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Bloomington Junior High Teacher, Students Give Lessons On Holocaust

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Greg Kocourek
Greg Kocourek's Bloomington Junior High School social studies class reach from a ghetto dairy which sits on display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

A Bloomington Junior High teacher is taking lessons learned from the national Holocaust Museum back to the classroom.

Greg Kocoureck was one of 24 education nationally chosen to attend a teacher fellowship program at the museum in Washington, D.C.

The Illinois State University graduate has been teaching about the Holocaust for 11 years at BJHS.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Credit Greg Kocourek
Greg Kocourek (back row, second from left) was one of 24 teachers from across the United States who was chosen last summer to attend a weeklong Museum Teacher Fellowship Program at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. The teachers were joined by Holocaust survivor Fritz Glueckstein.

Kocoureck said social studies teaching has shifted in recent years to focus more on skills, so students are better able to research and source information.

He said students read old newspaper stories at ISU’s Milner Library and the Bloomington Public Library about events leading up to the Holocaust. He said that helped make it real for them.

“Watching the students actually go through those newspapers and get into how excited they were to actually touch the microfilm and then see what was being published in their town about these worldwide events was really interesting,” Kocourek said. 

He said one lesson he conveys to his students about the murders of more than 6 million Jews during World War II was that it wasn't inevitable.

“It helps us to understand human behavior to look at times in which human behavior has been in an extreme,” Kocourek said.

Kocourek said he hopes learning about one of the world’s greatest atrocities will prevent a repeat of history.

“We don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen moving into the future, but the way that we talk about people for example, separating people linguistically, describing people as animals or referring to them as animals that are often times exterminated, for example like cockroaches or rats,” Kocourek said. “When we see rhetoric like that it can help us to understand where that can lead.

“I hope when (my students) hear rhetoric like that in speeches that they provide it the appropriate amount of gravity.”

Kocourek said he hears examples of such rhetoric in the United States and Myanmar, which has faced accusations of ethnic cleansing.

Eight of Kocourek's students presented their research at Illinois State University's Culturally Responsive Campus Community Conference at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in uptown Normal. 

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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