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Keep politicians out of holocaust curriculum

Baltimore Jewish Council offers a Yom HaShoah 2018 Holocaust Commemorations. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)

States around the country are adopting mandates that would require all schools to teach about the atrocities of the Holocaust, the wholesale killing by Nazi Germany of 6 million Jewish men, women and children during World War II. We don’t think Maryland should be one of them.

Let’s be clear: It is not the teachings of the Holocaust that we are against. No doubt, schools should be teaching about the atrocity. With the state of race relations in this country and the growing number of hate crimes and xenophobic sentiments, we need to make sure people understand the dangers and consequences of hate. The Holocaust is a good, albeit tragic, reminder. We have to be sure that as time further removes us from incidents like this, that history is not forgotten.

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Already 22% of millennials in a poll conducted last year by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany said they were not sure whether they had heard of the Holocaust. The same poll found that 41 percent of all those surveyed, and 66% of millennials, did not know that Auschwitz was the largest concentration camp at the time. In Howard County, the four Glenelg High School students who spray painted swastikas and other hate graffiti across their campus, in what they said in court was meant to be a prank, clearly didn’t understand the significance of the symbol if they’re to be believed. The Holocaust is not something to joke around about.

A more recent study by the conference found that people don’t know basic facts about the Holocaust and schools should play a role in better educating people. The finding also determined that a significant majority of American adults believe that fewer people care about the Holocaust today than used to, and more than half of Americans believe that the Holocaust could happen again.

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We agree the best way to keep the Holocaust relative is through education, but don’t think politicians should be throwing around mandates to make that happen. We appreciate the efforts of Sen. Ben Kramer, a Montgomery County Democrat, who introduced such legislation last year in an effort to better inform people about the Holocaust. However, decisions like this should be left up to educators and historians and not politicians. Or else, we might wind up down the dangerous path of too many politicos attempting to mandate their personal causes.

The Maryland State Board of Education opposed Mr. Kramer’s bill. In a letter to legislators, the group called the Holocaust a “watershed moment” and said that every student in Maryland should learn about it to understand “the roots and ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping, the consequences of ethnic and religious hatred, and the dangers of the failure to act in the face of such threats.” Just let the school board decide how that is done.

We might be more open to supporting a mandate if schools weren’t already teaching about the Holocaust. If they were falling down on the job we might be more inclined to tell lawmakers to hold them accountable. So far, we haven’t been able to identify any schools that aren’t teaching about the Holocaust in some way. That of course doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. Reporting by Sun reporter Talia Richman found that students are indeed learning about the Holocaust in schools, but to varying degrees in social studies or history classes. They also learn about it around lessons about World War II.

This is a good start, but perhaps there needs to be a more comprehensive curriculum. One that includes connecting the Holocaust to current events.

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Mr. Kramer said he plans to try to appeal to legislators again during the next Maryland General Assembly. We don’t think that is the best idea. Pushing the matter through the General Assembly will be hard, given that historically state lawmakers have tended to leave curriculum decisions in the hands of the board of education. Sen. Kramer’s legislation didn’t even make it to a committee vote last session. We are not sure it will do much better a second time.

We have a better suggestion: Take the matter to the state school board and have them work up Holocaust curriculum guidelines and encourage school districts to adopt them. Hold hearings that give proponents a chance to speak out.

Given the increase in anti-Semitic and other hate crimes at schools, the board out to be inclined to seriously consider the idea.

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