It seems as if the 10 years since my students and I began our Internet-based Holocaust/Genocide Project have gone by in an instant.
In 1992, my 10th grade English class at Cold Spring Harbor (N.Y.) High School was reading Elie Wiesel's memoir Night. Volunteers from the class decided to use the Internet to connect with other students around the world who were studying the Holocaust. Unsure of where it would lead, we posted our project idea as an e-mail query through the International Education and Resource Network (iEARN), a nonprofit global network that, since 1988, has used the Internet and other technologies to link schools and students in collaborative learning projects. (See http://www.iearn.org.)
Imagine our surprise when we received our first two responses—from Spain and Israel. The Spanish students wanted to know who Anne Frank was. A student from Israel wrote angrily that we probably didn't know much about the Holocaust, but he did—his grandmother died in the Dachau concentration camp. The two messages were powerfully symbolic of the vastly divergent levels of students' understanding of the Holocaust.
Gideon Goldstein, iEARN's country coordinator from Israel, volunteered to mentor us.
Students first learned the “rules” of Internet “Netiquette”—the appropriate language and formats for e-mail communication. They kept a log of incoming and outgoing e-mail, writing and edit- ing their messages and saving them on floppy disks that I uploaded or downloaded each day. It was tedious, but something wonderful happened. Students came in during lunch, their free periods, and after school to get online. Research was shared, books were discussed, and online friendships bloomed. That first year was truly exciting. To show what they accomplished, in May 1993, the students compiled their materials into a 16-page newsletter titled An End to Ignorance.
Word spread about our theme-based Internet project and the following year, 15 schools in five countries joined us online. That year, students changed the publication's name to its current form: An End to Intolerance (AETI). They taught themselves Adobe PageMaker, a graphic design and page layout program, and expanded the newsletter into a 36-page magazine. The 1994 issue featured a photograph of the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial that was taken by a student on our first study mission to Poland and Israel.
Growth and Challenges
As participation grew, students elected editors who divided the magazine into sections that included Education and Genocide, Holocaust Survivors, and Creative Impressions. Other students volunteered to be section editors, artists, e-mail correspondents, interviewers, proofreaders, poets, and fundraisers. Since we received no funding support from the school or district, students held bake sales and sought sponsors.
In 1995, for the first time, we received mail from students in Germany and Argentina—written in German and Spanish. Although we were frustrated by our inability to translate the messages, my students were determined to solve the problem. They located a student whose mother spoke German, and she volunteered to translate for us. Then the school's Spanish teachers worked the Argentine students' messages into their lessons on translation.
As the Internet grew, students began to discuss many topics on our password-protected newsgroup site. These topics ranged from history to literature and current events. Now, students could write directly to each other via e-mail and post discussions on the newsgroup, which allowed content from many students and teachers to be read at the same time. With the opening of our school's computer lab and the growing popularity of the World Wide Web, I began scheduling my classes in the lab to do Web searches. Students learned the correct MLA citation format for crediting electronic sources. AETI issues offered its readers survivors' stories; genocide research; book reviews; film and video critiques; Web site links and reviews; and curricula, art, and creative writing submitted by schools around the world.
Challenges and Global Rewards
Over the years, there have been challenges. We started our magazine using one computer; funding has always been a problem. There have been times, such as when we've missed a deadline, I've thrown up my hands and said, “This is it.
Never again!” But the students remind me that I say that every year. And there have certainly been rewards for hanging in with the yearlong projects.
Several students' AETI articles were published in other respected publications, including the Journal of Online Learning, the newsletter of the Institute for Global Communications (IGC), and Past/Forward, the newsletter of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. One student published the poignant story of her grandmother on the Women and the Holocaust Web site (http://www.interlog.com/~mighty).
Students have presented workshops about the project to preservice teachers at New York University, at Internet conferences such as Tel-ED, and for the Association of Suffolk County (N.Y.) Supervisors for Educational Technologies. Australian and Russian students and teachers have presented similar workshops.
Through our Holocaust project, my students and I have come to clearly understand that respect for human rights is absolutely fundamental to the welfare of our planet. We want teachers and students around the world to use An End to Intolerance as a teaching resource in their classrooms (with copyright acknowledgement, of course!) AETI commemorated its 10th anniversary with a 64-page 2002 issue. To date, students and teachers representing 34 countries have contributed to An End to Intolerance. We invite you to join us.
The Holocaust/Genocide Project is available at http://www.iearn.org/hgp.
Honey Kern, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Mandel Teaching Fellow, Cold Spring Harbor High School, Long Island, N.Y., can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.