High School World History Curriculum Reform Advocate
February 18, 2017
Email Interview with Dr. Kay Mouradian
Kay Mouradian is a professor emerita from the Los Angeles Community Colleges, holds a doctorate in education from Nova Southeastern University and degrees from Boston University and UCLA.
After retiring from the Los Angeles Community Colleges she has dedicated her life to ensuring that this country’s high school World History teachers teach “a very important but often forgotten three-year period of history.”
Dr. Mouradian, what is the three-year period of history called that you say is very important, often forgotten, and that this country’s World History teachers need to teach?
It’s called the Armenian Genocide, and today’s high school World History teachers either don’t teach it or they spend no more than a half hour doing so.
Think about it. Two million Turkish Armenians during World War I between 1915 and 1918 were forced to march hundreds of miles away from their homes deep into the deserts of Syria with an estimated 75% of this population — including the best and brightest of the Armenian community — perishing from starvation, exposure, or outright murder. However this egregious human rights violation get’s a mere 15-minutes of coverage, at most, in today’s high school World History classroom.
What do you think needs to be done in order to ensure that high school World History teachers teach the Armenian Genocide?
For starters, all those in California who share my belief that high school World History teachers need to teach the Armenian Genocide should contact their state lawmakers and demand that it’s time for the California State Legislature to set an example for the rest of the nation and require California’s World History teachers to teach the Armenian Genocide.
Today, teachers in California are only encouraged to teach the Genocide, whereas the teaching of the Holocaust is required. If one is to be required so too the other.
Yes, the public should also demand that this country’s World History textbook publishers recognize the depth of the horror of the Armenian Genocide in their next printed edition.
One of the major reasons World History teachers do not teach the Armenian Genocide to the extent that they should is that current textbooks do not give this tragic historical event its rightful place in history.
At the very least, the public should demand that textbook publishers show, in a chapter detailing the Armenian Genocide, why the Armenian Genocide became the template for the Holocaust. This chapter should also include Hitler’s famous words to his generals in 1939, “Who today speaks of the extermination of the Armenians?”
Assuming that for national security reasons state lawmakers and textbook publishers do not act as you wish, what is one thing that you would encourage this country’s World History teachers to do on their own if they want to spend more time teaching the Armenian Genocide?
Above all else, I would encourage all high school World History teachers to take a close look at any of the outstanding lesson plans found at the websites appearing below:
- The Genocide of the Armenians (Facing History and Ourselves)
- Teaching Guides to the Armenian Genocide (The Genocide Education Project)
- Genocide (The Choices Project)
- Teaching the Armenian Genocide (New York Times)
I would also encourage all interested World History teachers to have their students read any one or more of the following books that can be found be clicking here.
All interested teachers and students might also want to take a look at my book, My Mother’s Voice.
Please tell us about your book, My Mother’s Voice.
My Mother’s Voice is the poignant story of my mother Flora who at age 14 was deported from Turkey with her family during World War I.
In my book, I describe how, in 1998, I traveled the deportation route from my mother’s village in Turkey to the Syrian deserts. The haunting footsteps of the deportees hugged me every step of the way and wouldn’t let go until I relayed that human transgression onto paper. It was a painful and heartrending experience, one I tried to convey in my book.
To order the latest edition of my book, click here.
In 2012, you turned your book into a documentary Tell us about that.
To promote my book, My Mother’s Voice, I created a PowerPoint presentation that I shared with a variety of different audiences. During every follow-up Q&A, someone in the audience inevitably asked, “Why did I not learn about this genocide in my history class?”
That was when I realized I needed to produce (with a credible filmmaker) a 25-minute documentary based on my mother’s story. This documentary was specifically created for middle school and high school students and from the feedback I’ve received, students are easily relating to the film because the protagonist in the story is 14 years old.
In addition to the two creative works you have produced, is it true that you’ve also directly lobbied state lawmakers in an attempt to get teachers to spend more time teaching the Armenian Genocide?
Yes, it’s true. For several years, leading up to 2015 — the one-hundredth commemoration of the Armenian Genocide — I worked to get California lawmakers to pass a law that would require the Armenian Genocide to be taught in high school World History classes.
This resulted in many face-to-face meetings with some of California’s most powerful elected officials. There was only one problem — I didn’t quite accomplish my goal.
Here’s the backstory.
As one of 80 women being honored at the California State Capitol on Women’s Day in 2014, I was introduced to several assemblymembers who were known for their work in human rights. A short time later, I went to each of these noted lawmakers directly with my request that a law be passed to require the teaching of the Armenian Genocide.
Before long, AB1915 was introduced into the legislature. The bill called for the teaching of the Armenian Genocide to be required in all of California’s public school World History classes. In support of this bill, I was given an opportunity to address the Assembly Education Committee on the need to pass AB1915.
Unfortunately, as the bill worked its way through the legislative process, it was amended to only encourage teachers to teach the Armenian Genocide. The requirement provision was dropped.
Have you in anyway lobbied state lawmakers since 2015?
Yes, in 2016 I appeared before the California Instructional Quality Commission. My goal was to get the IQC to call upon the state board of education to include factual information about the Armenian genocide when updating their next history-social studies framework. I am happy to say that the CDE has listened, and that the new 2017 framework now includes more inclusive detail about the Armenian Genocide.
Since textbook publishers often follow the framework on textbook revisions, I have high hope these publishers will heed the new California Department of Education framework and content standards.
Haven’t you also worked to provide students with an opportunity to enter an “Armenian-centered” essay contest?
For the past three years, I’ve served on a committee that works to create an annual opportunity for students to enter an essay contest, with the essay contest prompt varying from year to year and calling upon students to either write about the Armenian Genocide, Armenia, or a famous Armenian American.
The essay contest is sponsored by Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian and Senator Scott Wilk.
The winner is awarded $1,000 and second place and third place given $500 and $250 respectively. All three award winners are flown to Sacramento to receive their award on the day the legislature recognizes the Armenian Genocide, which is April 17th this year. The judges are comprised of a panel of about 10 volunteers, who are mostly high school teachers.
This year’s writing prompt calls upon students to assume that:
- They have been hired to work for a still-to-be-constructed Armenian American National Museum, with the museum to be located in Glendale, California.
- They have received word from the museum director that one wing of the museum will be entitled Notable Armenian Americans.
- They are to share with the director, in the form of an “internal memo”, one name that should be featured in this wing of the museum and the reason(s) that this name should so be featured.
The students’ “internal memo” should be written using the template found by clicking here.
The essay submission deadline is Friday, March 24, 2017. Completed essays should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
All this work. Do you feel like you have accomplished something?
Most definitely. I just don’t feel like I’m done yet.
Any final thought/comments?
If World History teachers do not teach the Armenian Genocide, or worse yet, if they only give it short shrift, I worry that the memory of the Armenian Genocide will fade away as if it had never happened. Then the Turkish government’s denial of the Armenian Genocide, a denial which they hold unto to this very day, will go unchallenged. That would be a major injustice.
The 1915 Armenian Genocide is the major historical event that shaped the genocides of the 20th century. It deserves its rightful place in history as well as in today’s classroom. The Armenian story cannot be forgotten; it must be told.
I would like to recognize one of my copy editors, San Marino High School senior, Trevor Davis. While at SMHS, Trevor spent the majority of his time as an Editor for the SMHS school newspaper, The Titan Shield. What great skills he acquired. I can’t thank Trevor enough for having employed these skills to improve the formatting, style, and accuracy of the work appearing above.
Recently Trevor was was accepted to Cornell University, where he will play baseball for the Big Red.