Holocaust education and the student perspective : toward a grounded theory of student engagement in social studies education / by Evette Meliza.
Too often students perceive history as boring with no relevance to their lives. Although students describe history as boring, this does not seem to be the case with one aspect of social studies education – Holocaust studies. Courses about the Holocaust have grown in number in recent years; and classes are routinely full. Why do students choose to study about the Holocaust, but choose social studies in general as a subject they would least like to study?One problem for social studies education is engaging students in social studies content in a way such that they choose to learn more. Research on social studies education indicates that students often do not choose to learn more; that instead, they are passive rather than active learners (Hootstein, 1995; White, 1997). The challenge for social studies education is to identify factors that will encourage students to choose to learn more about social studies.Focusing on the question "What factors influence students' choice to learn more about the Holocaust?," this qualitative study of one high school history classroom examines the factors which influence students' choice to learn about the Holocaust, in particular, and social studies, in general. Students in an Advanced Placement European History class in a large metropolitan high school in the southeastern United States were asked a number of interview questions to ascertain their perceptions of Holocaust education in the United States and to determine the factors which contributed to their choice to learn about the Holocaust. Students were asked what the Holocaust was, why people are interested in learning about it, if American schools should teach about the Holocaust, and how it should be taught. Students were also asked how they had learned about the Holocaust, the most effective ways to teach about it, and why they chose to learn about it.Findings indicated that students were aware of the Holocaust, believed that distance from the event allowed people to view the Holocaust as history, that the Holocaust should be taught since it is an important event in history, and that it can effectively be taught using Holocaust literature. When data were analyzed, four themes emerged as factors that influenced students' choice to learn. Those factors included: (1) interest, (2) desire for good grades, (3) perceived expectations of others, and (4) obligation to society. Students chose to learn because they were interested in the topic, found the topic relative to their lives, enjoyed the presentation of the topic, or were influenced by the teacher's interest in the topic. Students also chose to learn because they wanted to get good grades. The perceived expectations of others, including friends, family, and teachers, influenced students' choice to learn. As members of society, students felt an obligation to learn the history of their country as well as the history of "other people."Findings from this study suggest implications for history classrooms, in particular, and social studies education, in general. An understanding of the influences on students' choice to learn could provide direction in the continued development of instructional strategies for social studies classrooms. Instructional strategies which could, perhaps, lead to changes in student perceptions of social studies from dull and boring to exciting and interesting.
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