Alot of people apparently thought it was a good idea. Five teachers in the Rialto Unified School District developed the program, which was intended to improve the critical thinking skills of eighth-graders. And administrators signed off on it.
The assignment? To debate whether
The school district has finally apologized — appropriately — and is dispatching all students and their teachers to the Museum of Tolerance's new
But that hasn't ended the controversy. This month, Charles C.W. Cooke argued in the National Review that canceling the assignment was a "damn shame." It was a symptom, he said, of narrow-minded political correctness, and he said that an opportunity had been missed to allow teens to develop the argumentative skills of
What's wrong with that thinking? Plenty.
For one thing, it plays directly into what the
Those Nazis were proved wrong, in large measure because of a mountain of documentary evidence of the destruction of Europe's Jews amassed by the perpetrators themselves. Historians every day add to what we know about the Shoah by working to uncover previously unknown facts. They debate the mechanics of the Nazi genocidal machine, the motivation of the perpetrators and the reaction of the bystanders.
But historians would no more debate whether the Holocaust happened than they would whether Nazi Germany unleashed the blitzkrieg on Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. These events are facts.
Of course, eighth-graders should be taught about the Holocaust in the context of
They may also come across bigots who argue in Internet forums that black people exploited on Southern plantations were "contented slaves." We must teach young people how to search for truth in history. But we can't make classrooms into platforms for legitimizing pseudo-history and teaching hate.
Recent studies have found that debating topics — such as whether
What was at stake in Rialto was not just the truth of history. We do our children a terrible disservice when we fail to teach them basic norms to distinguish good from evil. There are important lessons students can learn, say, from the diary of Anne Frank. But raising spurious questions about its veracity not only doesn't serve scholarship; it also deprives students of the kinds of life lessons that will help them navigate the world with courage to speak out for what's right when confronted by hate.
Soon, nearly 2,000 teens from the Rialto School District will visit the Museum of Tolerance to meet and hear from Holocaust survivors. They will be encouraged to ask them questions and engage in a dialogue. Not one of them is likely to leave that day thinking the Holocaust didn't happen. One day soon however, there won't be any survivors left to share their real-life experiences. That's when the ultimate challenge to truth will begin. Heaven help us all if we fail to provide young people with skills to recognize the difference between hate and history.