We're a hawk on the issues.

What? California Schoolkids Asked to Write Essay Debating if Jews Made Up Holocaust to Exploit Emotions, Seek Gain

A California school district that initially defended its decision to ask middle schoolers to debate if the Holocaust was real or “merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain,” has since backed down.

The Rialto Unified School District first claimed that the Holocaust-based  assignment was intended to engage 8th graders critical thinking skills using historical events discussed in class, not to fuel a Holocaust denial debate.

“One of the most important responsibilities for educators is to develop critical thinking skills in students,” School board member Martinez wrote in an email defending the question. “This will allow a person to come to their own conclusion. Current events are part of the basis for measuring IQ.”

The Anti-Defamation League, though, disagreed that the topic is appropriate to be debated in a middle school or junior high classroom and encouraged the school district to reconsider how it engages students in a discussion of the murder of millions of Jews and others during World War II.

“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,” Matthew Friedman, associate regional director of the Los Angeles office of the Anti-Defamation League, said in an e-mail encouraging the school district to drop the essay prompt.

“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,” Friedman added, pointing out that the research assignment would actually direct students to those denial sites.

Norma Torres, who represents Rialto in the California legislature agreed that the assignment must be revised.

“Giving school children an assignment that asks them to question whether the holocaust occurred is inappropriate,” she stressed. “These actions are insensitive to the millions who lost loved ones and to the many people around the world who have no tolerance for discrimination and genocide. I urge the Rialto Unified School District to use better judgment in the future and to take immediate action to put an end to this controversy and the damage it is causing to the district’s reputation.”

The school district, who maintains they received no parent complaints about the assignment, has since backed down and retracted the Holocaust question.

“This was a mistake. It should be corrected. It will be corrected,” a spokesperson for the Rialto school district, Syeda Jafri, said on Monday. “We all know it was real. The Holocaust is not a hoax. … I believe our classroom teachers are teaching it with sensitivity and compassion.”

Photo Credit: San Bernardino Sun

About the author

Tamar is a New York based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in over 15 publications. You can catch her work regularly on Issue Hawk, Latest, Jspace, and MediaGlobal.