Are we succeeding in our mission?

We consider the finest memorial to all victims of racist policies to be an educational program which aims to combat anti-Semitism, racism and prejudice in the community and foster understanding between people.

Many of you are familiar with the mission statement of the MHM and recognise my opening words as the second paragraph of the statement.

The question is: are we succeeding in our mission? Is there any sign of success? We see hundreds of students at the Centre week after week, and many adult visitors from Melbourne and abroad. How can we know if their experience in our museum, especially including meeting our survivors and hearing
their experiences, affects them? We can be fairly certain that students gain information from their time spent with us. But beyond this increased knowledge, has their visit resulted in deeper insights into the threat of racism, a heightened commitment to actually combat it and to foster understanding between people?

We may never be one hundred per cent certain, but there are indications that our students and other visitors are, in fact, deeply moved.

My final years at Bialik College provided me the opportunity for professional development in what is called Project Zero. Project Zero is the initiative of Harvard University (http://www.bialik.vic.edu.au/learning/project-zero/236/default.aspx), and its aim is to enable teachers to ‘make thinking visible’ in their classrooms. As students are given time to engage in thinking and their thoughts are made visible by recording and displaying them, a ‘culture of thinking’ begins to develop in the classroom. Ideas are shared, compared and debated, which all generates new thinking.

Simple, yet powerful pedagogic tools are the foundation for Project Zero. One tool is simply asking students, ‘What do you see? What do you think? What do you wonder?’ about a painting or photo. Another is to ask students, ‘What makes you say that?’ Another is ‘Think, Pair and Share’. That is, quietly think, pair up with someone else and share your thoughts. Whilst these may seem fairly obvious, they are nevertheless very powerful. Most important is to articulate ideas and then to record them for others to see and consider.

These tools are being increasingly used by our guides when taking school groups through the museum, and at the end of their visit in the reflections session. We actually tell students that we collect their thoughts, either on an easel that stands in the foyer, or in the visitors’ book, and that before they
leave they are welcome to write their thoughts and impressions. While these are written with their memories fresh in their minds, and we rarely ever see the students again, many of these recorded thoughts do, in fact, give us great cause for optimism and hope for the future.

Here are just a few. Click on the image for more in the students’ own handwriting:

“Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. You have changed lives today.”

“We learn for knowledge, but also for wisdom. We can learn from an experience such as this.”

“I’ve re-evaluated my life. Maybe I won’t waste my days.”

As the Talmud states, ‘When you teach your child, you teach your child’s child.’ Hopefully, the life lessons which these comments express will be passed on and the MHM’s mission statement will continue to be realised for generations to come.


Follow-up to my last column: You may recall I wrote about the proposed draft of the national history curriculum, and of concerns that many Jewish educators had with the way the Holocaust was conflated with the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Recent changes to the entire process of creating a national curriculum have been made and currently it appears that the Holocaust is not mentioned at all in the most recent documentation http:/www.acara.edu.au/. Again, I will keep you apprised of developments as I become aware of them.