After a public uproar, a California school board has apologized profusely for an eighth-grade assignment that asked students to “explain whether or not you believe the Holocaust was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain.” The assignment also included extensive text lifted from a Holocaust denial and conspiracy website as one of three sources students were to use in fashioning their arguments.
As a part of the school board’s mea culpa, it is requiring teachers to take sensitivity training.
Really? Do they think this assignment shows a lack of sensitivity? How about a complete abdication of pedagogical responsibility, which is generally assumed to involve helping students learn the difference between historical fact and fantasies produced by fevered imaginations.
As one horrified columnist wrote
Along with entries on the history of the Holocaust from About.com and the History Channel, they offered the students supporting “material” titled “Is the Holocaust a Hoax?” that was taken from a Christian site. The document cites the execution technology “expert” Fred Leuchter, a leading denier, and presents a “theory” that Anne Frank’s diary was forged. “Israel continues to receive trillions of dollars worldwide as retribution for Holocaust gassings,” the document continues. “Our country has donated more money to Israel than to any other country in the history of the world—over $35 billion per year, everything included. If not for our extravagantly generous gifts to Israel, every family in America could afford a brand new Mercedes Benz.”
This is the sort of thing that happens in a society where there must be two sides to every issue, a society in which the media pursues “balance” at the expensive of objective, verifiable fact. Would the clueless authors of this assignment require students to consider whether the sun goes around the earth, rather than vice-versa? Or perhaps they could argue whether the colonists or the British won the Revolutionary War?
Then when they grow up, they can dismiss results of all the previous fact-finding investigations, and debate what they think really happened at Benghazi.
Listen, you twits: teaching that the holocaust actually happened is not a bow to the “sensitivities” of the families of Jews, gays, gypsies and righteous Christians who perished. Teaching about things that we know have happened is what we do in classes called history.
In the real world that diminishing numbers of us inhabit, some things are true, and some things aren’t. Education should teach students how to tell the difference.
Students need to know that facts are facts, whether some people choose to believe them or not.