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Rialto school’s horrible “debate” over whether Holocaust happened

by Brad A. Greenberg

May 11, 2014 | 1:40 pm

Oh, Rialto.

The working-class city where I started my journalism career sits smack in the middle of the Inland Empire, forever wishing it could be Fontana (which of course wants to be Rancho Cucamonga, which wants to be Chino Hills, which pretends it's Orange County). I lived in Rialto for my first three months at The San Bernardino Sun, and it was exactly the kind of place where a young—and naive—reporter would want to start. Always bristling with news, often related to questionable municipal government actions.

I spent a lot of time writing about alleged corruption in the police department; there was that former Beverly Hills mayor whose doghouse was discovered when the garage freezer failed and a decomposed Great Dane leaked onto the driveway; and let's not forget when Calvary Chapel terminated a pastor's employment—and health insurance—three months after he fell ill on a mission trip.

But I never saw anything like the news to come out of Rialto this week. A successor at The Sun, Beau Yarbrough, reported:

The Rialto Unified School District is defending an eighth-grade assignment that asks students to debate in writing whether the Holocaust was “merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain.”

The district says the assignment is merely to teach students to evaluate the quality of evidence made by advocates or opponents of an issue.

“When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence,” the assignment reads. “For example, some people claim the Holocaust is not an actual historical event, but instead is a propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain. Based upon your research on this issue, write an argumentative essay, utilizing cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you believe the Holocaust was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain. Remember to address counterclaims (rebuttals) to your stated claim. You are also required to use parenthetical (internal) citations and to provide a Works Cited page.”

This is, to say the least, stunning. Absolutely stunning. (If, like me, you find this hard to believe, here's an image of the assignment.) The dream of Holocaust deniers everywhere is to start a debate over whether the Holocaust really happened the way history says it did. And the Rialto school district teed it up for them.

How would one even do research for arguing the negative? I suspect it would require spending a lot of time on the websites of anti-Semitic (and often white supremacist) propagandists.

Fortunately, the school district backed away from the assignment and apologized after Jewish human rights organizations, namely the ADL and Simon Wiesenthal Center, got involved. It may also have had to do with the alleged death threat against interim superintendant Mohammad Z. Islam.

Still, it's difficult to imagine how it even got to that point. It may have had something to do with the fact there are very few Jews in San Bernardino County, and likely none of them live in Rialto. But I wouldn't think you need a Jewish parent or teacher or school board member to tell the district this was a horrible idea.

Regardless, I suspect Rialto schools will soon be planning some field trips to the Wiesenthal Center.

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