The NEH Hannah Arendt Summer Seminar was one of the most profound experiences I have had the pleasure of having. Prof. Kathy Jones, Hannah Arendt, and the rest of the summer 2009 participants challenged me to learn, contemplate, and share ideas I have never pondered before on such topics as the philosophical aspects of genocide, human rights, political science, and history. While I had previously studied the Holocaust, been to Holocaust museums, and understood the historical aspects of the 20th century Jewish genocide, never had I thought about the how and why not only the Nazis could create such horror, but how the layman could acquiesce and follow along with such a regime. Hannah Arendt’s writing is extremely challenging, mind-bending, and ripe with theory, history, and analysis that took me to new levels of contemplation, not only the moments of history which she was a part of, but how the human condition remains consistent; the issues that she feared and analyzed remain topics and issues that we in this new millennium must continue to heed with caution.
Futhermore, being able to spend my summer in the company of extremely fun, kind, and intelligent educators from all of the US was a breath of intellectual fresh air. So much of being a teacher of course is consumed with our time with our students, so to be able to be a scholar once again in a comfortable and friendly environment for the sheer pleasure of the attainment of knowledge was wonderful. These six weeks re-affirmed that I am a life-long learner. I believe that our students can be greatly inspired when we teachers are able to show our excitement and experience with our own learning.
-Marci Gitles, high school psychology and literature teacher, 2009 Participant
My wonderful mentor and most admired educator. . . . in reflection about what having the opportunity to study and expand my intellectual horizons with you and fifteen other magnificent minds over the summer in the most beautiful place I have ever known on this planet, I will do my best to do justice to what this summer in San Diego meant to me, and to describe the boundless journey I am now on in life.
Studying the works of Hannah Arendt through the overarching themes of Evil and Totalitarianism, under the guidance of Professor Kathy Jones and in collaboration with fourteen other passionate and diverse teachers from throughout the United States on the educational forum supported by the National Endowment of the Humanities was a dream come true. This is no exaggeration. In my professional environment and personal life, I found elective studies a luxury too often put to the side. Having the opportunity to study with master teachers over the summer, reinvigorated the importance of inquiry, exploration, and knowledge seeking in my day to day life. I remain eternally grateful for the encounters I had, challenges I faced, and literature I read over the course of my summer studies with Kathy Jones.
–Simcha Wolfe, elementary school teacher, 2009 Participant
My time in the NEH Arendt seminar reinvigorated my professional development as a teacher as well as my academic passion as a scholar. While I value and appreciate any professioal development opportunites that are directly related to developing my teaching practices as a secondary English teacher, this program offered me the experience of engaging in intellectual inquiry on a fascinating topic with a small group of remarkable teachers and colleagues from across the country. Not only did we spend our time reading and examining the works of Hannah Arendt, we were also able to engage in a powerful professional learning community consisting of individuals with a wide array of backgrounds, experiences, and passions. This allowed me, not only to gain unique insights into the texts that we were reading, but it also provided me with a wonderful group of people to discuss ideas about teaching and learning in my role as a high school English teacher.
One of the most powerful elements that this experience exposed me to was the power of community that comes from a classroom of dedicated students whose goals for engaging in inquiry are purely exploratory in nature, for no other purpose than the love of study. We came together in a very concentrated and intense experience to intently examine something that drew us for a wide array of reasons. Each of us contributed our unique insights and perspectives, some based on family connections to events such as the holocaust, some based on personal experience in the classroom regarding issues of gender, race, and class, and some based on depth of knowledge in other academic fields, ranging from law to philosophy.
While I struggled with a number of ideas for my project and initially thought that I would design curriculum for explicit use in my Junior English and Humanities curriculum, I ultimately stumbled upon a new direction as a result of the geographic location of our seminar and my unique living arrangement. I chose to live off campus with a small community of international students from around the world. In particular, I met two extraordinary young women who were trying to obtain United States citizenship after being born in Saudi Arabia as Palestinian refugees. In conversation with these two young women about their experiences, expectations, and future goals as well as with their thoughts about what it is like to live as a stateless citizen of our world, one of the themes that really resounded from Arendt’s work–how stateless people can be denied or overlooked for the possession of basic rights–seemed to arise in my very midst. This experience made a huge impact on my thinking about human rights and international law.
The Arendt Seminar continues to play a large role in my professional and personal life. As a teacher, I use the information and materials on a practical basis. I continue to teach a unit on civil rights and social justice, in which we read novels and other books, including Elie Weisel’s Night, about the holocaust, and incorporate Arendt’s ideas into the discussions that I have with students about how various historical and political movements can take shape. We continue to engage in discussions about moral opinions and what makes one person’s moral opinion better, if it can ever be called better, than another’s. We discuss the holocaust specifically as an example of what happens when extreme opinions are able to grow, as well as the concept of justice that comes into play in response to opinions that may be different from our own.
Currently, this experience has, in part, prompted me to seek application for further graduate study in the field of education, and specifically, in the area of literacy. Being a student again, reading complex texts,writing about my thoughts, preparing a document and questions to lead my peers in discussion of Arendt’s writing, participating in a wiki, setting up a thoughtful interview and presenting my own project, and even the prospect of submitting my work for a website where other educators or potential applicants can access and share intellectual property have all allowed me to think further about how I define literacy. In addition to reading and writing, I see another essential element of literacy as the ability to communicate in dialogue with each other in a variety of ways to further promote understanding and insight into extremely complicated phenomena such as the way the writings of a political theorist can have application in our modern world.
For me, one of the most powerful experiences was enjoying the presentations that my peers and I prepared to share our final projects and being able to appreciate the beauty that our shared experience prompted such a wide variety of responses. From building a table, to creating a documentary, to writing about family history, to examining film, to viewing an interactive website, the wide range of possibilities that this experience unlocked in our minds was extremely powerful, and it is one of the reasons why I feel compelled to explore how to make these types of educational experiences more common in our formal educational systems.
–Sarah E. Hill, English Teacher, Literary Arts Magazine Advisor, Cross Country Coach, ,2008 Particpant
The Hannah Arendt seminar was an extraordinary opportunity to read closely some very challenging texts and to think deeply about topics that are remarkably current in our nation’s political discourse. To be in close quarters with other educators who were committed to such an inquiry was indeed a great privilege. For me the seminar deepened my conviction that storytelling is an important means by which we make “all sorrows” bearable. This may seem odd given that Arendt is known for heady philosophical concepts such as the banality of evil, and not as a literary figure. In her work, she told important stories, stories that put you squarely in the face of the calamities of the 20th Century. One of the outgrowths of the seminar for me was to begin an MFA program in creative writing.
Through all her efforts to help us to understand horror and evil, Arendt endeavored also to think her way to genuine hope for humanity. Be prepared for an intellectual and emotional journey that will leave you wiser as a person. You may or may not be able to teach Arendt’s texts to your students, but regardless of the discipline you teach, you are likely to find that in contending with a thinker such as she, you will have extended your own ability to think and read critically. You will be the better teacher for it.
Professor Jones is a wonderful seminar leader, a master of the material, and a compassionate guide adept at assisting seminarians from a variety of academic backgrounds.
–Mark Takano, English Teacher, MFA candidate, 2006 Participant