Impact in Profile: Steve Flynn

Impact in Profile: Steve Flynn

IWitness focuses heavily on the Holocaust, but the themes of tolerance and racism contained in its genocide survivor testimonies and activities help Steve Flynn teach his students important lessons about challenges they face in their own lives.

At William E. Tolman High School in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Flynn teaches 10th grade English language arts and several elective courses – including one called Studies in Racism and Diversity. The course covers the Holocaust, other genocides, and the Civil Rights movement, and includes discussion of current events related to the course’s themes. The class includes students in 9th through 12th grade from diverse backgrounds.

“We are an urban school district and our student population thrives on the deep multi-ethnic backgrounds that exist among them,” Flynn said.

Flynn discovered that IWitness includes the testimonies of several Holocaust survivors mentioned in Witness, edited by Joshua Greene and Shiva Kumar, which his students read in class. His students get the best of both worlds by reading about these survivors in Witness and then watching their testimonies in IWitness. This allows history to come alive and feel relevant to their lives, Flynn noted.

Stories of hardships the survivors went through can ring particularly true for his students.

“Living in a very urban environment brings with it for many of our students a host of life’s issues that range from worrying about where their next meal will come from, putting clothes on their backs, and dealing with home life that is less than supportive,” he said. “They can readily associate with the notions of hardship and resolve in addressing these in their own lives and seeing how survivors dealt with it in theirs. There is an immediate transfer of life lessons to our students they can apply in meeting challenges in their own lives.”

Flynn’s students complete the 1936 Olympics: Race, Politics & Civil Rights activity featuring Jesse Owens and the exclusion of Jews from the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He said this activity generates lively class discussion and he appreciates how relevant it is to today, given the recent Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Finally, the students each construct their own video in IWitness featuring survivors they connect with. The class staged a “VideoFest” in which each student shared his or her video with the class. Flynn said students loved this activity because it gave them a voice in revealing what the Holocaust meant to them.

“This was definitely a proud moment for my students!” he said.

IWitness is a “must” for educators teaching about the Holocaust, civil rights and global issues on race, Flynn said, and the possibilities for integrating it into the classroom are endless.

“IWitness offers a personalization factor like no other resource I’ve ever utilized,” Flynn said. “The adage ‘Seeing is believing’ unequivocally applies to IWitness – it stands as an icon for outstanding Holocaust education.”