Thursday, July 16, 2009

An Interview with Dr. Karen Shawn, co-editor of PRISM

By Charles Fishman

I first became aware of Karen Shawn and PRISM: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Holocaust Educators when I read a notice about her new journal on the Association of Holocaust Organizations list in June 2008. I sent Dr. Shawn an email to see if she might be interested in adding me to the journal’s editorial board, which did not appear to include a poetry editor. She replied immediately and I was soon appointed to that position for the journal. In the 13 months Karen Shawn and I have been debating the virtues of one poem or another, I have always found her to be among the wisest and most fair-minded of editors . . . and also among the most persistent. She has watched over her new journal with the careful attention of a beekeeper or a cultivator of rare orchids. Consequently, the slow-to-arrive first issue — scheduled for release in September — should prove to be aesthetically, as well as intellectually, engaging: a vital new affirmation of the importance of Holocaust Education in a world that seems to have lost its ethical compass.

About two months ago, I decided to interview Dr. Shawn. I thought it would be helpful to followers of this blog to know something about her background and her reasons for bringing a new scholarly journal into the world.

CF: You are co-creator and co-editor of Prism. Can you tell us a little about the other editor?

KS: My co-editor is Dr. Jeffrey Glanz, Professor of Education at Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration. He holds the Raine and Stanley Silverstein Chair in Professional Ethics and Values and is a specialist in the fields of curriculum and instruction and educational leadership.

CF: How do you and Jeffrey divide your responsibilities as editors of the journal?

KS: Dr. Glanz is the APA guru and the business person, as well as a reader, reviewer, and manuscript editor. Except in the case of poetry, I’m the person who makes contact with authors and reads and edits initial submissions; I edit the final manuscript, suggest the art and literature to be used and secure permissions; and I recommend the timetable for completing this work and organizing it. Together, Jeffrey and I read everything, edit everything, and plan the themes, design, layout, and publication dates.

CF: Is this sharing of obligations something each of you finds satisfying?

KS: We are happiest when we are working together!

CF: Was it you or Jeffrey who gave the journal its name?

KS: We thought of it more or less together; we were both searching for just the right word to crystallize and illustrate our pedagogical vision of offering readers a variety of viewpoints on the same theme or topic, and the word "prism," we felt, captured our concept beautifully and best.

CF: I realize that PRISM is a journal that has been designed to foster Holocaust education, but will it also have a political or religious dimension?

KS: No. Authors may, of course, choose to examine how the Holocaust is taught in Catholic vs. Jewish schools or discuss survivors’ religious beliefs after the Shoah; someone may analyze the American response to the Holocaust. That is the way politics and religion will be expressed.

CF: What is your background in Holocaust scholarship and teaching and what drew you to this field?

KS: I have been learning and teaching about this subject for 25 years, here and in Israel, where I studied at Yad Vashem, Beit Lohame HaGeta’ot (the Ghetto Fighters’ Museum), and Hebrew University. I taught the pedagogy of the Holocaust in the Yad Vashem Summer Study Fellowship Program for Educators from Abroad for 10 years and served as educational consultant to the American Friends of the Ghetto Fighters Museum for another decade. Survivors and the subject itself drew me, captured me, and continue to engage me on a daily basis.

CF: What were your goals in co-creating PRISM?

KS: One goal was to offer materials that allow and encourage a differentiated approach to Holocaust education; hence the poetry, art, and story amid the history and pedagogy. Another was to offer educators methods and materials that may help them identify and teach essential truths about this subject and examine, through a variety of lenses, its complex nature. Finally, we wanted to inspire and to reinforce the good work already being done in so many quarters of the educational community worldwide.

CF: Now that the editing of Issue #1 has been completed and Issue #2 is also in an advanced stage of development, are you confident that the journal will help you achieve those goals?

KS: We are, but of course we will be eager to hear readers’ responses.

CF: What changes or additions may be needed?

KS: We will probably need to include a “Letters” section.

CF: Please comment on the focus of the debut issue and on the thematic content of future issues that are currently planned.

KS: The debut issue, which is just about to go to press, examines the complex theme of trauma and resilience in children during the Shoah. We have expanded it to include what is called “secondary trauma,” that which occurs in those who are exposed over time to the trauma of others — people such as first responders, rape crisis counselors, and those who teach and learn about the Shoah for extended periods. Themes for future issues include the role of the bystander during the Shoah, the family unit during and after the Shoah, and heroism during the Shoah.

CF: What role do you see for poetry and other literary genres in this academic journal?

KS: Poetry will play a major role, as will art and story; these genres will allow teachers who are not historians to find a comfortable, fruitful, and legitimate way in to teaching the subject, a way that hopefully will lead to the necessary historical contextualization that other essays in our journal will help provide.

CF: Will the visual arts also have a distinctive presence in this journal?

KS: The premier issue includes color portraits of children painted during the Holocaust; art by a child of survivors; and examples of modern art as a reflection of the pervasive influence of the Holocaust on creative work done in its shadow.

CF: When do you expect the first few numbers of the journal to appear?

KS: We are planning publication for September 2009, April 2010, and January 2011; after that, we will see!

CF: Will PRISM have a web presence?

KS: Eventually!

CF: Can those interested in writing for the journal submit work for consideration?

KS: Writers should query first and include a brief bio.

CF: Is there anything you would like to add?

KS: Your work as our journal’s poetry editor has added to its power and its value, and we appreciate all that you contribute!

CF: Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about this exciting new journal — and thanks, too, for the personal vote of confidence!


Karen Shawn, Ph.D., is a former English teacher, director of Holocaust education, and middle school assistant principal. She is Visiting Associate Professor of Jewish Education at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration of Yeshiva University and Senior Fellow of Azrieli’s Institute–School Partnership.

With Dr. Jeffrey Glanz, she is co-editor of Azrieli’s publication PRISM: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Holocaust Educators. Dr. Shawn taught for 10 years at the Yad Vashem Summer Institute for Educators from Abroad and at the same time served as educational consultant for the American Friends of the Ghetto Fighters’ Museum. The founder of the Holocaust Educators’ Consortium, an international, interreligious Community of Practice, she has written extensively on Holocaust education.

Her most recent edited volumes are an anthology of Holocaust narratives and an accompanying teacher’s guide, The Call of Memory: Learning about the Holocaust Through Narrative (Ben Yehuda Press, 2008).

The mailing address for PRISM: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Holocaust Educators is Karen Shawn, Ph.D. / Azrieli Graduate School / 500 W. 185th St – BH 326 / NY, NY 10033. To subscribe to PRISM, or to query re submissions, send an email message to Dr. Shawn, or Dr. Glanz,


Information about Prism is available at the website of the International Association of Genocide Scholars.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting interview. It's good to see different approaches to Holocaust education, I think it is very helpful, and helps youngsters feel the relevancy of the Holocaust today.