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Your Common Core assignment of the day: Maybe the Holocaust was a ‘propaganda tool’

Your Common Core assignment of the day: Maybe the Holocaust was a 'propaganda tool'

I don’t have kids myself, so I normally leave the heavy-duty Common Core criticism in the capable hands of folks like Michelle Malkin.  But I’ve heard a lot of things about various aspects of the program that fill me with grave misgivings.  I never expected Common Core to have misgivings about Holocaust graves.

As originally reported in the San Bernadino Sun last weekend:

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.”

No one could think of another historical event to use for this exercise, huh?  The district’s teachers leafed through centuries of the human story, across every corner of the globe, and decided Holocaust denial was the best thing to encourage eighth-graders to consider?  Nobody thought that might prove to be just a wee bit controversial?  Did anyone at least find it a bit ironic that such a catastrophic failure of critical thinking would occur while designing a course to encourage critical thinking skills?

On Friday, the Los Angeles-based Anti-Defamation League was critical of the April argumentative writing research project and expressed its concerns to Rialto Unified’s interim superintendent, Mohammad Z. Islam.

“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,” wrote Matthew Friedman, associate regional director of the Los Angeles office of the Anti-Defamation League, in an email on Friday.

“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,” he wrote.

“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 question why people would question the reality of the Holocaust (many motivated not by historical curiosity, but by anti-Semitism). Also, who are the people questioning the Holocaust and what do real historians say? This is more of an issue of teaching good information literacy.”

The project was designed by district teachers and assigned during the eighth grade’s “Diary of Anne Frank” unit, according to district spokeswoman Syeda Jafri.

If you read the diary of Anne Frank and come away from the experience willing to entertain the notion that this whole Holocaust thing might have been a hoax, you didn’t read it very carefully.

The district stuck by its guns for a few days, but on Monday announced that “an academic team was meeting to revise the assignment,” according to KTLA News:

Interim Superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam was set to talk with administrators to “assure that any references to the holocaust ‘not occurring’ will be stricken on any current or future Argumentative Research assignments,” a statement from district spokeswoman Syeda Jafri read.

“The holocaust should be taught in classrooms with sensitivity and profound consideration to the victims who endured the atrocities committed,” Jafri said.

None of the people who originally designed this boneheaded exercise thought it was “insensitive” or lacking in “profound consideration to the victims” until the Anti-Defamation League explained it to them?

KTLA offered a little sample of the research material sensitively recommended to eighth-grade students with profound consideration for the victims of the Holocaust:

The 18-page assignment instructions included three sources that students were told to use, including one that stated gassings in concentration camps were a “hoax” and that no evidence has shown Jews died in gas chambers.

“With all this money at stake for Israel, it is easy to comprehend why this Holocaust hoax is so secretly guarded,” states the source, which is a attributed to a webpage on biblebelievers.org.au. “In whatever way you can, please help shatter this profitable myth. It is time we stop sacrificing America’s welfare for the sake of Israel and spend our hard-earned dollars on Americans.”

The other sources were from the websites history.com and about.com.

In an interview, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, noted a section in the assignment that stated Anne Frank was a fraud.

“Pedagogically, socially, morally — an F,” Cooper said of the assignment.

The district, which includes about 26,000 students, claims it “did not receive complaints about the assignment from parents, teachers, or administrators” concerning the Holocaust assignment, which might be the most disturbing detail in this whole bizarre story.

KTLA reports that the school received death threats by phone from at least one man after the story received wide media attention.  That guy didn’t read “The Diary of Anne Frank” very carefully, either.

Update: I’ve sought to extend a little benefit of the doubt while wrestling with the urge to ask what the hell anyone associated with this travesty was thinking.  David Draiman, vocalist from the band Disturbed, was considerably less restrained.

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