From Nuremberg to Your Classroom
On Tuesday, November 17, 2015, the Robert H. Jackson Center welcomed almost one hundred teachers from Western New York and Pennsylvania to its Third Annual Conference for Educators. This was the first time the event was held in Jamestown, New York. The theme for this year’s conference was From Nuremberg to Your Classroom, with the hope of providing educators with the knowledge and confidence not only to teach about Robert Jackson, but to inspire their students to follow his example.
Jackson Center Executive Director Thomas W. Schmidt opened the conference by thanking the Chautauqua County Department of Planning and Economic Development for their financial support, which allowed the center to bring the conference to Jamestown. Following Schmidt’s remarks, former Chief of Prosecutors of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and Robert H. Jackson International Fellow, James C. Johnson, took the stage of the Cappa Theater as the first featured speaker. His keen remarks, titled Why We’re Here: Justice Jackson and the 70th Anniversary of the Nuremberg Trial, immediately linked the relevance of the conference to Justice Jackson’s significant influence on current issues of justice at the international and national level. Johnson then traced Justice Jackson’s roots from Frewsburg to Nuremberg by highlighting several touch points in history where Jackson’s pursuit of justice — whether prosecuting Andrew Mellon for tax fraud, dissenting from the decision to intern Japanese Americans in Korematsu v. United States (1944), preserving religious freedom in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943) amidst a swelling tide of patriotism in the nation, or limiting presidential power in the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (“Steel Seizure”) case in 1952 — set a ‘reasonableness’ standard upon which the modern world still measures justice.
Johnson’s remarks were followed by the keynote speaker for the morning session, S.G. Grant, professor of Social Studies Education at Binghamton University’s Graduate School of Education (GSE). Grant left his position as the founding Dean of the GSE to lead a 90-member team of writers, content experts and teacher reviewers to reframe the way social studies is taught. “Social studies is more than people, places and events,” Grant remarked. “Those things are critical, but there has to be a reason to try to understand them. The old theory that you have to teach the facts first and then ask kids to think about them has been completely discredited.”
During his sixty minute lecture, the audience listened intently as Grant provided details about the New York State K-12 Social Studies Resource Toolkit (“the Toolkit Project”), which reflects a milestone in the growth and use of the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards. The Toolkit features an ambitious new approach to constructing social studies curriculum inquiries. It provides 84 curriculum units, or inquiries—six for each of the grades from K through 11, and twelve in grade 12 (six for Economics and six for Participation in Government). Relying on the Inquiry Design Model (IDM), each inquiry is represented on a blueprint that begins with a compelling question and moves through the elements necessary to support students as they address that question in a thoughtful and informed fashion. To illustrate the power of beginning a lesson with a compelling question, Grant asked which question would provoke more discussion from a third grade class, “What were the causes of the Industrial Revolution?” or “Where are we?” Grant noted that once students move beyond the obvious answers (“in a chair, my room, school”), the question could provoke a more complex discussion because it has a physical dimension and a political dimension to it. Where are we as citizens of New York? Where are we as citizens of the United States? Grant observed that, “Simple questions can be explained in complex ways with students, and still teach everything New York state requires in a way that frames it differently than a march through social studies.”
Grant advised the audience that the Toolkit may be accessed online through www.c3teachers.org/inquiries. He noted that, the inquiries are purposely offered in both PDF and Word formats to allow teachers to modify any inquiry to best suit the educational profile of their students and achieve an optimum learning experience. Teachers anywhere in the United States and the world can use the Toolkit, as the inquiries are open sourced. Grant explained that most inquiries can fit any typical social studies curriculum in the United States. Although some are unique to New York State, the principles underlying the inquiries can still be adapted for use to generate inquiries into the history, geography, economics, and civic institutions of other states.
Following Grant’s lecture, the conference participants moved to one of six break-out sessions at the center: Social Studies Inquiry at the Elementary Level (Dr. S.G. Grant); Accessing Learning through Digital Tools (BOCES staff); Nuremberg To War Crimes Today (James Johnson); Jackson In the NYS High School Curriculum (RHJC Teacher Fellows); Taking Informed Action with the New NYS C3 Framework (Joe Karb); Jackson at the Middle School Level (Drew Beiter). These sessions were particularly relevant now that New York State now requires that educators include Justice Jackson’s role in history as part of the New York State Social Studies framework.
