Reflections on Vienna, My Family History and Education by David Oestreicher

We have just completed our third day in Vienna with Classrooms without Borders. Today on July 5th what stood out to me the most was our visit to the Memorial to the Jewish Victims of the Shoah at Ostarrichi Park. Guided by Hanna Lessing, our group learned about the efforts to establish a Holocaust memorial in Vienna that specifically addressed the impact of the Shoah on Austria’s Jewish community. 

This memorial stood out to me because I noticed the names of victims that share the same surname of members of my family. I saw several Oestreicher’s, several Langner’s and several Kelsen’s. While I don’t believe most of these victims were members of my family, it reinforces the connection I have to Eastern European Jewry and the impact of the Holocaust. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a Langner and survived the Holocaust in Poland. My grandfather on my dad’s side was an Oestreicher and was able to escape Nazi occupation before the war. And I am also related to Kelsen’s on my fathers side. 

Since we started our trip on Monday, I have gained attention from Tsipy and our tour guides due to the fact that my great-grandfather is well known in Austria. My great grandfather, Hans Kelsen, was the architect of the Austrian constitution of 1920. I will have a lot more to say about my connection to Kelsen, but I would like to save that for my next blog entry! 

I want to end with a quick reflection on social studies education and it’s connection to our study seminar. Unrelated to our trip, today was the day that AP (Advanced Placement) scores were released for students that took AP Exams in May. AP Exams are administered by the College Board, and are considered ‘college-level’ exams for high school students. This school year I taught AP World History and AP US History to about 130 students in a NYC high school. Today I succumbed to checking my students AP scores on the College Board website. Even though it’s the summer and I’m abroad, I couldn’t prevent myself from peeking at my students scores. I was pleasantly surprised with my AP World students’ scores; they scored very well. Unfortunately I was disappointed with my AP US History student’s scores. I mention this because I think it’s important to put test scores into perspective. A single test score does not define a student’s worth. It does not define what a student knows or where their skills are at. Programs like Classrooms without Borders remind me that what is most important in social studies education are the stories we teach, the narratives regarding the past that we tell our students and the critical thinking skills we embed into our lessons. Allowing students to understand that there are certain patterns throughout history that can reoccur is especially important when teaching topics such as the Holocaust for example: I believe that this study seminar will help put things into perspective and remind me that there is more to being a great history teacher than student test scores. 

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