Maryland officials plan to implement changes to required instruction about the Holocaust after debate in the state legislature over the way genocide is taught and the role of government in mandating curriculum.
State Superintendent Karen B. Salmon said it’s imperative for students to receive more Holocaust education to “ensure it never happens again.”
“We see the changes that we are making as a substantive improvement,” she said in a statement.
Middle school students will be taught about the roots of anti-Semitism, and there will be enhanced Holocaust instruction in high school history classes, the Maryland State Department of Education announced.
Jewish advocacy groups have long been concerned that state curriculum guidelines on Holocaust education are too vague and vary between the 24 school systems. They applauded Salmon’s announcement.
“With this announcement, our state educators are making an emphatic statement about our collective obligation to teach all children about the Holocaust in a consistent and detailed way,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, in a statement.
Leaders believe a strong Holocaust education is necessary to fight the recent spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes. State law enforcement agencies received 398 reports of hate or bias in 2017 — up by more than a third from 2016, a Baltimore Sun investigation revealed. Jews were identified as targets in a fifth of reports.
This summer, Oregon became the 12th state to mandate Holocaust education in its schools. That action revived debate over a bill that failed during the most recent General Assembly session in Annapolis, but would have established a similar requirement.
Sen. Ben Kramer, the Montgomery County Democrat who introduced the bill, said it was necessary at a time when surveys show young people are increasingly unaware of the mass murder of 6 million Jews and millions of other groups by Nazi Germany in the early 1940s.
But state education officials opposed the bill, saying they believe “specific programming decisions continue to be best made by the [Maryland State Department of Education.]”
Codifying into law certain units would “subject many important instructional decisions to the political process,” wrote Justin Hartings, then-president of the Maryland State Board of Education, to the bill sponsors.
Kramer said Friday that the superintendent’s decision is “very much appropriate and overdue,” though he sees it as a way to “preempt” him from reintroducing the legislation. He doesn’t know yet whether he will do so, saying he needs to understand the expanded curriculum further and evaluate how it is implemented.
“If I’m comforted by the changes and believe they will provide the necessary education to our children, then I will leave well enough alone,” he said. “If I have any doubt about that, I will be more inclined to address it legislatively.”