The center’s documentary, Liberty under Law: The Robert H. Jackson Story , was used in several different forums as an educational tool to illustrate Jackson’s influence on the Supreme Court and at the trial against the major Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg.
After lunch, Jackson Center Archivist Jennifer Champ discussed a project she is currently working on with Chautauqua Lake Central Librarian Kim Joslyn to develop a children’s book, titled Little Bob & Mary. The title refers to Robert Jackson and his teacher, Mary Willard, who called Jackson ‘little Bob’ throughout their lifelong friendship. The book will be written for children at the elementary school age level and recount the substantial influential Mary Willard had on Jackson’s reputation as a gifted writer and orator.
The Jackson Center’s Educational Co-Director, Drew Beiter, who helped create the group I Am Syria, provided an update on the curriculum guide to that project that he and Co-Director Joe Karb created. The curriculum guide offers materials that teachers can access online and use immediately in a secondary social studies or English class–with copies, video links, and power points. http://www.iamsyria.org/about-these-materials.html Beiter has organized numerous workshops on human rights and genocide prevention around the country.
The keynote speaker in the afternoon was Deng Ajak Jongkuch, author of My Life As a Lost Boy of Sudan. Jongkuch’s retelling of his life following the 1987 Sudanese government attacks on his community in South Sudan held the audience spellbound. The government’s aggression tactics led to the massive migration of 35,000 refugees who walked north from the town of Bor in Sudan to Ethiopia, some walking over 1000 miles to a refugee camp. The term ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’ was then coined for the groups of over 20,000 boys, like Jongkuch, who were from the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups and displaced and/or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005).
After living in refugee camps for almost fourteen years, often eating only one meal a day food rations, Jongkuch immigrated to the United States with the help of a humanitarian group in 2001. Jongkuch recounted several instances of culture shock that were, at times, amusing, while other experiences were heart-breaking. He spoke candidly about his struggles to overcome language barriers which led to created several obstacles to his ability to successfully perform his first job at Pottery Barn. Jongkuch was bewildered by terms or items he had never seen in his life and for which there was no similar context based on his experiences in Sudan. For example, he mused at the time, “What is a dog bed?” Jongkuch expressed deep appreciation for his boss at the time, who kept him as a part-time worker at the store instead of firing him while Jongkuch committed to studying the store’s catalogue to learn the name of every item on the shelves. He also used the opportunity of his part-time work status to enroll in classes at night to further his formal education.
In 2011, Jongkuch completed his education with a Bachelor’s degree from San Jose State University and a Master’s degree in Public Health from Touro University. He returned to his village in the summer of 2005 when the civil war ended and was reunited with his mother and father after an absence of 18 years. Jongkuch was disheartened, however, to see his village in poor condition with no roads, clean water or school. He is now passionately committed to helping re-build his village and others, and co-founded ImpactAVillage, whose mission is to improve education and healthcare in rural villages around the world. Jongkuch is also currently Executive Director of Partners in Compassionate Care, a non-profit organization in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
At the conclusion of Jongkuch’s presentation, the entire audience rose to give him a standing ovation.
Before the close of the conference, each educator was asked to formally rate his or her experience by completing an evaluation sheet. The overwhelming majority of teachers believed the conference helped them: (1) teach their students the historical significance of Justice Jackson; (2) teach the significance of his legacy as Chief Prosecutor in Nuremberg; and, (3) develop the skills to reach their professional objectives. Evaluation comments included: “Amazing workshop! Thank you, I look forward to doing more with the Center. … More of today, please! This was wonderful.” Several teachers looked forward to opportunities to return with their students or family in the future. In addition, many teachers were pleased to visit Jamestown and the Jackson Center for the first time.
The Jackson Center staff were delighted to have the opportunity to host the conference at the center. The event reflects a critical component of the center’s mission “to advance public awareness and appreciation of the principles of justice and the rule of law as embodied in the achievements and legacy of Robert H. Jackson.” Without including the critical role educators fulfill in our society, the center could not fully execute its mission. It was Justice Jackson’s belief that education plays a vital role in keeping the fabric of a democratic society intact; and, he clearly voiced that sentiment in his remarks at the Commencement Exercises of Syracuse University on May 9, 1943, when he opined:
“I do not for one moment disparage democracy, but I do say that it takes something more than the democratic process; it takes capacity to make wise use of that process to lead us to a peaceful international world. To provide this needed wisdom we look so anxiously to the institutions of higher education.”