California's Rialto School District, north of San Bernardino, has announced that they're officially striking an assignment from the 8th grade curriculum that asked students to argue "whether or not you believe this was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth." 0____0
An 18-page packet accompanying the assignment included content taken directly from crazybrains conspiracy theory Holocaust denial websites, as well as the venerable bastion of scholarly research known as About.com. The provided source material stated that concentration camps were a "hoax," Anne Frank was a fraud, no Jewish people died in gas chambers, and "With all this money at stake for Israel, it is easy to comprehend why this Holocaust hoax is so secretly guarded."
Interim District Superintendent Mohammed Z. Islam (slight PR disaster of a name, in this context) roundly condemned the assignment, and plans to meet with teachers and curriculum coordinators to explain to them that HOLOCAUST REAL. HOLOCAUST BAD.
In a statement released Monday, a spokeswoman for the Rialto Unified School District said an academic team was meeting to revise the assignment.
Interim Superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam was set to talk with administrators to "assure that any references to the holocaust 'not occurring' will be stricken on any current or future Argumentative Research assignments," a statement from district spokeswoman Syeda Jafri read.
"The holocaust should be taught in classrooms with sensitivity and profound consideration to the victims who endured the atrocities committed," Jafri said.
Here's a good rule: Don't use marginalized human beings as fodder for your cute little thought experiments. The only reason this assignment even made it into the curriculum, I'd wager, is that the entirety of San Bernardino County has only about 3,000 Jewish residents (as of 2000). That's 0.2% of the population. The Rialto School District alone has about 30,000 students. Nobody batted an eye when this assignment was first implemented—the district spokesperson said that they "did not receive complaints about the assignment from parents, teachers or administrators"—perhaps because it's possible that many students have not even met a Jewish person before. That's an environment that warrants more care, more aggressive dismantling of ignorance, more strident denunciations of anti-Semitism, not less.
The district seems to be avoiding pointing a finger at any individual teacher—instead, they say, the assignment was designed by "some teachers" to fulfill Common CORE standards (a convenient bogeyman) and "was meant to engage students in 'critical thinking.'" Which, if I'm being generous, I GUESS means that they assumed "Is the Holocaust a hoax?" is such a ridiculous question that the students would unanimously denounce the reading materials given to them by their trusted educators and write the greatest collection of yes-the-Holocaust-happened essays the world has e'er seen.
Except, you know what? We don't need a sheaf of rousing essays written by children arguing that the Holocaust happened, BECAUSE THE HOLOCAUST FUCKING HAPPENED. We've covered this. There are still people alive who lived through it. We don't need 8th-graders to engage with this question any more than we need them to "debate" whether dust particles are an aggregate of pollen, soil, human skin cells, pet dander, textile fibers, and hair, or whether they're actually BILLIONS OF TINY ANGELS THAT CRAWL IN YOUR NOSE WHILE YOU SLEEP AND KISS YOUR BRAIN. It's been handled already, ding-dongs.
More importantly, students don't just intrinsically know which sources are reputable and which are hot garbage, because that's a thing that teachers are supposed to teach them. And holding up "Was the Holocaust a hoax? Y/N/IDK" as a worthwhile debate—even if the deniers get vigorously trounced—only legitimizes that bullshit paranoid argument. Not every viewpoint deserves to be heard. You don't have to include virulent homophobes when you talk about gay marriage, you don't have to let Donald Sterling weigh in about Affirmative Action, and you don't have to teach high school kids to approach bigotry with an open mind. In fact, it is your express responsibility, as an educator, to do the opposite.