While many schools teach Holocaust courses, few if any have assembled a trove of 900 artifacts, most of which were donated by alumni and local residents or bought at auctions over more than three decades. The 1,000-square-foot museum will include three exhibition galleries, an archive and a classroom. It is just steps away from the boys’ locker room that has been in the spotlight since three students on the boy’s track team were accused this winter of hazing a freshman teammate....Obviously, any high school — even if it specializes in science — must teach history, and having on site a significant historical archive — of any kind — can orient the school's history teaching toward methodologies that parallel or resemble the methodologies of science.
The Holocaust museum was inspired by the late Stuart Elenko, a teacher who brought an unusual level of passion to his course on the Holocaust. In 1978, Mr. Elenko started displaying Holocaust artifacts in a former microfilm room in the back of the school library....
“I think Mr. Elenko’s idea originally was to make history come alive for his students,” said Sophia Sapozhnikov, who currently teaches the Holocaust course. She noted that Mr. Elenko even held mock Nuremberg trials in his classroom to encourage students to explore the meaning of justice and moral responsibility.
Is it a problem that the archive represents the alumni, rather than the current students? What is this concept of representation? In present-day education, we might tend to assume that each group is served by learning about itself, so that the black students deserve intense coverage of black history and so forth.
Perhaps the most scientific approach is to study things other than oneself, something new that requires exploration. But in that light, a problem might be that the subject of the Holocaust dictates such a strong point of view that students will fear that any sort of experimental attitude will be punished. Just last week, we saw a teacher in New York get into trouble over an assignment that required students to compose their own Nazi propaganda.
Presumably, the real purpose of the Holocaust archive is to teach "the meaning of justice and moral responsibility" — as the teachers of the Holocaust course have done over the years. That's something that public school teachers can do well, though they might do poorly. If I were teaching morality to very intelligent teenagers — which is what the students at the Bronx High School of Science are — I would want them to study problems that make it harder to tell what's right and wrong, that build up their powers of moral reasoning. I would avoid the material that lends itself to indoctrination. But I see the dangers there too. If everything is in the gray area, you're teaching that morality is a matter to be determined individually. Some things are unquestionably wrong, and that's a foundational lesson.