Teaching the Armenian Genocide in High School

  • May 1, 2018

The Armenian Genocide is an important topic in our history, yet it is often overlooked in schools and is not a part of students’ education. Currently, however, changes are being made to incorporate the Armenian Genocide into the curriculum of La Cañada High School students.

Many people do not know what the Armenian Genocide actually is, so before I get into what steps are being taken to implement this issue, I think it would be helpful to give a quick history lesson. The Armenian Genocide began in April, 1915, when the Ottoman Empire took action to exterminate the Armenian people. The Turks of the Ottoman Empire practiced Islam, while the Armenians were Christians and treated like second class citizens. With the decline of the empire and an increase in calls for reform, ethnic and internal tensions rose. In addition, the entry into the first World War gave the Ottomans a reason and a cover to carry out this genocide to create a pure Turkish Empire. Hitler, himself, used the Armenian Genocide as an example when carrying out the holocaust of the Jewish people. He famously stated, “Who, after all, speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Though the Ottomans did not succeed entirely, they brutally massacred about 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children.

Similar to the Holocaust, the genocide was a horrific event that occured in our history that has to be taught so that it will not be repeated. It is difficult to implement, however, because of the political facets. The United States, for one, has not officially recognized the Armenian Genocide because of its economic and political ties with Turkey. These political aspects, however, should not overshadow the truth of its occurrence and the importance of its effects.

Kat Markarian (11) is in support of teaching the genocide in school and educating students of its severity and implications.

She stated, “ I definitely think it should be taught, because Turkey has been in denial of massacring the Armenian people and I feel like if people of other races don’t learn about it, it just gives Turkey a larger opportunity to hide behind the oblivion of the public.”

Sean Mispagel, who teaches World History at LCHS, agreed with Kat when he stated, “It’s a travesty, and by not teaching it, you’re ensuring it’s going to happen again.”

The school is working on implementing a cross curricular method that would cover all the bases and go in depth, because teaching it in history class or English class alone may not have as significant of an impact as teaching it in both.

Mr. Mispagel also mentioned, “In the history textbook, the Armenian Genocide is literally an eighth of a page. I didn’t see that as justice, so I wanted to make sure I did a much better job teaching it.”

And he did just that. Mr. Mispagel went to an Armenian Genocide conference in Glendale 2 years ago and gathered material and primary sources. He also decided have a mock trial in his class as to who owned the guilt of the genocide.

In the meetings that the teachers have had, they have talked about aligning all of their curriculum and creating a broader unit about “social injustice and human rights that would incorporate the Armenian Genocide,” according to Mr. Mispagel.

Susan Moore, an AP  Literature and Honors English teacher, also agreed that a cross curricular approach would be the best.

She said, “We are working with the history department to develop a curriculum that includes elements of literature and elements of nonfiction and provides a historical framework. In the English department, we would look at works of fiction and the UN definition of Genocide for the nonfiction element.”

In addition to local school meetings, English and social science teachers also attended workshops at Glendale Unified and heard sample lesson plans and discussed different ways of approaching it with the students.

The exact curriculum is still not decided upon, but there is a general idea of action. Many teachers will implement learning activities during sophomore year, as Mr. Mispagel did. In addition, junior year students will address the rhetoric side of nonfiction works dealing with the genocide and seniors will most likely see a fictional work, like Sand Castle Girls.

Nonetheless, Mrs. Moore assures us that “we will definitely see something next year.” This is an important topic that has to be addressed, and teaching it will provide students with an even more enriching and powerful education.

*Picture taken by Nare Arakelian during annual Armenian Genocide march on April 24

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