Indianapolis teachers are working to integrate Eva Kor’s story into their lesson plans.
It’s a story about hate and evil, trauma and redemption. It’s also a story about tolerance and forgiveness.
Numerous educators trekked to the Indianapolis Central Library on a recent Wednesday to watch the “Story of Eva,” a documentary about how Nazi eugenicist Josef Mengele carried out medical experiments on Kor and her twin sister during World War II. Kor, a Romanian who now lives in Terre Haute, was eventually liberated from the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and moved to America, where she struggled with anger and felt like an outcast, Chalkbeat reports.
Eventually, Kor found a voice as an advocate, and gained national attention for hunting down Mengele and forgiving him.
Historical stories are a powerful way to provide direct moral instruction, particularly in public school settings where direct moral instruction is often perceived as controversial.
Writing about a four-year study of character and citizenship in ten types of American high schools, researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture explained in The Content of Their Character that "As a rule, we tended to see greater articulation in the private and religious schools than in the public schools.” Researchers found history-based character lessons in rural public, Jewish, Catholic, prestigious independent, and alternative pedagogy high schools. For public schools, the collaborative effort in this story demonstrates that it's possible to teach moral lessons through history in creative ways throughout a school's curriculum.
The movie screening was set up by Teach Plus, a teacher advocacy organization that hosted group discussions among educators after the event. Teachers discussed the film’s messages about dealing with anger and trauma, and how many students in their classrooms could relate to Kor.
“I kind of wish her message was antiquated,” eighth-grade KIPP Indy College Prep teacher Andrew Pillow told the news site. “I wish that I couldn’t find context to teach this today.”
Teacher and mother of twins Melissa Humpfer said she knows at least one student who could relate well to Kor’s experience of being forcibly removed from her home to suffer severe hardship.
“I see the anger she had, and it’s almost the same even though she went through so much with being tortured,” Humpher said. “I see parallels with him, and I can’t wait to show him this, and I can’t wait to have that discussion.”
Schools across the country are moving toward a more “trauma informed” teaching that are connecting community groups, residents and businesses to support students. The film screening in Indianapolis, for example, was a collaboration between Teach Plus, the library and WFYI Public Media.
Educators discussed afterward how students can likely relate to Kor’s story on a variety of levels, whether their issues involve anger, racism, or some form of other serious trauma and evil.
“It’s transformative to know that there are different groups of people who deal with the same things as your group is dealing with,” teacher Pillow said. “Your group is not the only group that’s ever been discriminated against in the past, and probably won’t be in the future. I think that, in and of itself, is a powerful tool for acceptance.”
The UK's Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues has developed extensive curriculum for secondary school teachers to teach character. The virtue of justice could be applied to examples of evil and injustice that are found throughout history. The Jubilee Centre's lesson on justice would be a reliable place for educators to begin.