What are Canadian students taught using the example of the Holodomor?

By Vitalii Ogiienko, Institute of National Remembrance, Kyiv, Ukraine

Using the example of the Holodomor it is not only possible but also necessary to teach and educate students. This was evident at the second education conference “Education–Awareness–Action” devoted to teaching the Holodomor. It took place May 5-7, 2017 at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Canada.

The venue for the conference was quite appropriate. Participants had the opportunity to view the Canadian Museum for Human Rights since both the conference and the museum exhibitions were talking about the same approaches and values. This confirms once again the fact that the modern museum is primarily an educational institution, in which the main visitors are young people. Unfortunately, such an approach has been difficult to implement in Ukraine.

The museum has a gallery where one locates an exhibition on the Holodomor that simultaneously has an emotional impact and is also interactive. A 15-minute documentary brings out the emotional aspect, and the use of various modern technologies, such as screens that respond to touch, makes the exhibit interactive.

The conference was organized by the Holodomor Research and Education Consortium  (HREC) and co-sponsored by the Faculty of Education of the University of Manitoba and the Winnipeg Faculty of Education, the Center for Ukrainian Canadian Studies, the University of Manitoba, the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and other Ukrainian Canadian non–governmental organizations as well as the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Winnipeg.

Valentina Kuryliw, Director of Education, Holodomor Research and Education Consortium (HREC), at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS), University of Alberta, organized the conference. For more than 10 years she has been preparing teaching materials on the Holodomor and its implementation into Canadian curricula.

Academics, teachers, community leaders, public activists, MPs of the Canadian Parliament and representatives of Canadian educational institutions attended the conference. The conference commenced on May 6 with a presentation by Joyce Apsel, from New York University (NYU), on “The Holodomor as a model for teaching human rights and genocides.” Dr. Apsel is also the President of the Institute for the Study of Genocide. She believes that in the teaching of genocides in school it is valuable to emphasize not only human rights, but also human rights violations (human wrongs). In her presentation, Professor Apsel demonstrated some of her methods on teaching the Holodomor in the classroom using an analysis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as an example.

A panel discussion followed, during which selected speakers shared their own experiences and specific practices in teaching the Holodomor and also talked about the problems they encountered.

The whole conference was designed to provide practical skills and share experiences of teaching the Holodomor in schools. Methodology workshops followed in which conference participants were grouped according to grade levels (elementary, middle years and senior.)

Each participant of the conference chose which methodology workshop to attend. I chose the senior level, in which the first speaker, Tamara Kowalczyk, who teaches a genocide course for senior students in Toronto, in which the Holodomor is included. In detail, Tamara presented how she builds her lessons and what specific techniques and resources she uses.

The middle years presentation was given by Saskatchewan teachers Nadia Prokopchuk, a representative of the Holodomor Education Committee of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) in Saskatchewan, and David Katzman, who is the Director of Educational Programs, “Fighting Anti-Semitism Together.” They introduced a new online resource on the Holodomor, part of the web project “Voices into Action.” All methods and materials on the site are freely available and can be downloaded and used by anyone at www.voicesintoaction.ca/Learn/Unit2/Chapter5.

If the practical workshops were the most useful part of the conference, the most interesting presentation was the lecture by Dr. Norman Naimark from Stanford University. In Ukraine he is primarily known as the author of the book “Stalin`s Genocides.”

Dr. Naimark addressed the issue of the Holodomor within a broad time perspective. He stressed that genocides occurred everywhere in world history and the Holodomor is a part of this “world history of genocides.” At the same time, he emphasized that the Holodomor is also a unique story that can contribute to the understanding of the nature of genocides. In other words, Professor Naimark believes that in order to better understand the Holodomor, it is necessary to compare it with other genocides, and in order to better understand genocide as a phenomenon, it is necessary to study the Holodomor.

Recently, Professor Naimark published the book “Genocide: A World History,” which includes the Holodomor. Professor Naimark`s lecture was held in the solemn setting of one of the city’s best hotels. The Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Winnipeg, Lawrence Huculak, and the priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada, Father Alexander Harkavyj were present and gave blessing to the conference.

During the conference, there were many questions about what materials and sources can be used to teach the Holodomor in schools and where they can be obtained. Valentina Kuryliw responded to these in her presentation on the “Latest teaching resources available on the Holodomor,” and spoke about new video materials on the topic, gave a list of websites on which to find useful resources, eyewitness testimony and bibliography, as well as curricula and specific lesson plan development. Most of these materials can be found on the Holodomor Research and Education Consortium website, www.holodomor.ca/education.

A recent project by Valentina Kuryliw was the preparation of an interactive lesson for a mobile classroom [the Holodomor Mobile Classroom (HMC), www.holodomortour.ca] located on a special bus where classes are devoted to the Holodomor. For this, she prepared training materials and developed a methodology to capitalize on technology using an interactive learning method. This approach encourages students to be actively engaged and students take part in classes with great interest. I attended one of these classes for senior students and was convinced that what I heard at the conference really works. Students analyzed primary resources on the Holodomor and then answered questions on the topics in groups. The lesson was organized so that the teacher only guides the general direction of the discussion, and the main array of information students received from each other; that is, they taught each other. Oral presentations are strongly encouraged as part of the lesson. The teacher brought up the events in Syria to draw parallels between past and present atrocities. An idea, that genocides begin with human rights violations, one of the elements of which could be bullying, was also stressed as an Anti – Bullying Campaign is now in effect in Canadian schools.

Currently, Dr. Liudmyla Hrynevych, Director of the Holodomor Research and Education Centre in Kyiv, Ukraine, has launched a pilot project to create an optional course on the Holodomor for grade 10 students. From the very beginning, this course was conceived of as an educational one and thus, one can’t avoid the involvement of the best methods, primarily from Canada and the United States, of teaching the Holodomor and other genocides in its development. Thus, methodologies and approaches for teaching the Holodomor and other genocides were greatly appreciated. Working with Canadian colleagues, first and foremost Valentina Kuryliw, a familiarization with effective methods of teaching, participation in creating lessons developing critical thinking skills, without doubt will help in the development of the first Ukrainian course devoted to the Holodomor.