The Corner

Teach Holocaust Denial and be Proud of It

Per the Associated Press:

After heavy opposition to an eighth grade essay assignment, a spokeswoman for a California school district says students will not be asked to argue that the Holocaust didn’t happen.

Syeda Jafri (zy-EE’-dah JAF’-ree) tells the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin ( http://bit.ly/1nZnl2r ) that the superintendent of the Rialto Unified School District will make sure all references to the Holocaust not occurring will be stricken from any current or future assignment.

The Daily Bulletin wrote about the assignment on Friday, causing a firestorm of opposition from parents and groups like the Anti-Defamation League.

The original assignment was to do some research, and citing sources, write an essay on whether the Holocaust actually occurred or not.

This is a damn shame. There really is no better way of teaching critical thinking, of ensuring a healthy respect for a broad culture of free speech, and of instilling a lifelong love of academic honesty than making people go through the motions — and from a young age, too. So many of our discussions nowadays are conducted between narrow and sternly policed rails, any movement outside of which is instantly punished with accusations of bigotry or insinuations of malice — or, increasingly, with excommunication from the public square. Why should children believe that the prevailing account of Holocaust is true? Should they believe it because the dominant culture tells them that it is true, or should they believe it because the historical record in this area can speak for itself? Clearly, it is the latter. Why insulate the young from themselves?

I would ask the same question here as I used to ask at Oxford when an invitation to someone downright unpleasant provoked protests. What exactly do we think is going to happen if we invite into our classrooms people and ideas that we dislike? Are we really so insecure in our norms that we cannot open them to exploration? Are we so down on our fellow citizens that we think they will start goose stepping if they hear from someone ugly? The whole point in listening to the marginalized and in setting up questions with extreme premises is that doing so exposes which of the popular counter-arguments are weak and which are strong, and, crucially, that it allows contributors to arrive at the truth by virtue of their own effort. Great debate topics start from the other side of the status quo: “The United States should be a communist country”; “The eugenicists had a point”; “Sharia law would be good for the West”; “War is always wrong”; “9/11 was an inside job.” Why would we exclude one of the most significant events of the twentieth century from the rule?

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.

Shame.

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