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article imageOp-Ed: Critical thinking skills were behind the Holocaust assignment

By Karen Graham     May 6, 2014 in Politics
George Santayana said, "Those who cannot learn from history are bound to repeat it." This is one reason the Holocaust is often taught in classrooms today, as a lesson on man's inhumanity and the atrocities committed against Europe's Jews.
The Rialto Unified School District in California has learned an important lesson this week, and it has to do with something that took place 60 years ago. That the Holocaust did occur is not questioned because there is historical evidence. The big question for the Rialto school district is whether or not they went too far in attempting to teach students to use their critical thinking skills.
In December, a small group of eighth-grade teachers developed an assignment for the districts 2,000 eighth-grade students. The assignment was a lesson in using critical thinking, one of the Common Core requirements for students. Students were asked to write an "argumentative essay" about the Holocaust, and if it actually occurred or if it was "merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth."
The assignment was given out in April, and required students to use references and cite their sources. To quote from the assignment, these were the instructions:
“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.”
When the essay assignment was brought to the attention of the interim school superintendent, Mohammad Z. Islam, he was "deeply disturbed" and acted quickly, according to district spokeswoman Syeda Jafri, saying “This is a bad mark on our record and we will fix it and move forward." The assignment has been pulled from the curriculum and will be revised.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) says there is no evidence that the assignment asking students in Rialto to consider arguments that the Holocaust never happened was part of a "larger, insidious agenda," and is treating it as a "misguided" attempt to meet Common Core critical thinking standards.
The Holocaust was the state-sponsored persecution and murder of over six-million Jews. The word "holocaust" is of Greek origin, and means "sacrifice by fire." The Nazi's, who came to power in 1933 in Germany, believed the Jewish population was a threat to racial purity, and were also responsible for Germany's economic troubles. Jews were not the only group targeted by the Nazi regime. Gypsies, Slavs, the disabled and mentally ill were also murdered. Members of the communist party, socialists and even some church groups and homosexuals were rounded up and taken to be exterminated.
Bones of anti-Nazi German women still are in the crematoriums in the German concentration camp at We...
Bones of anti-Nazi German women still are in the crematoriums in the German concentration camp at Weimar (Buchenwald), Germany, taken by the 3rd U.S. Army. Prisoners of all nationalities were tortured and killed. 04/14/1945.
Photographer: Pfc. W. Chichersky. (Army)
Now we have come back to the question surrounding the assignment. In teaching our children to use their brains and helping them to develop the skills needed to make the right decisions or come to conclusions that show thoughtful reasoning, how far should we go? One group in this country is against the teaching of "critical thinking" skills. As part of the section on education, the Republican Party of Texas wrote into its 2012 platform the following:
Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.
In other words, there are groups in this country, and around the world, that want to keep our young people ignorant of anything that goes against the common beliefs of the majority. They do not want any challenges to authority or any dissension. They would rather that we raise up a herd of dumb animals, willing to follow others toward oblivion, just like the lemmings, their mass "suicide" often being used as a metaphor referring to people who go along with popular opinion.
At Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell  Tennessee  the students in  Mr. MacIntyre s Social Studies cl...
At Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell, Tennessee, the students in Mr. MacIntyre's Social Studies classes helped create a classroom Holocaust museum. They collected 100,000 paperclips that they linked into chains and suspended from the ceiling after having removed the desks and chairs. Each paper clip represented one person who perished in the Holocaust. They then displayed artifacts related to the Holocaust. Photo taken: 11/12/2013
The use of critical thinking is even used in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The USHMM addresses not only the Holocaust, but the alleged "evidence" perpetrated by Holocaust deniers. From reading their well-written articles on Holocaust deniers, one is given a fuller picture of how some groups in the world today can distort and minimize historical facts to their own use in perpetrating the idea the Holocaust is nothing more than a hoax.
I'm sorry folks, but critical thinking is just as much a part of the learning process as knowing how to add and subtract. As a matter of fact, without the use of critical thinking, we probably wouldn't be able to balance our checkbooks. As the USHMM points out, "In the United States, where the First Amendment to the Constitution ensures freedom of speech, it is not against the law to deny the Holocaust or to propagate Nazi and antisemitic hate speech." It is also our responsibility to make sure our children know that with any event in history, or even at the present time, there will be people that disavow its existence.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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