Dr. Matthew Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch
Langston, Oklahoma, USA
December 31
Langston University
As a professor of education, I am, first and foremost, committed to developing outstanding K-12 teachers. That’s because I believe that highly qualified and passionate educators are the best instruments to improve education in K-12 settings. I am the Chairman of the Department of Elementary/Special Education and an Associate Professor of Education at Langston University, and I spent seven years as a K-12 teacher – an experience that gave me an intimate view of the challenges facing genuine education reform. Before assuming my position at Langston, I spent three years as an Assistant Professor of Education and Director of Secondary and Social Studies Programs at Widener University. With that experience behind me, I’ve focused the second stage of my career on researching topics related to education reform, the achievement gap, and teacher education. What I’ve found is that improving teacher education is an essential component in closing the achievement gap. My articles and op eds appear regularly in the Huffington Post, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, Education Week, and Education World. I’ve also written numerous peer- reviewed articles, which have appeared in academic journals such as AASA Journal of Scholarship & Practice, International Journal of Progressive Education, Academic Leadership Journal, and others. In addition, I’ve authored and edited a number of books on school reform and school leadership. Please visit my website at www.drmattlynch.com for more information.


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Editor’s Pick
OCTOBER 12, 2012 12:35PM

Ask Dr. Lynch: Teaching Students About Genocide

Rate: 3 Flag
Question: How should the topic of 'genocide' be taught in schools?

Answer: Before I respond, I would like to thank you for your question. Nowadays, we are seeing the topic of genocide being covered even in the elementary grades and there is no consensus on when it should be introduced or taught. However, I will give you my expert advice, which takes all of the dominant schools of thought into consideration. In my opinion, the topic of genocide should not be discussed prior to grade six, because although younger students have the ability to empathize with the victims of genocide, they have difficulty understanding genocide in its historical context. Teachers of elementary school students should begin discussing the concepts of the diversity, bias and prejudice in order to prepare students for more advanced topics such as genocide, slavery, and human trafficking.

As a teacher, the overall goal of each of your lessons is to engage students intellectually and to teach to them to think critically about concrete and abstract topics. Thus, any lesson or unit that you create about the topic of genocide should bear this in mind. Since many of the members of your school or community will fail to see the wisdom in using the classroom as a platform for geopolitical issues, your lesson or unit plan should be used to formulate a rationale for your decision and anticipate possible questions and concerns.

The topic of genocide can be used as a springboard for the discussion of human and civil rights issues. The examination of genocide allows students to experience one of the main purposes of education in the United States, which is to study what it means to be a conscientious citizen. Taking time to craft your lesson or unit plan on genocide will allow you to create activities that mirror your student's intellectual needs. Also, challenge them to contemplate the finality of genocide and the fact that it still occurs despite the "cautionary tales" of the past.

When teaching students about genocide, begin by defining the term. Also, teachers should discuss the topic of genocide and its many occurrences throughout history .

Secondly, discuss the geopolitical and sociopolitical dynamics that have led to genocide. Make sure that you avoid making amateur connections between the instances of genocide that have occurred throughout history. This way, students will learn that each atrocity has its own identity and characteristics.

Thirdly, have students examine the world's response to occurrences of genocide. When is diplomacy, negotiation, isolation, or military involvement appropriate or effective? Traditionally, what has been America's response? In the words of the great Eldridge Cleaver, "You're either part of the solution or part of the problem."

Lastly, illustrate constructive actions taken by people and entities in response to genocide. In each genocide that has occurred throughout human existence, there have been individuals who have spoken out against these atrocities and risked their lives to stand up to the perpetrators of these unspeakable acts.

Teaching and learning about such an emotional topic can be draining, but nonetheless important. If you follow the guidelines that I discussed in my column, your students will become miniature human and civil rights activists in no time. In the immortal words of George Santayana, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

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Thank you for sharing these thoughtful guidelines. It is a difficult topic to teach, for parents and teachers alike. War and genocide cannot be ignored, and you outline a very practical and meaningful approach.

