Op-Ed: Teaching Holocaust Denial in California
Why not an assignment then about whether the Moon really is comprised of green cheese, allowing the students to come to their own conclusions?
In 2007, the United Nations passed a resolution asking its member states to “unreservedly” condemn Holocaust denial. Apparently, that message did not filter down to the Rialto, California school district under the leadership of interim superintendent, Mohammad Z. Islam.
Eighth graders were asked to write an essay exploring the Holocaust. Here is how the assignment was presented: For example, some people claim the Holocaust is not an actual historical event, but instead is a propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain. Based upon your research on this issue, write an argumentative essay, utilizing cited textual evidence, in which you 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(sic).
The students were assigned to explore the quality of the evidence of proponents and opponents of the issue.
Most eighth graders are not remotely competent to make such decisions, especially since their knee-jerk reaction to any assignment is to go to the Internet, where they will be greeted by page after page of Holocaust denial sites. Middle-school teachers who don’t know that should have their credentials recalled and their bigotry exposed.
“One of the most important responsibilities for educators is to develop critical thinking skills in students,” Martinez wrote in an email Friday morning. “This will allow a person to come to their own conclusion. Current events are part of the basis for measuring IQ. The Middle East, Israel, Palestine and the Holocaust are on newscasts discussing current events. Teaching how to come to your own conclusion based on the facts, test your position, be able to articulate that position, then defend your belief with a lucid argument is essential to good citizenship. This thought process creates the foundation for a good education. The progression is within district board policy and also supports the district’s student inspired motto: ‘Today’s Scholars, Tomorrow’s Leaders.’”
Really, Mr. Martinez? Why not an assignment then about whether the Moon really is comprised of green cheese, allowing the students to come to their own conclusions? After all, are not the space program, the international space station, and the nature of the universe also part of the current-events discussion? Wouldn’t defending your belief that the Moon is made of green cheese with a lucid argument also be essential to good citizenship? I am sure some college or university would be suitably impressed by a recommendation that said this student made a compelling argument about the Moon being made of green cheese.
That wouldn’t happen because we know the hypothetical construct is not true. Critical thinking is applied to controversial issues where there is no explicit factual resolution.
I am sure we can even find some racists and we could use them, as the current assignment does, for those vital some people and substitute the words, “slavery in America”, for “Holocaust”.
The same assignment would then read, For example, some people claim that slavery in America is not an actual historical event, but instead is a propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain. Based upon your research on this issue, write an argumentative essay, utilizing cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you believe that slavery in America was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain(sic).
I seriously doubt if Martinez would run his fingers over his keyboard to defend any of that idiocy as being part of the assignment worthy of his school district. But Holocaust denial, that is a different story. Why? Because Martinez probably believes the existence of the Holocaust is controversial, and a controversial issue is suitable for that kind of debate
Here are some other topics that also would never make it to the assignment list in the Rialto School District: Is modern-day Islamic culture steeped in obscene violence? Write an essay, using critical thinking skills, defending or rejecting this proposition. Draw on explicit events such as the civil war in Syria, the riots in Cairo, and the recent kidnapping of female school children in Nigeria.
You think that one would get beyond interim superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam’s red pencil or that Sayeda Jafri, the district’s spokesperson, would be standing before the cameras defending it?
After days, of putting up the barricades, the school board backed down, on Monday, May 05, 2014, and discovered that the Holocaust was real and admitted its error.
Coming upon the remains of the Holocaust, General Dwight Eisenhower demanded that the Nazi atrocities be explicitly documented. Eisenhower feared that with the passage of time some “son of a bitch” will deny it.
It seems some of those “sons of bitches” just might govern the Rialto school district. But use your critical thinking skills and make your own decision.