School assignment debating Holocaust

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GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4111
School assignment debating Holocaust

Do you think this school assignment is ok? Why/Why not?

The Rialto Unified School District is defending an eighth-grade assignment that asks students to debate in writing whether the Holocaust was ?merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain.?
The district says the assignment is merely to teach students to evaluate the quality of evidence made by advocates or opponents of an issue.
?When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence,? the assignment reads. ?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.?

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.?

The project was designed by district teachers and assigned during the eighth grade?s ?Diary of Anne Frank? unit, according to district spokeswoman Syeda Jafri.
The Common Core state standards, which have been adopted by most states and the District of Columbia, emphasize critical thinking in students, which is what the assignment is intended to teach, according to school board member Joe Martinez.
?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.??

Rialto Unified has received no complaints regarding the assignment, according to Jafri.
?There is no doubt the Holocaust was one of the most horrific, traumatic time-pieces in our history,? she wrote in an emailed response Friday afternoon. ?We want our students to engage in developing critical thinking skills and have an in-depth perspective on the importance of the Holocaust. Although I received one email last week in reference to this subject, the district has not received any concerns about this writing prompt from any teachers, administrators or parents. However, due to its sensitive nature, we are always open to go back and examine the prompt.?

Historians estimate 6 million Jews ? about two of every three in Europe ? were killed by the **** regime between 1933 and 1945, after they were imprisoned along with other ?undesirables,? including Communists, homosexuals, Jehovah?s Witnesses, Roma (Gypsies), Socialists and others. The Jews were killed as part of the **** Party?s ?Final Solution? ? their euphemism for the genocide of the Jewish people.
The century-old Anti-Defamation League was founded ?to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all,? according to its website.

The ADL offers its own Holocaust resource for educators, Echoes and Reflections, which Friedman said is better than turning middle school students loose on the Internet. (He will be training Southern California educators on the program on Wednesday in Rancho Mirage.)

EXCLUSIVE: Rialto Unified defends writing assignment on confirming or denying Holocaust

Joined: 03/08/03
Posts: 3183

Ugh. I think it's not appropriate.

Would it be appropriate to suggest the same debate about the planes of 9/11?

It reeks of anti-Semitism to me. Why not pick something that's actually in dispute as an exercise in critical thinking?

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4111

I don't think I would want an eighth grader having to do a research assignment of looking at anti-Semitic web pages to see what they are saying. That is really the only place they would be able to go to get the other side of the debate because no legitimate group would have any information on something that is clearly delusional.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6560

Hmm. I will have to think about this. In college I was given an assignment where there was a list of topics that you could choose from to cover. I choose the KKK thinking it was an extinct event of the past. Having recently moved to TN from NY I was quite surprised to find out how wrong I was. It did not hurt me at all to learn the truth and not something glossed over. At the same time, I was in college and not 8th grade. I am going to say it would depend on the maturity of the individual 8th grader. If a student was given the option to do any argumentative essay and the student chose to do weather or not the Holocaust was real I think it would be ok as long as the parents approved. Just blanketly assigning it though for 8th grade without any regard to the maturity of the individual student or any personal family history that would make that subject harder, I don't know.

Overall, I do not think it is good to hide from history. There are some people out there who really don't believe in the Holicost (How, I do not know), but as an adult I do not think it is bad to dig into it and see why it is that I believe it really happened. Is it just because someone told me, or is there real proof out there that it did happen? Those are not bad things to examine. 8th grade may be too young though and I do not think it should be mandatory.

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4111

I don't think this assignment is the same thing as researching the KKK. The KKK is a real group. It would be more like giving an assignment asking students to research whether slavery actually existed in the United States or if it was merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain. I don't believe that there would be no objections to an assignment like that. This assignment was about a researching a wild conspiracy theory that the holocaust never happened and I agree with some of the statements in the article that it gives some of these anti-semitic groups legitimacy.

mom3girls's picture
Joined: 01/09/07
Posts: 1533

Where were these students supposed to find "evidence" that it was not an actual event. When my DD's school assigns papers like this they really make sure that the available information is presented in a format that is appropriate for 8th grade students. I cannot even imagine what kind of "sources" would have information for the political propaganda side. Very anti-semantic

ftmom's picture
Joined: 09/04/06
Posts: 1538

I actually like this project as a whole class project. I think if the research is done as a class, evaluating each resource as it is found it could be a really good 'internet' critical thinking project. The teacher could lead the kids through each website they find info on and they could look for the things that make it a 'legit' website. 'Is it sponsored, who wrote it, etc.'

