After my husband directed my attention today to a Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Reuven H. Taff entitled “Turning Holocaust Denial into Homework,” I decided to see what else I could find out about this online. I wanted to find a more accessible site that did not require a paid subscription. I found it in another form on the Yahoo site:” California School District Under Fire for Holocaust-Denial Assignment” by Beth Greenfield.
The assignment in question was justified as an attempt to satisfy the Common Core standards on critical thinking by helping students to understand and communicate persuasive arguments. This particular assignment to eighth graders in a Rialto middle school required students to complete an essay on whether or not the Holocaust was an actual historical event or just a political scheme. Among the websites listed as legitimate resources for the assignment was one which denied the holocaust happened.
It seems to me that the people responsible for giving this assignment should have demonstrated more critical thinking skills themselves. The Wall Street Journal suggested a number of other topics that legitimately had two sides about which students could write. Among these were climate change, capital punishment, health care, immigration reform, tax policy, energy sources, and many more. You could probably think of many yourself. So why suggest to students with little background in world history that the holocaust might not have been real?
Rialto district officials, including interim Superintendent Mohammed Islam who issued a press release on the subject, said they were aware of the controversy caused by the assignment. Islam stated, ‘The intent of the writing prompt was to exercise the use of critical thinking skills. There was no offensive intent in the crafting of this assignment. We regret that the prompt was misinterpreted.’
It should be noted that Common Core standards were used as an excuse for giving this assignment. I would like to think teachers and curriculum writers would think critically about possible consequences of assignments, and which topics are most likely to be most important to the daily lives of American citizens as they become part of the voting public. Or maybe school officials would rather students didn’t think critically about such issues, since they might come to different conclusions than their teachers.
Barb’s People Builders sells many materials that help teach critical thinking skills to elementary and middle school students. Television ads, news opinion pieces, and political speeches also offer older students material to analyze critically. Teachers should equip students with critical thinking skills so they can methodically examine what they hear and read to differentiate facts from spin and propaganda. They should also help students acquire the research skills to find the truth mixed with all the falsehoods they hear and see every day.
Your take on this?