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School Committee Approves Genocide Studies, History of Math Pilots
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
12:30PM / Sunday, November 13, 2022
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The School Committee approved two new pilot courses on Wednesday, including a genocide studies course that has been in session at Taconic High School since the beginning of the year.

"Research conducted by groups such as the Anti-Defamation League shows that hate speech, targeted vandalism and various forms of discrimination are on a steady rise this century with 2020 one of the worst years on record for hate crime statistics in America," the course description reads.

"For example in connection to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, instances of anti-Asian hate and discrimination have spiked across the United States. This genocide studies class is critical in helping to teach the students of Taconic High School about the impacts of hate speech, concerns over "us versus them" antagonisms, and the dangers of stereotyping and prejudice."

It is offered as an intensive social studies class with an option for honors.  Topics include the Holocaust, the Armenian and Rwandan genocides, and genocide events that go back 500 years.

At the end of the course, students should be able to describe how stereotypes and prejudices are formed, analyze how society influences identity and the choices people make, analyze how genocide and other acts of group violence are made possible, analyze culpability and responsibility in the aftermath of group violence, and examine prevention strategies for varying degrees of discrimination and violence.

A student representative reported being enrolled in the honors version of the course. She described it as "a really rigorous course that a lot of students are interested in" and said that the teacher is very passionate about it and teaches it in a challenging way that significantly engages students.

Last year, the state House of Representatives passed a Genocide Education Act that was filed by Franklin County Rep. Jeffrey Roy. The bill mandates genocide education offerings in public high schools.

School Committee member Sarah Hathaway, who is on the curriculum subcommittee that OK'd the two pilot courses last week, reported that the genocide course has been well received.

"This is apparently a very popular course already at Taconic. It is consistent with a directive from the state that high school students should have some background on genocide before they graduate," she said.

"The instructor had developed this course at another school and when he took the job here he had already made the materials. There are several obviously horrible genocide examples covered in the course and then students each do an independent research project and they can choose to cover a different incident from history. There is no shortage, sadly, of examples they can study."

The committee also approved a "History of Mathematics" pilot course at Pittsfield High School that will allow students to explore theorems and discuss mathematicians who contributed to math content but are not recognized for their accomplishments and make cross-cultural connections to other courses students are studying.

It will begin next school year as an intensive level math class with a pre-requisite of algebra 2, meaning it will be available to juniors and seniors.

Throughout the course, students will construct a timeline of math through the ages, explore a range of topics from diverse and multicultural offerings, identify major mathematical contributions from each historical period, explore different types of mathematical approaches to current-day processes, make connections to modern-day mathematics, and research and dive into contributions of diverse mathematicians.

"Our feeling was just that it's amazing that our students can have access to courses like this. We are really second to none in both the engagement and the rigor that our teachers are offering," Hathaway said, adding that is wonderful for teachers to turn their passion into a course and share it with their students because they can see when the teachers love the curriculum.

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