I think that unless an 8th grader has had a number of projects doing this already, I dont see the value of this project. You dont 'teach' critical thinking by assigning a project. You evaluate what you have already taught a child with a project, and this is way too touchy a subject to risk a child 'failing' IMO.

Joined: 03/08/03
Posts: 3183

I agree with every single point Gloria has made. (When has that happened before?) I don't think getting kids to explore delusional anti-Semites is a particularly effective way to study critical thinking, and it lends legitimacy to the lunatics who believe the Holocaust didn't happen. Not a good classroom activity and I can think of a dozen ways just off the top of my head to teach the concept in a more challenging and effective way.

Joined: 08/17/04
Posts: 2226

I don't like it at all. I agree that it smells of anti-Semitism big time.

I would not expect this assignment for my 8th grader or even my high schooler. I think I would even be shocked if I heard it at the college level but I could potentially see this being done appropriately at that point.

I feel like the arguments presented that the Holocaust didn't really happen are from such a small fringe group that the level of information to "support" the argument that it didn't happen are unreliable.

ftmom's picture
Joined: 09/04/06
Posts: 1538

I cant believe I am quasi defending this, cause I dont really think this is the best assignment, however, I suspect the reason it was picked was for many of the arguments you all have against it. It seems so obvious, of course the holocaust happened. Any rational adult knows that and will automatically go to that side of the debate. Added to that, there is no 'real' evidence that it didn't happen, so any source you look at that says it did is going to be unreliable and you should be able to find some proof of that, or loophole in the argument.

HOWEVER, these are not rational adults that are given the assignment. These are children whose reasoning skills are not fully developed. Many of them are just learning about the holocaust and the risk of them falling down an anti-Semitic rabbit hole while trying to evaluate the information on their own is just to great in my opinion.

When I say I could see it as a class activity, I see it more along the lines of: Kids learning about holocaust, a student brings up that some people dont think it really happened, teacher uses this as a teachable moment, tells kids to each come back to class with a source either for or against next day, check out sources as a class (on smart board), evaluating the information found on them, discussing how we know they are or arent reliable. This is how I would want something like this dealt with in my kids class, rather than the teacher just shutting down the idea with no discussion, as I think that causes kids to seek answers on their own, however I dont think it is really a topic the teacher should be bringing up.

Joined: 03/08/03
Posts: 3183

But that's not how to teach critical thinking. Why not give them a LEGITIMATE argument to discuss vs. exposing them to a bunch of racist fringe lunatics? Why give any credibility to the idea that the Holocaust didn't happen? Why would you even introduce that? It's actually not important, not significant to history, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to discredit it.

There are SO many historical issues that provide real debate, that require actual critical thinking, vs. exposing kids to a bunch of racist opinions.

You could use it to study anti-Semitism, but not critical thinking. Let the critical thinking be applied somewhere where both sides have good arguments.

ftmom's picture
Joined: 09/04/06
Posts: 1538

As I said, I dont think it should be introduced by the teacher, but I dont think it should be brushed aside either because if they arent convinced some children at this age will try to find out the facts for themselves. And this is how we teach critical thinking. You start with what is easy to discredit, and lead up to things that are actually debatable. Just like in any subject, start easy and then get harder.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6560

As an aside, I do think it is important when teaching about the holocaust to explain that there are people who do not believe it really happened and to go over what evidence there is and why we know that it actually happened. Not a "Believe this because I said so", but a "This is what happened and this is how we know it happened".

