Mesa teacher helps develop mandatory Holocaust class The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Mesa teacher helps develop mandatory Holocaust class

December 18th, 2020 Mesa Tribune Staff
Mesa teacher helps develop mandatory Holocaust class

By Mairany Garcia
Tribune Contributor

Back when Dobson High teacher Kim Klett was beginning her path to a doctoral degree in English, she decided to take a class that would impact the rest of her career: Holocaust Literature.

“I don’t remember learning it in high school so I took the class,” Kim Klett says. “It was a real eye opener, and I thought, wow, this could be really powerful at the high school level.”

She took another class on how to teach the Holocaust and put together what is now her Holocaust Literature class.

Then, in 2001, Klett’s Holocaust Literature class became only the second offered in a public high school in Arizona.

Today, Klett is executive director of the Educator’s Institute for Human Rights and serves on the board and the education committee for the Phoenix Holocaust Association in Arizona.

With all the opportunities and knowledge that she has gathered over the years, Klett makes sure to bring it all back to her students.

Klett’s work fills a major gap in Arizona and the nation.

The U.S. Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey of 50 states concluded in September that “nationally, there is a clear lack of awareness of key historical facts” about the Holocaust among people under 39.

In Arizona, 44 percent could not name a concentration camp or a ghetto and 67 percent did not know how many people died in the Holocaust.

Arizona ranked 38th among states in Holocaust knowledge, with 23 percent of respondents meeting all three criteria for being “Holocaust knowledgeable.”

That criteria include “definitely” having heard about the Holocaust, knowing that six million Jews died and being able to name at least one concentration camp.

The most distressing statistic was that 16 percent of respondents in Arizona and 15 percent nationally believe that Jews caused the Holocaust.

“I have no clue anything about the Holocaust,” said Vanessa Longoria, a 16-year-old Dobson High student.

When told the number of victims, Longoria was surprised.

“It just makes me think why weren’t we taught about this? Why didn’t we learn about this?” She asks, “Because this is a really important thing out of all of history, this is something that everybody should know.”

Unlike Longoria, Jake Allen, a former student in Klett’s Holocaust class and now a history teacher at Dobson, said it was not surprising at all.

Allen recalled that when he initially has brought up the death toll before his students, “I watched a lot of kids’ jaws drop and that seriously concerned me.”

He said American history teachers in discussing World War II usually cover the causes of the war, American mobilization and related topics but that there are no standards to cover the Holocaust at all.

Which is why, when he was planning to cover the Holocaust longer and more in depth – taking time out of other units – he remembered the profound impact that Klett’s class played in his life as a student and individual.

He said her expertise helped him to teach the Holocaust more effectively.

“Something as world-altering as the Holocaust, just on a respect level, is an extremely important thing to get right.” Allen said.

“It’s important for me as a teacher to make sure that I do whatever topic I’m doing at that time justice,” he said.

The reason behind all of his effort? 

“The number one reason why you need to learn history is so you don’t let it happen again.” He says. “It’s important for individuals to recognize you’re not learning history just for the sake of a grade or you’re not learning history just for the sake of it.”

“You’re learning so you can make sure you’re educated when you see things like this come up again,” he added. 

Longoria says she’d like to learn more and also believes the information is vital, especially for young people, stating:

“It should be known what has happened before and what has happened to give people like my friends and Gen Z  an idea that – if something like the Holocaust happens – this is not okay and ask, ‘well what can we do about it?’”

Klett is now serving on an Arizona task force formed by university professors, other members of the Phoenix Holocaust Association and local historians to develop a Holocaust education plan that will be required in schools.

Recently, the Arizona State Board of Education added mandatory instruction about the Holocaust at least once in junior high and teachings of the Holocaust and other genocides as a credit requirement for high school graduation.

“A lot of times people read about the Holocaust and they think, ‘Oh well that was really sad. It was in the past. It’s a good thing we’re not like that anymore.’ And they just kind of move on,” she said. “They have to realize, No, this still hasn’t ended.”

Seeing the Board of Education pass its mandate “feels very, very good,” said Sheryl Bronkesh, president of the Phoenix Holocaust Association.

“But I’m going to only allow us to bask in that good feeling [for a short time],” she said, “because we have a lot of work to do.”

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