The mystifying mess that American education has become reached another new low last week.
A top leader of the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, Texas, advised teachers that if they have a book on the Holocaust in their classrooms, they need to provide students with access to a book from “opposing” perspectives.
Audio obtained by NBC News reportedly shows Gina Peddy, the school district’s head of curriculum and instruction, making that comment and putting the blame on a new Texas law. She was supposedly training teachers on how to address new requirements in the state’s House Bill 3979. It calls for teachers to present different perspectives when discussing “widely debated and currently controversial issues.”
How the Holocaust is "widely debated" or "currently controversial" is beyond me.
On the recording, Peddy says: “Make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”
An immediate uproar followed the publication of Peddy’s comments and the school district's initial explanation was nothing short of pathetic. A spokeswoman said administrators were just trying to help teachers comply with that new state law because it “requires teachers to provide balanced perspectives not just during classroom instruction, but in the books that are available to students in class during free time.”
Realizing that wasn’t going to cut it, the district superintendent quickly apologized. In a statement, Lane Ledbetter said: “The comments made were in no way to convey that the Holocaust was anything less than a terrible event in history. As we continue to work through implementation of 3979, we also understand this bill does not require an opposing viewpoint on historical facts.”
Then why did she say it?
How Did Critical Race Theory Come into Play?
Texas HB3979 also prohibits schools from teaching lessons that might make students feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” because of their race.
Meant to ban the teaching of “critical race theory,” the bill has left Texas teachers uncertain over what’s acceptable and what’s not.
The district in Southlake, outside Fort Worth, was already in the middle of a controversy after the school board reprimanded a fourth-grade teacher who’d kept a copy of “This Book Is Anti-Racist.” A parent had complained it violated her family’s morals and faith.
CRT, which has recently gained adherents and become a big boogeyman for the right, has also led to massive confusion and laws banning its teaching in at least eight states. Another 20 or so are moving toward restrictions on CRT.
The left is blaming the Texas law for the administrator’s ridiculous comment about the Holocaust. Texas GOP lawmakers say that’s absurd and that the law was seriously misinterpreted.
This piece is meant to focus on ignorance of the Holocaust and will not delve into the intricacies of CRT or how both the left and right have distorted what it is.
However, liberals are right in highlighting that failing to teach our kids about racism and its role in American history does students and the country a disservice.
On the other hand, conservatives are right in complaining that teaching in the name of CRT has been taken to absurd, divisive, and destructive extremes.
Is Ignorance of the Holocaust a Problem Beyond Texas Schools?
Unfortunately, ignorance of the Holocaust and outrageous comments about one of humanity’s worst genocides are growing problems across the country.
In 2019. the principal of a large public high school in Boca Raton, Florida, was removed from his position after he responded to a parent by saying “not everybody believes the Holocaust happened,” and that “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee” who needs to stay “politically neutral.”
His Holocaust denial was especially outrageous in South Florida, which may have the greatest concentration of Holocaust survivors anywhere in the world. It’s almost certain that within a couple of miles of the Boca school you could still find a concentration camp survivor who was branded like an animal by the Nazis and who could bear witness to the genocide.
The vanishing legacy of the Holocaust is a major issue beyond schools. A 2020 survey by a Jewish organization, the Claims Conference, found that American Millennials and Gen Z know little about the Holocaust.
Incredibly, 56% of them were unable to identify Auschwitz-Birkenau and 63% of them did not know 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
One of the most disturbing findings was that 11% believed Jews were responsible, at least in part, for causing the Nazi genocide. That number jumped to 19% in New York State. Yes, you read that right. In New York.
Holocaust ignorance, if not outright denial, has gotten so bad that West Virginia has had to implement Holocaust training for its corrections staff after correction officer cadets were photographed giving a Nazi salute. They were saluting a professor who encouraged the gesture. She said she was unaware of the racial and historical implications. Amazingly, she taught cultural diversity. Dozens of people were fired.
How Can This Be Happening?
Many factors are contributing to the jaw-dropping stupidity. One is the worsening ignorance epidemic, confirmed again just last week by new data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. For the first time in its history, math and reading test scores for the nation’s 13-year-old students fell between 2012 and 2020. And that was before COVID and remote learning.
Political correctness and the misinterpretation of political neutrality also play a role. So does misguided “bothsidesism.”
None of those should be in play when it comes to the Holocaust.
Political correctness does not demand that we respect the thoughts of Holocaust deniers.
Bothsidesism does not call for ignoring historical facts just because, as the Boca principal said, the lessons of the Holocaust cannot be “forced upon individuals, as we all have the same rights but not all the same beliefs.”
I’m sorry, but educators can’t pick and choose what they consider to be factual and what is a “belief” that’s subject to philosophical argument. Historical reality isn’t a matter of belief.
Did slavery exist in the United States? We wouldn’t want to offend the descendants of Southern plantation owners. Were thousands of Japanese Americans sent to internment camps? We wouldn’t want to offend the people who made the decision or the guards who confined them. Was Ronald Reagan president of the United States? We wouldn’t want to offend liberals who opposed him.
Sarcasm aside, either it happened or it didn’t. But this is what we’ve come to, a total inability to agree on what facts are and accept them as such.
It’s bad enough that political divisions have led to both sides in American politics refusing to acknowledge facts that don’t support their positions. But denying the Holocaust as just a “belief”? Calling for students to have access to “opposing” perspectives to the Holocaust?
What do these “educators” think happened to 6 million Jews and the millions of other civilians murdered by the Nazis?
Is the gas chamber at Auschwitz not enough? The pictures and videos of piles of corpses and emaciated survivors of the death camps? How about the records of the Nazis themselves that were presented at the Nuremberg trials, including Nazi photographs and films? Are we questioning the words of the members of the Greatest Generation who liberated the camps? Are the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem major institutions dedicated to perpetuating a hoax? Please.
Facts matter. It is a horrible stain on the world that many shut their ears to the cries for help emanating from Germany that began in the 1930s, refusing to accept that Hitler was committing mass murder.
Is Anything Being Done?
Not nearly enough.
I was shocked to find out that teaching about the Holocaust is not mandatory in most states. According to the Holocaust Museum, only 18 states require Holocaust education as part of their secondary school curricula. Two others have mandates that take effect over the next 15 months. Three more states encourage Holocaust education.
There is no middle ground here, no opposing perspectives or political neutrality.
The historical evidence is indisputable.
American schools must teach children about the Holocaust, no ifs, ands or buts.
We must never forget.
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Cover photo: A group of child survivors behind a barbed wire fence at the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in southern Poland, on the day of the camp’s liberation by the Red Army, 27th January 1945. Photo taken by Red Army photographer Captain Alexander Vorontsov. (Alexander Vorontsov/Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)