Book Review: Tinberg, Howard, and Ronald Weisberger. Teaching, Learning, and the Holocaust: An Integrative Approach. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014, xv + 135pp. Paperback ISBN: 978-0-253-01133-6.
Reviewed by Brigitte Sion, Columbia University
Scholarship on teaching and learning deserves more visibility; this short but fascinating book by Howard Tinberg and Ronald Weisberger is an important contribution to a growing field in which faculty members examine teaching as a subject.
Two faculty members of Bristol Community College, Howard Tinberg and Ronald Weisberger, took on a multifaceted challenge: co-teach a new course, “Remembering the Holocaust in Literature and History,” with an interdisciplinary perspective and an integrative approach. Neither of them is trained in Holocaust studies. This book, situated between an academic essay and a personal journal, is a fascinating account of their pedagogical adventure: from engaging learning communities to promote retention and critical thinking, to dedicating time to intense faculty conversation about a variety of disciplines and their connections. They ask essential questions that should speak to all teachers, regardless of their discipline: How do we encourage a way of understanding the Shoah that integrates the affective and cognitive domains? How do we render explicit the discrete ways of knowing associated with given academic fields? How can we be integrative in our approaches? How do we assess success?
This pedagogical adventure becomes very personal, both for the instructors and the students. Tinberg’s parents were born in Poland; they avoided deportation, lived inconspicuously on the run, and ended up in a camp for displaced persons in Germany, where two of their children were born. They immigrated to the United States in 1949. Tinberg’s family background resonates powerfully with his course’s subject, and students also recognize such resonances; across the desk, a student named Micah finds Ida Fink’s short story “A Spring Morning” “emotionally taxing to read” (34). Unlike a number of his peers, however, Micah does not turn away from the reading, but delves deeper into the difficulties and dissonances, managing to establish links between works of fiction and works of witnessing, between history and story, and across time, place, and experience. Students are fully engaged by the connections they uncover, and thus are not mere bystanders to the story.
One of the most interesting sections of the book is the one addressing trauma in relation to teaching, an issue that is understudied in Holocaust studies and memory studies. This section includes considerations of the decision to choose testimonies rather than graphic images or film, the risk of traumatizing students, the sensitivity to maintain with Holocaust survivors who re-live their trauma with every lecture they give, and the tension between respect and voyeuristic leanings. En route, the instructors go beyond the fields of history and literature, and address among other concerns the question of faith (believing after the Holocaust), what it means to be “a good person,” and the challenges of artistic representation (Art Spiegelman’s Maus, literature, film).
One of the many valuable outcomes of this short book is the instructors’ “own unlearning,” since neither of them had been trained in Holocaust studies or had taught a course on the topic. Teaching helped them learn more about the subject and about best teaching practices. The volume also contains the detailed syllabus and all the course assignments. Perhaps their most important lesson is a rethinking of authority with regard to a body of knowledge; as is evident when they write, “the expertise to which we refer consists less of mastery of the subject and more of a readiness to observe, to reflect on, and to write about the teaching of that subject” (103).
Tinberg and Weisberger’s pedagogical journey is a refreshing account of ways to model methods and habits, to encourage students to transfer those methods and habits to new domains and situations, to create opportunities for integrative learning, to foster both the affective and critical response, and to teach and write with colleagues outside one’s discipline and area of expertise. Their humble approach is inspiring, their research exemplary.