Steve Flynn Named Genocide Educator of the Year
On April 26, about 500 people gathered to commemorate the 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide at the Armenian Martyrs’ Memorial Monument in Providence, R.I. During the program, the third annual Genocide Educator of the Year Award, which includes a $500 cash stipend and is sponsored annually by the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Rhode Island and the Armenian Martyrs’ Memorial Committee of Rhode Island, was presented to Steve Flynn of William E. Tolman High School in Pawtucket, R.I., by Pauline Getzoyan and Esther Kalajian.
Flynn joined a growing list of impressive teachers dedicated to including genocide education in the school curricula in Rhode Island. To demonstrate his commitment to teaching about genocide in his classroom, Pauline read excerpts from the five letters of recommendation he had received. The letters came from his English department head, as well as the social studies department head and three students.
Steve Flynn teaches an elective at Tolman High School in Pawtucket entitled “Studies in Racism and Diversity,” which is offered primarily to juniors and seniors as an elective. The second part of the course deals directly with genocide, specifically, the Chinese, the Armenians, the Holocaust, the Yugoslav conflict, and Darfur.
Excerpts from the letters follow.
“As a student in Mr. Flynn’s class, I am excited to come to class every day to participate in engaging discussions and readings on the topics we are covering in class. Mr. Flynn has a delightful sense of humor which makes everyone in class feel at ease when learning about a sometimes difficult subject matter, and he keeps the students interested and engaged.”
“He never assumes information, but instead is always researching to get us the most accurate facts. … Mr. Flynn is very dedicated to his work and goes out of his way to get the most information so that as students we will not fall victim to ignorance and prejudice.”
“He is an outstanding ambassador for the equal and humane treatment of all human beings. The students are quite fortunate to have such a role model in their lives.”
“Mr. Flynn is constantly searching for alternative ways in which he can provide instruction in this area, in order to ensure the material is at the cutting edge of what is available. His dedication to this topic is surpassed by no one.”
Flynn has been teaching for just eight years. To be an educator was a passion of his since high school and constituted a major career change for him. He currently serves on the education task force committee of the Holocaust Education Resource Center of Rhode Island. The committee was formed with the intent of establishing venues in which genocide education can be integrated into the middle and high school arenas. In 2004, Flynn was named a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum “Belfer Scholar” and attended a five-day conference in Washington, D.C., that addressed the implementation of genocide studies into the area curriculum.
Finally of note, Flynn had the honor of being selected by the Japanese government last year as one of 160 teachers from the United States from a pool of over 2,000 applicants as a Japan Fulbright Scholar. The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the government of Japan and sends educators to Japan for a three-week course of study that examines the education, economic, financial, and social composite of the nation. The program is based on Senator Fulbright’s mission statement that espouses a commitment to fostering world peace.
In his remarks, Flynn thanked the committees for the award and reaffirmed his commitment to teaching about genocide. “On this beautiful day, 94 years after the fact of the Armenian Genocide, we, as members of the human race, are still bearing witness to the horrors and indignities of genocides in our world today… At the outset of the course, I distribute a handout to each student that contains a powerful quotation from Reverend Martin Niemoller who served seven years in a Nazi concentration camp for his outspoken views against the Third Reich. The quotation reads, ‘In Germany, the Nazis first came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, but I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.”
The day before the commemoration, during a visit to the Armenian Genocide monument, Flynn read the words of William Saroyan: “I should like to see any power in this world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people whose history is ended, whose wars have been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, whose literature is unread, whose music is unheard, and whose prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy this race! Destroy Armenia! See if you can do it. Send them from their homes into the desert. Let them have neither bread nor water. Burn their homes and churches. Then, see if they will not laugh again, see if they will not sing and pray again. For, when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” Deeply moved, Flynn will be using these words at the outset of his course.
Flynn concluded his comments with a call to action for the students in the audience. “As I look out into the audience today, I notice the significant number of young people in attendance who are in middle school or high school. I’d like you to do one thing for me, starting tomorrow. Go to your school principal, vice principals, and teachers. Ask for someone to ‘step up to the plate’ and, as I say, ‘grab the bull by the horns,’ and teach genocide studies in your school. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself, the Armenian community—past, present, and future—and the world itself in recognition of the fact that there is no place for genocides in our global society and moreover that it will not be tolerated!”
The presentation of the 2009 Genocide Educator of the Year Award was the culmination of the school year’s activities regarding genocide education in Rhode Island. This year, Getzoyan and Kalajian have counted the addition of North Smithfield, Lincoln, North Providence, and Pawtucket to the list of school districts offering dedicated electives on the subject, joining East Greenwich and Cranston, not to mention several private and parochial schools. The process of introducing electives in the state’s school districts became significantly easier this year as the Rhode Island State Department of Education (RIDE) introduced genocide education curriculum materials to their website. Teachers in the state can now access the materials by visiting www.ride.ri.gov and going to instruction and curriculum resources.
To introduce these materials, an event sponsored by Aram Garabedian, the originator of the Genocide Curriculum Bill passed into law in 2000, was held at the Providence Marriott Hotel on Sun., March 1. At this event, attended by over 100 educators and community members, curriculum materials were displayed, along with informational handouts for teachers. While enjoying precious historical artwork provided for the event by Berge Zobian of Gallery Z in Providence, as well as refreshments, attendees were able to look through the curriculum materials and take any information of interest.
East Greenwich social studies department head Tim McPartlin acted as emcee for the event and introduced Garabedian. McPartlin has been instrumental in assisting Getzoyan and Kalajian in developing a relationship with RIDE to make the materials available to Rhode Island teachers. In fact, Robert Petrucci, a teacher in McPartlin’s department, was awarded the first Genocide Educator of the Year Award in 2007.
In addition to the curriculum materials, the featured guest speaker for the afternoon, following comments by Garabedian applauding the move by RIDE, was Margaret Ahnert, author of The Knock at the Door, an account of her mother’s experiences during the Armenian Genocide. Its publication date of April 24, 2007, is notable as it fell on the 92nd anniversary of the beginning of the genocide. Those attending were moved by Ahnert’s readings from the book, which was available for purchase and personally signed by the author.
Ahnert was born in New York City. She received an MFA from Goucher College and a BA from Goddard College, and is a graduate of the Barnes Foundation. She has pursued a variety of careers including producing television documentaries, running a Pennsylvania hotel and resort, lecturing as a docent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and teaching art appreciation through the “Art Goes to School” program in elementary schools. Ahnert holds a 100-ton master captain’s license and is an avid hunter and fisherwoman. Married and the mother of two grown children and two grandchildren, she lives in New York and Ft. Lauderdale.