History teachers lecture parents

By Jordan Freisleben


Impressionism, political soap operas and conflicts in the Middle East were the focuses of three upper school history teachers in a series of lectures for parents in October.

The lectures were a community-building fundraiser organized by the Harvard-Westlake Parents’ Association, the proceeds of which went to Financial Aid. Admission to the lectures was mostly done via online auction, raising a total of about $7,000.

History teachers David Waterhouse, Dror Yaron and Eric Zwemer each gave one lecture over the course of a month.

Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts suggested the three teachers as lecturers to HWPA member Marilyn O’Toole (Conor ’10), who played a large part in organizing the lectures.

“The catalyst for the event was that so many parents wish that they could take a class at Harvard-Westlake and would love to learn the things their children are learning,” O’Toole said. “This would be the opportunity to actually attend a class by one of the fabulous teachers.”

The three teachers were asked to talk about the subject that they found most interesting.

For Waterhouse, it was material that he covers in his AP United States History class.

During his 90-minute lecture, he discussed what he refers to as the “sex and scandals” and the “soap opera part” of early American history.

This included the corruption of the founding fathers, the controversy over the election of 1800 and the duel between former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr, which ended in Hamilton’s death.

“I wanted to do something interesting and something I already knew about,” Waterhouse said. “In my government class, we talk about voting analysis – in this environment, that could get a little controversial. This was a safe and interesting topic.”

Zwemer gave the parents a “pretty picture show” of Impressionism just like he gives students in his AP Art History class. He highlighted the relatively well-known artists of the period, concentrating on Cassatt, Monet, Renoir and Degas.

“I wanted to show what exactly [these artists] were trying to do and accomplish,” he said. “They were rebels and controversial in their day.”

What Zwemer discussed at his lecture is largely covered in his AP Art History course during the Impressionism unit. However, he made a few changes for the parents.

“I scaled [the unit] back and made it work within the context,” he said.

Yaron’s lecture focused on post-World War I Middle Eastern history.

“The primary question was, ‘To what extent did European powers shake the dynamics of the current region – what extent did they generate conflict, plant the seeds of conflict?’” he said.

“The Middle East is my specialty – that’s my forte,” Yaron said. “I do a lot of work on the Middle East outside of school – I work at research centers translating Hebrew and Arabic into English [and] my field of study in graduate school was modern Middle Eastern history.”

After the October lecture series, Yaron was scheduled to do a three-part lecture series next year on the Middle East.

“It’s the timing – the timing is of the essence. I know that there’s kind of an insatiable appetite for learning about the region,” he said. “There’s a lot of information out there about it as well as a lot of misinformation and a lot of distorted information. It’s a complex and incredibly animated region. It needs explication and I thought that I have the tools to explicate it.”

“We thought these three teachers would be comfortable in a lecturing environment the first time out,” O’Toole said.

“It’s a great way to integrate parents and teachers in their various fields of specialty,” Yaron said.