Many of Charles’s points below are well-taken, even persuasive in the abstract. But I’m afraid I find the general upshot of his argument more than a little nuts. I will focus on two points, quickly (I have an event I have to get to).
First, upon hearing the news that a public school has decided not to treat Holocaust denial as a legitimate position for 8th graders, Charlie proceeds to celebrate the merits of free inquiry and open debate at Oxford University. I find the comparison thoroughly unhelpful. Junior high school education and debates at Oxford are not interchangeable.
Second, and far more important, the issue of whether the Holocaust happened, is not remotely similar to a debate — at any age or at any institution — to a debate about whether America should be a Communist country. One speaks to facts — facts with enormous moral and historic significance — the other speaks to values. By all means debate values, but schools should teach facts, particularly when denying the facts (in this case the Holocaust) is central to a deeply bigoted and dangerous propaganda effort. Assigning essays on “Does the Declaration of Independence Exist?” or “Did the Vietnam War Happen?” would be equally stupid as assigning essays on “Did the Holocaust Happen?”, but they would be less offensive because at least those questions aren’t in service to a pernicious Big Lie.
Let’s not be Prussians. The purpose of the classroom is to teach people how to think, not to create factory workers and to indoctrinate our children with the values of the State. This is a great opportunity to teach people how to weigh sources, how to judge material evidence, and how to approach issues of great controversy. We wasted it.
Wait. What? It is now Prussian to reject Holocaust denial as part of a junior high school curriculum? Whouda thunk?
Does Charles really mean to say the reality of the Holocaust is now an issue of “great controversy”? Seriously? I thought great controversies were reserved for issues where there are legitimate views and equivocal facts in play on both sides. Does Charles really think that is the case with the Holocaust? If so, please make your case.
Until, then, I think my friend Charles — a brilliant and decent guy — simply hasn’t thought this one through very well. I’m happy to debate that further.