An assignment for eighth-graders in the Rialto Unified School District asking them to use critical thinking skills to determine whether or not the Holocaust occurred has been revised following condemnation by the local branch of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance.
After learning about the assignment last week, the ADL reached out to the school district, located west of San Bernardino. In an email to the district, Matthew Friedman, associate regional director for the ADL, said, “It is ADL’s general position that 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.”
Friedman, a Holocaust education specialist for the ADL region, explains that it is extremely dangerous to ask junior high school students to question the validity of the Holocaust on their own, especially given the mass amount of misinformation and inaccuracy on denial websites.
“If these questions do come up, it’s better to show the huge preponderance of evidence that’s out there — testimony, documentation, death camp sites, archaeology, etc. — and to also critically examine the motivations of people who question the reality of the Holocaust. This is more of an issue of teaching good information literacy,” Friedman’s stated.
The district responded within a couple of days to indicate that it was revising the assignment “with sensitivity and deep consideration to those who fell victim to the Holocaust,” according to the ADL.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center, called the assignment “grotesque.”
"If the teacher involved wanted to help his or her student understand the nature of hate propaganda, they should have assigned them to research the sources of the bigotry — totalitarian governments like Iran, neo-Nazi groups and bigoted pseudo-intellectuals,” he said in a statement.
"The Nazi Holocaust is the most documented monstrous crime in history. This assignment mistakenly provides moral equivalency between history and bigotry. There are people who claim that slavery was a good thing and the Flat Earth Society has a presence online. Does that mean we would ask our students to prepare argumentative essays to such outrageous and patently falsehoods," Cooper said.
"We urge the Rialto School District to come to the Museum of Tolerance, learn about Anne Frank and the 1.5 million other Jewish children who were murdered during the Nazi Holocaust for the crime of being born Jewish."
The ADL does not have evidence that the assignment was instructed as part of a larger, insidious, agenda, according to its officials, who thanked the district for its swift response to this matter and offered further educational assistance including teacher training in the ADL’s Holocaust Education curriculum, Echoes and Reflections – Leaders in Holocaust Education, in partnership with the USC Shoah Foundation and Yad Vashem.