The Atlantic

Why a Career and Technical High School Has a Genocide-Studies Class

Justin Bilton and Jason Stark on the importance of teaching students about systemic violence
Source: Cassandra Klos

Editor’s Note: In 1988, a teacher most commonly had 15 years of experience. In recent years, that number is closer to just three years leading a classroom. The “On Teaching” series focuses on the wisdom of veteran teachers.


In 2014, English teacher Justin Bilton and social-studies teacher Jason Stark were assigned to share an office at the newly opened Essex Tech, a career and technical education campus in  Massachusetts’s North Shore region. Bilton had studied the Holocaust and totalitarian regimes in college and grad school, and he told his new officemate about his summer experience at the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s Belfer National Conference for Educators in Washington, D.C. Stark, whose maternal grandmother survived the Holocaust, was intrigued.

He and Bilton decided to team up and create a genocide-studies class—a rare find in a public high school, especially a CTE campus. What began as an elective in the fall ofthat would make genocide studies a required part of the state’s high-school curriculum. At a time when don’t know how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust, Bilton and Stark hope their class can be a launching pad for students to better understand the roots of systemic violence. I talked with them about the class in June 2020; our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

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