Coupeville teacher receives Holocaust scholarship
A Coupeville teacher was recently selected for a prestigious Holocaust scholarship for her commitment to teaching the subject with care and intention.
Casie Greve joined 21 other teachers from 10 states who were selected as Alfred Lerner Fellows at an intensive five-day seminar on teaching about the Holocaust hosted by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous in late June.
Greve has taught a unit on the Holocaust in her eighth-grade English class every year since she began teaching at the Coupeville School District seven years ago. After her first year of teaching unity from a textbook fell flat, she said, she sought help from the Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle.
“I really wanted to teach it according to best practices and really honor the subject,” she said. “I didn’t mean to accidentally do the subject a disservice.”
The center helped her connect with Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors who visited her class as guest speakers, funded travel grants for a field trip, and provided books for her students during the pandemic. Two years ago, Greve joined the center’s Educators for Change group, which meets monthly to discuss Holocaust education strategies and materials.
Because of the dedication and intentionality with which Greve approached the subject, the center chose her to be one of two educators from Washington State to attend the Alfred Lerner Summer Institute of the foundation in New Jersey. The other Washington teacher chosen was Jessica van Son of Cascade Middle School in Longview.
The institute was held June 25-29. During these five days, the 22 fellows heard lectures from world-renowned historians, jurists and other experts. Each lecture was followed by a question-and-answer session and small group discussions where teachers could reflect on what was said and discuss how to implement it in their classrooms.
“It was really intentionally structured for teachers and museum educators to actually do something meaningful with what they’re learning,” Greve said.
Greve had several takeaways from the week that she believes will enhance her teaching of the subject. Professor Doris Bergen of the University of Toronto spoke about prioritizing the Jewish perspective when teaching about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism by integrating primary sources such as journal entries, memoir segments and testimonies of survivors in the program.
Stanlee Stahl, executive vice president of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, spoke of the need to “go under the halo” of Holocaust rescuers. The people who stepped up to help evacuate or hide their Jewish neighbors were not saints, she taught — they were just ordinary people who chose to do the right thing.
“There was nothing inherently different or superior about these lifeguards,” Greve said. “They just saw an injustice, they weighed the risk and they showed the moral courage to do something about it.”
Teaching lifeguards in this way is important, Greve said, because it shows students that they don’t have to reach an imagined level of extraordinary before acting for the good of others.
It’s also important to teach why some actors haven’t offered critical help, Greve said. She learned during institute about the Wagner-Rogers Bill, a bill in the United States that would have saved 20,000 Jewish children in two years but “died in committee without a vote because of public opinion and xenophobic politics,” she said.
Despite the time and distance that separate modern Whidbey Island from the Holocaust, these lessons remain relevant, she said.
“There is an increase in anti-Semitism and racially motivated violence right now in our society,” she said. .”
His middle school students might not be able to fully understand what Holocaust victims went through, Greve said, but they can make connections to their own experiences of prejudice, bullying or scapegoating and, hopefully apply these links to choose to defend those who are hurt.
“There’s kind of a mission to teach it the right way, for me, and an urgency about it, too,” she said.