Joined: 08/17/04
Posts: 2226

"AlyssaEimers" wrote:

As an aside, I do think it is important when teaching about the holocaust to explain that there are people who do not believe it really happened and to go over what evidence there is and why we know that it actually happened. Not a "Believe this because I said so", but a "This is what happened and this is how we know it happened".

I disagree. Unless a student is bringing it up I would never introduce this "theory" to a classroom. There's not enough to support that introduction.

Joined: 03/08/03
Posts: 3183

"ftmom" wrote:

As I said, I dont think it should be introduced by the teacher, but I dont think it should be brushed aside either because if they arent convinced some children at this age will try to find out the facts for themselves. And this is how we teach critical thinking. You start with what is easy to discredit, and lead up to things that are actually debatable. Just like in any subject, start easy and then get harder.

I'm so confused. Why wouldn't the kids be convinced? Why does this lunatic idea that has no basis in fact and no sane believers get discussed at all?

Is every documented historical event taught in a way to cover the nutballs who say it never happened?

Honestly I am baffled by the idea that this is worth investigating. If a handful of racists get together to say that slavery is a myth, should we start covering that in class?

ftmom's picture
Joined: 09/04/06
Posts: 1538

"freddieflounder101" wrote:

I'm so confused. Why wouldn't the kids be convinced? Why does this lunatic idea that has no basis in fact and no sane believers get discussed at all?

Is every documented historical event taught in a way to cover the nutballs who say it never happened?

Honestly I am baffled by the idea that this is worth investigating. If a handful of racists get together to say that slavery is a myth, should we start covering that in class?

If it is brought up by the students in the class, then yes, I think it should be explored. Children at this age are fully capable of directing there own learning, but their critical thinking skills are not all there yet, so IF IT IS BROUGHT UP, I would rather a teacher use it as a teachable moment, then leave my child to search the internet on her own looking for this information. Help the children to see that it is racist, that there is no factual argument that holds up on this, and in the process give them some skills to use on other topics when they need to evaluate a source.

I dont know about you in grade 8, but that is an age where kids are becoming teenagers and pulling away from the authority of their parents and other adults. They dont buy the 'because I said so' argument. YOU are an adult. YOU know this is a lunatic idea with no basis in fact or sane believers, but to most children the holocaust is just a story they have been told, even my generation has very few real ties to that time anymore. The argument that it didnt really happen is intriguing when seen from that angle, and I dont want my kid to be 'intrigued' and go searching for more information on their own. Some of the websites that they will come across 'look' legit, at first blush, and that worries me.

Joined: 03/08/03
Posts: 3183

"ftmom" wrote:

If it is brought up by the students in the class, then yes, I think it should be explored. Children at this age are fully capable of directing there own learning, but their critical thinking skills are not all there yet, so IF IT IS BROUGHT UP, I would rather a teacher use it as a teachable moment, then leave my child to search the internet on her own looking for this information. Help the children to see that it is racist, that there is no factual argument that holds up on this, and in the process give them some skills to use on other topics when they need to evaluate a source.

I dont know about you in grade 8, but that is an age where kids are becoming teenagers and pulling away from the authority of their parents and other adults. They dont buy the 'because I said so' argument. YOU are an adult. YOU know this is a lunatic idea with no basis in fact or sane believers, but to most children the holocaust is just a story they have been told, even my generation has very few real ties to that time anymore. The argument that it didnt really happen is intriguing when seen from that angle, and I dont want my kid to be 'intrigued' and go searching for more information on their own. Some of the websites that they will come across 'look' legit, at first blush, and that worries me.

My issue is with the school bringing it up, not with the kids asking about it. If the kids ask I am all for having a discussion.

I just don't think the idea that it didn't happen is that prevalent. Am I wrong? I've never actually met any human being of any age who has challenged it one bit. I've met people who think George Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks, but not a one ever who thought the Holocaust didn't happen.

Anyway my argument is about the school raising the issue, not the kids.

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6560
Joined: 03/08/03
Posts: 3183

Well certainly whoever proposed this assignment (at the school) is anti-Semitic.

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