Via The San Bernardino Sun:
RIALTO >> 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 Nazi 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 Nazi 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.)