I was once a school teacher. One of my most important goals was to try to instill the ability to think critically within each of my students. I rationalized that if I could teach my students to think critically no amount of indoctrination could every capture their minds. A critical thinker is one who can use their minds to see through the lies and propaganda and uncover the truth for themselves no matter the biases they’re face with.
Some educators in California are trying to rationalize a terrible Common Core related assignment with the logic I just laid out for you.
Here is the writing assignment.
When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence. 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. Remember to address counterclaims (rebuttals) to your stated claim. You are also required to use parenthetical (internal) citations and to provide a Works Cited page.
I’m not sure that first sentence is accurate. Can you think of other tragic events where we debate their actual existence? Does anyone debate if the bubonic plague wiped out millions of people? No. Does anyone debate that Mao’s Great Leap Forward wiped out millions of his own people through famine and violence? No. Does anyone debate the Rwandan genocide? No. Do we debate the eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii? No. How about the Spanish Inquisition? Uh-uh. The Trail of Tears? Nope.
We don’t debate the existence of any of these tragic historical events because of the wealth of evidence that they occurred! The Holocaust is no different. Eleven million people disappeared from the planet during Hitler’s “cleansing” of Europe. Six Million Jews who existed prior to WWII were gone by the end of the war. We have found the mass graves. We’ve seen the ovens and the prison camps. We have a plethora of first hand testimony from all sides that this genocide was occurring!
The only people who debate whether or not the Holocaust actually occurred are virulent anti-Semites with a political axe to grind.
If the Rialto Unified School District truly wanted to get their students thinking critically, then they would use a topic that rational people actually debate. For example: Is man-made Global Warming an existential threat to humanity?
The Districts Superintendent is a man named Mohammad Z. Islam. Coincidentally he is Muslim and the preponderance of Holocaust deniers are also found in the Islamic world. It’s likely a coincidence but one that cannot be ignored.
We agree with the Anti-Defamation League on this one.
On Friday, the Los Angeles-based Anti-Defamation League was critical of the April argumentative writing research project and expressed its concerns to Rialto Unified’s interim superintendent, Mohammad Z. Islam.
“An exercise asking students to question whether the Holocaust happened has no academic value; it only gives legitimacy to the hateful and anti-Semitic promoters of Holocaust denial,” wrote Matthew Friedman, associate regional director of the Los Angeles office of the Anti-Defamation League, in an email on Friday.
“It is also very dangerous to ask junior high school students to question the reality of the Holocaust on their own, given the sheer volume of denial websites out there,” he wrote.
“If these questions do come up, it’s better to show the huge preponderance of evidence that’s out there (testimony, documentation, death camp sites, archaeology, etc.) and to also question why people would question the reality of the Holocaust (many motivated not by historical curiosity, but by anti-Semitism). Also, who are the people questioning the Holocaust and what do real historians say? This is more of an issue of teaching good information literacy.”
This Holocaust denier assignment is not useful in educating our children to be critical thinkers. It was designed with a motive that was full of malice.
A better use of our children’s critical thinking skills would be to ask them to devise a way that humanity could ensure that similar events never happen again. We should be learning to avoid our mistakes when we study these terrible moments in history — not debating if they actually occurred.