O’Keefe to add to curriculum



A new history class will be added into the curriculum that takes a deeper look into modern humanities and genocide studies which will be taught by Mrs. O’Keefe. https://unsplash.com/license

Lillian Chen

“Never again” is the oft-repeated promise of Holocaust and genocide study historians – but the pledge has yet to ring true. With International Holocaust Remembrance Day approaching on Jan. 27, the question of how to proactively prevent acts of genocidal violence from occurring rises once more.

Winston Churchill once famously proclaimed that “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” That said, perhaps the greatest tool in our arsenal against the repetition of genocide is knowledge.

History teacher Sharyn O’Keefe is looking to do just that by expanding the CHS curriculum with a new class, known as Modern Humanities and Genocide Studies. If approved by the MCVSD Board of Education, the class will be introduced at both CHS and MAST as a senior year dual-enrollment elective through Kean University.

Students who take the class will be able to earn 3 college credits with Kean for a cost of $300. The class will join the seven other dual-enrollment classes currently offered to CHS students, including Calculus, English IV, Illustration and Design, Advertising Design, Spanish IV, Public Relations and Advanced Mass Media. However, Modern Humanities and Genocide Studies will be the only dual-enrollment class to be taught in conjunction with Kean University, as the others are through Seton Hall University and Ramapo College of New Jersey.

While preparing for the new class, O’Keefe was selected to attend the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR) Summer Institute program for five days last summer, which provides opportunities for select educators to learn more about the Holocaust and other genocides from experts on genocide studies.

“It was intensive on mostly Holocaust studies, but also focusing on genocide in general. I was just recently at the Holocaust Educators’ annual conference that was sponsored by the Change Program over at Brookdale, and I was also accepted back into JFR this January for the Advanced Seminar,” O’Keefe said. “I’m excited because it’s going to be looking more at what took place in Ukraine and not so much the idea of concentration camps and all that, but this whole idea of genocide against the Jewish population as a whole.”

O’Keefe is currently developing the class’s curriculum alongside MAST social studies teacher Jessica Cappadona. They are looking to split up the lessons by marking period, with one marking period focusing on genocides throughout the world by region and the other on modern issues that are being dealt with by the international community and United Nations. The specific content of the lessons will be based on what Kean wants taught in the classes.

Kean has already approved the course, so O’Keefe and Cappadona now need the approval of the Board of Education in order to be able to run the class. The two teachers are currently drafting a proposal to be presented at the January Board of Education meeting.

O’Keefe is no stranger to teaching students about the history of genocides. Not only does she cover the Holocaust in her U.S. II class, but she also includes a genocide unit in her senior year elective Modern History Through Film.

This year, the Modern History Through Film class learned about the Rwandan Genocide, which sparked interest in the students about O’Keefe’s new class.

“Even though I am a senior, if I had been given the opportunity to take a Modern Humanities and Genocide class, I definitely would have put it down,” said senior Lucy Battista of Tinton Falls. “I took Modern History Through Film this year and I really loved it. We only were able to touch a little bit upon genocides and modern humanities, but that was some of the most interesting parts of the class…[Modern Humanities and Genocide Studies] would be beneficial for the underclassmen and they would also be excited about a new option to their electives.”

If approved, Modern Humanities and Genocide Studies will be taught during the fall semester and Modern History Through Film will take place in the spring semester. Seniors interested in the electives will only be able to take one, but O’Keefe believes that students who are unable to fit one of these classes into their schedule will be able to take the other instead.

O’Keefe added that the class will be beneficial to students looking at careers in the field of communications.

“I think it’s a good background to have if you’re looking at journalism, or broadcast, having those ideas also in those concepts there,” O’Keefe said.

With the January Board of Education meeting approaching, O’Keefe is optimistic about the future of the Modern Humanities and Genocide Studies course, believing that, if added to the curriculum, it will interest — and benefit — many future CHS seniors.

“I think it hits upon points that you don’t hit upon,” O’Keefe said. “It hits those areas that we don’t talk about. Even with Modern History Through Film, when I do that genocide unit, it’s always, ‘well, we didn’t know about this,’ ‘how can we never learn about this?’ and it gives us that opportunity to not only learn about it, but to learn about it at a college level in high school.”