This is a little bit off topic, but sometimes I wonder if our curriculums are too heavily weighted towards the most violent and horrific human behaviors. I wonder if focusing so much on genocide and war has really helped prevent violence in our homes, our society, the way we relate to the rest of the world.

We know the mistakes of the past, but still we keep repeating them.

I really believe we need a national curriculum on non-violence, especially in the middle and high school years. It seems our society needs to be taught these skills and ways of thinking, which many of us do not have.

We could focus much more on events where there were leaders and people who have solved things and brought about great change without violence, like Wangari Maathai or Václav Havel, and so many, many others.

The children and young people could learn so much from their example, and learn how to use these peoples' hopes and ideas and vision in their own lives. There are people in every part of society, every country of the world, who bring about peace and change in a million different ways, a huge repertoire of possible human behavior to learn from. Our children might need a greater toolbox of problem-solving skills to prevent the mistakes of the past. Thanks again for posting!
You can teach students all you want about genocide so long as you do not use it as a parallel to modern day race relations within the US. This is just more of the progressive myth that seeks to use class warfare and racial division as a way of creating the facade that enables and justifies more big government social engineering. You know it and I know it. It can be used as a tool of indoctrination instead of a window into the real status of civil rights in America which have been clouded by the club swinging New Black Panthers being spared obvious violation of law by Eric Holder's corrupt DOJ. You as a teacher have a responsibility to teach reality not bias and hatred. Just remember it was Democrats who created the KKK and denied civil rights until the mid 60's when they changed their platform. Remember history does not always support political correctness.
you have charming view of education, utterly unrelated to the schooling i got in the 50' from teachers in florida and texas. they kept their heads down, and 'taught to hate and fear' as prescribed by the board of education. it was easy for them, as they knew nothing, beyond what an earlier board of education had prescribed.
We are the owners of a culture that has practiced internal state sponsored terrorism to reshape the post civil rights era landscape . Because Genocide is the final stage of internal state sponsored terrorism - preceeded by intimidaton and forced conversion - it should be taught the way it is practiced today in America.
would an example of a "constructive response to genocide" include world war 2 (v. nazi germany)? or something more along the lines of rwanda, cambodia, or the balkans?
You might also consider contacting professionals with qualitive expertise who've done extensive relief and recovery work with humanitarian organizations.

Genocide is a hate of genus driven by assumptions and stereotypes.

If we don't stop the spreading of genocide, we are guilty of more than hypocrisy.
I thought most children lack the ability, in all but the simplest manner (using stick figures to represent people, for example) to think abstractly and use complex contrasting thought until between the ages of 8yo-10yo.

Shouldn't that,, then, make the goal of primary education shoveling as much data into those spongie brains of theirs before they rigidify?

I'm not sayin' they can't handle the talk at 11yo, but since you've got a good 'nother 2 years with the boys and 6mo-1year with the girls before their brains become much less efficient hard drives, isn't their a prioritization that should be going on here, and isn't this topic more for your gratification than their education?

Also, since there are at least 2 active genocides happening in the world today, please tell me tales of the brave people resisting them, because I can handle the knowledge, but I'll be damned if I can find it.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

Genocide is a touchy subject at best, dumbfounding at worst. I think for young children learning such atrocities occur leaves the most difficult question painfully unanswered: Why? It is so complex.

My best understanding of Genocide was gleaned in a course I took on International Human Rights, a 400 level university political science course. Through middle school and high school I carried with me gravely incomplete information about genocide, leading to grossly erroneous assumptions regarding just what it is and why it happens.

I do not think my teachers intended to leave me with such an incomplete picture, but the political sensitivities intrinsic to the question led them to omit a more complete definition, and the causes were simply too legion to cover effectively in secondary education; I simply do not think they had sufficient classroom time.

So, thank you for writing this, and I look forward to more from you.