When Professor Jeff Eargle began his career teaching English in Poland, he had no idea years later, he would help bring South Carolina educators there to study the art of teaching the complexity of the Holocaust. This work is part of a College of Education partnership with the South Carolina Council on the Holocaust (SCCH) that allows educators to participate in three programs of study throughout the summer. These summer institutes focus on foundations of teaching the Holocaust and various special topics while allowing educators to earn three graduate credit hours for each course. One of these educational opportunities takes educators to eastern Europe to study Holocaust education.
Seldon Smith, Ph.D. led the council for almost 30 years and became known as “the father of Holocaust education” in South Carolina. Following Smith’s retirement, Scott Auspelmyer became the council’s executive director. Auspelmyer partnered with Eargle, his longtime colleague, to co-develop the professional development courses for teachers. Eargle was no stranger to the work. He taught a yearlong Holocaust history course to high school students for seven years and had been involved with the council since 2006.
“The council moved the partnership to the University of South Carolina in 2019,” Eargle says. “While the trip had been a longtime component of the program, we began offering the summer courses in 2021. The foundations course stays consistent summer to summer, but the special topics course allows us to introduce new and relevant topics each summer session.”
Some of the topics they have explored include Americans and the Holocaust, the geography of the Holocaust and South Carolina and the Holocaust. The structure is built so that educators may return year after year to study new subjects. The foundations course gives educators a basic introduction to Holocaust education including a synagogue visit and time with a local Rabbi.
This method helps educators reach career milestones and advanced education requirements. Megan Shaver learned about the opportunity from a coworker and has attended multiple courses.
“As an SCCH Teacher Fellow, I am required to attend the summer institute,” Shaver says. “However, this is my third time attending! I always leave with valuable information and enjoy the new topics each summer.”
Shaver shares that collaborating with fellow educators and hearing survivor stories are two of the most impactful components of the institute.
“The experiences of Holocaust survivors are not monolithic,” Shaver says. “These family members share how their loved ones' experiences fit into the larger narrative of the Holocaust, and their stories are important to share and preserve. We created lessons focusing on South Carolina’s knowledge of the Holocaust, and I am excited to bring those into my classroom.”
Tina Hurley participated in the summer institute for the first time this year.
“I learned to teach the full experience of the Jewish people,” Hurley says. “I discovered I need to show students pre-war photos to help them make connections and realize these people are so much like us. I do not have to use graphic images to make this history real for my students."
The trip is offered every other year and gives educators the opportunity to see the history first-hand while meeting with local educators. Eargle and Auspelmyer work with the Taube Institute for Jewish Life and Learning to curate engaging experiences for participating educators.
“Scott and I were very intentional about building in time for discussion and reflection with the educators,” Eargle says. “We want educators to consider what they engage with in Poland and how it fits into their practice as a teacher.”
The Taube Institute partnership helps the facilitators visit local schools and meet with educators. One of the educators they met with also worked at the Polin Museum of History of Polish Jews. He was able to share some of the high school social studies curriculum, educational standards and challenges of teaching history and civics.
“This turned into a highlight of the trip,” Eargle says. “Teachers were able to see what Polish schools look like and how they function. It was great to offer an opportunity to our educators to see educational parallels in another country. It’s more than a tour, it is an academic experience.”
Because Eargle and Auspelmyer have worked together for 20 years in various roles, they are uniquely positioned to provide an exceptional educational experience in terms of curriculum and professional development.
“We find our collaboration very beneficial for both of us,” Auspelmyer says. “It enriches what we do as educators, and allows us to offer something really unique. It is rare to have this level of course work worth graduate credit. Jeff and I come with a background of being in the classroom and work as a team to deliver the content in a way that makes sense to educators.”
Marla Palmer, a participant on this term’s Poland trip, believes their partnership is the secret to their success.
“Both Eargle and Auspelmyer have a solid understanding of the content,” Palmer says. “Eargle’s deep pedagogical knowledge and Auspelmyer’s broad content knowledge come together to make this a rich professional development opportunity for educators. It was powerful to see the places I teach about and use that experience to craft lesson plans I will use this fall. I had to really stretch, but in the end, I was so grateful for this opportunity.”
For Palmer, the collaboration among participating educators extended beyond the trip.
“As part of one of the first cohorts, the pandemic and war in Ukraine delayed our Poland trip,” Palmer says. “During the wait, we developed friendships and a great rapport prior to our trip. After our time ended in Poland, a group of us extended our journey to visit historical Jewish sites in Hungary and continue our work together.”
Eargle shares that he is regularly thinking about what the next phase of Holocaust education looks like.
“We can no longer rely on the face-to-face interaction between educators or students and survivors,” Eargle says. “We have to utilize recorded testimony and help those stories live on. Using video and audio recordings, memoirs, interview transcripts and newspapers are just some of the ways we can continue bringing this history to life for our students.”
Auspelmyer shares the importance of digitizing survivor’s testimony to benefit future generations.
“It is important to remember the testimonies that we do have,” Auspelmyer says. “We need to take on the task of telling the story ourselves.”