as reminders to students to be Upstanders in their communities and as memorials to the 1.5 million children who were killed.
At this time, we want to highlight some of the incredible butterfly memorials that have been installed at schools in the 2017-2018 school year.

Clarkstown High School North – Rockland, NY

Two educators at Clarkstown High School North, Maggie Keuerleber and Shaina Dunn, attended a local screening of NOT The Last Butterfly and brought the idea to Art Department Chair Nancy Diamond, who then piloted The Butterfly Project with one class. They were so moved by the experience that Nancy and 7 other teachers stopped all other projects to have students exclusively focused on The Butterfly Project. In February 2018, 500+ students heard Holocaust Survivor Sonia Goldstein’s story and experience during the Holocaust. Butterflies were paired and painted with biographies of children who died during the Holocaust. In one week, 1,020 butterflies were made from clay, glazed and ready for the kiln. A site was selected on the front of the school, on the brick face, and 20 students volunteered after school, completing the installation in May 2018. Students were so moved by the lessons they learned and proud of the lasting memorial they created!

South Orangetown Middle School – Blauvelt, NY

In 2017, our film NOT The Last Butterfly was included in Rockland NY’s Jewish Film Festival and several students in leadership at South Orangetown Middle School’s attended. Next they petitioned Principal Dr. Karen Tesik to bring The Butterfly Project to their school and being a school that was already nominated as an official “School to Watch”, she approved the concept and empowered the students to lead the way. Over the course of 2017 and 2018, students painted 1,000 butterflies. In April 2018, The Butterfly Project had the privilege of being brought in to the school with our film and they unveiled these remarkable butterfly displays that include poetry along with hundreds of butterflies. We are proud to be associated with you, as you are doing an amazing job educating about the Holocaust and preventing bullying. Thank you to Micki Leader of Rockland Jewish Film Festival for your belief in our film and to Lynn and Dan Lehrfeld for all of your support.

Weber Middle School – Port Washington, NY

Jeff Moss, an English teacher, and Holly Gober, a social studies teacher, partnered together to bring The Butterfly Project to Weber Middle School in Port Washington, NY to enrich their current Holocaust curriculum. Starting with students conducting research, they worked with their students for two years to create butterflies, some from scratch, to transform the area outside their school’s auditorium into a dignified space for a unique butterfly memorial display. As you look up, the butterflies seem to be in flight and embrace freedom.

Montgomery Middle School – San Diego, CA

Dana Zuschin teaches 8th grade at Montgomery Middle School in San Diego, CA, with her teaching partner Jacob DeGering. Together they have been expanding on teaching the Holocaust in meaningful ways. Dana and Jacob formed part of our focus group for developing lessons to go with our film. For the last several years, our Education Team has been presenting their families’ stories of survival to their students. The installation shown here is a multi-year effort, and is composed of 360 butterflies.

Valley Middle School – Carlsbad, CA

Sue DeWulf, Art Teacher at Valley Middle School in Carlsbad, had a vision. She learned about The Butterfly Project, brought in Mike and Manya Wallenfels, local Holocaust Survivors to share their stories of survival. Next she challenged her talented advanced art students to create 1,000 butterflies out of clay so that the school would have a lasting memorial, paying tribute to the lessons that they learned and in remembrance of the 1.5 million children murdered in the Holocaust.

San Jose Middle School – Novato, CA

Educator Deborah Baraban of San Jose Middle School in Novato, CA heard about The Butterfly Project through Facing History and Ourselves and that set everything in motion. She and her colleagues, who were all 8th grade teachers, were teaching a unit about the Holocaust that included history and Eli Wiesel’s book Night. They utilized The Butterfly Project as a culminating activity and put together plans for a permanent installation at the school that will be added to over the years. Read more about their experience on their blog post.

Our Work Is Not Done

The fact that more teachers than ever are using The Butterfly Project to help them effectively teach the important lessons of the Holocaust is a good sign, but it does not mean our work is done. Not even close…
The Butterfly Project recognizes that we need to develop and grow our programming to expand our impact, and we have a 3-part plan that we created to ensure we can reach far more students next year.

  • Expand Our Education Team: We are working hard this summer to expand our approach to classroom visits. This includes revising and refreshing the curriculum that our team brings into the classrooms, and adding Educators and Second Generation dyads to our current Education Team. By increasing the number of people on our Education Team, we can increase the number of local schools we can visit in coming years. We are also developing a satellite Education Team in the Los Angeles area that will be modeled on our pilot in San Diego and made up of Educators and Second Generation members from that community. This will allow us to expand our in-classroom programming outside of San Diego County.
  • Launch Our Interactive Educational Traveling Exhibit: We are also developing an interactive exhibit that will help us to reach more underserved schools. Programming will allow students to engage with oral history, interactive lessons, literature, historical documents, archival photographs, rare artifacts and attend film screenings. All participants will paint a butterfly in honor of one of the 1.5 million children who were killed in the Holocaust, which will then be included in a community memorial installation. Programming will also include events for the general public. We will be partnering with local school districts to develop programming for schools to visit our Exhibit, which is expected to be completed in late 2018/early 2019. To learn more about this exhibit, please read this blog post about its launch.
  • Continue Our Teacher Training: We are gearing up to provide local school districts with ½ day teacher training for their schools, an effort with a long term view to ensure that educators are well-equipped to teach these meaningful lessons to students for years to come.

As you can see, The Butterfly Project is more committed than ever to ensure that students across the country are able to participate in these meaningful lessons to learn how to remember the past, act responsibly in the present, and create a more peaceful future. In the 2018-2019 school year, we want to focus our efforts on Title 1 schools and underserved communities. If you are interested in supporting our work and ensuring that we are able to reach schools who may not have the resources to bring us in, please consider sponsoring a classroom. Your support will directly impact the lives of 36 students, who will carry these lessons forward into their families and communities, creating an immeasurable impact in the world.