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Watching this battle transpire is both enlightening and pathetic. One of the most tragic occurrences in modern history has become the focus of groups who have decided their particular agenda for teaching in Florida about the Holocaust is the only one that counts. After researching the subject, I am sickened by the tug-of-war that is taking place and wonder how the Florida Department of Education will resolve this fight.
To be fair, I must begin with my strong bias that this topic should be covered in the schools. The evils that were perpetrated as part of Holocaust history is the source of the statement that many support, “Never Again.” The Holocaust stands as a reminder of the horrors that can be perpetrated when long-standing hatred and evil power join forces, and is a lesson that we seem to have to learn, over and over again.
And yet, there can clearly be too much of a good thing, in my opinion, and too many political agendas to satisfy in regard to the Holocaust. That Florida has decided to include the Holocaust in its school curriculum is admirable, but the way they are going about it reflects a poorly planned strategy and process for selecting the content.
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The first mistake the Florida DOE made was in not limiting the amount of classroom content and time that would be spent on this topic. I have no doubt that those who responded to the Dept.’s request for proposals were dedicated to making sure that all the content that represented the most important aspects of the Holocaust should be included. The content that is proposed by the Dept. as a result of these proposals might be reasonable, in terms of limited depth and time requirements for grades 5, and 6-8, but by the time students reach grades 9-12, an inordinate amount of time has been allotted to Holocaust studies.
I object for a couple of reasons. The level of detail included at these grade levels is not necessary to understand the origins and practices of anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust, for starters. In addition, students are already being deprived of adequate instruction on social studies and civics (although a significant effort is being made to improve those areas of study). But by the time both areas are expanded, there will be little time to address other relevant areas for high school education. Unless the Dept. intended to propose to the public everything that could be included, they would have been wiser to be more discerning in setting limits. I suspect their agenda was to try to please everyone in the process, and instead, no one will be satisfied.
The second problem is the motivation of the groups that were selected in the final selection process. I think that the statement from Yael Hershfield, interim regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Florida in a letter to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, suggests part of the problem in curriculum goals:
‘Any legitimate Holocaust education expert’ would advise that students learn what happened from 1933-45 and about antisemitism and also be encouraged to make connections between the past and their own roles and responsibilities today. [Italics are mine.]
The following viewpoint suggested by others who submitted proposals comes closer to the overall criticism of the Dept.’s goals:
Experts tapped by the state to help write or review new Holocaust standards say Florida’s proposal fails to connect the horrors of the Holocaust to lessons that would encourage today’s students to understand the ‘ramifications of prejudice, stereotyping and racism.’ [Italics are mine.]
So, there is a larger agenda, after all. The Holocaust will just be one more vehicle to focus on systemic racism and prejudice that goes beyond anti-Semitism.
Finally, probably the biggest controversy was regarding the selection of an organization called Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, an Evangelical Christian group that includes Holocaust training in its outreach. You can guess at how many buttons were pushed selecting a group that doesn’t have a primary Holocaust focus and is also Christian (which many Jews would find unacceptable); rejecting their proposal came easily to some groups. Oren Stier, a professor of religious studies and director of the Holocaust and genocide studies program at Florida International University, protested the group’s involvement. (Professor Stier’s comment that his university’s proposal was largely ignored may have been a factor in his reaction.) He made the following statement:
PJTN was ‘ostensibly founded to combat antisemitism in education,’ but its ‘true agenda is to establish a foothold in the nation’s public schools to promote religious indoctrination and their selective, revisionist, conservative Christian conception of American history,’ he added.
Sounds pretty anti-Christian to me, especially with no evidence.
The Southern Poverty Law Center added its two cents by calling PJTN an anti-Muslim hate group. (Please note that the Orlando Sentinel article didn’t add that SPLC removed PJTN from its hate list in January 2021.)
But PJTN was also demanding inclusion of content that they thought should be in the curriculum:
Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, which says its goal is to educate Christians about their ‘biblical responsibility to stand with their Jewish brethren and the state of Israel against the global rise of antisemitism,’ is unhappy with the state’s proposal, too.
The group said the state proposal ‘falls dismally short’ of what it wanted because it does not include its suggested lessons on Jewish traditions, symbols and beliefs, from lighting Sabbath candles to the star of David to the biblical story of Mordechai and Esther, among other problems.
Expecting that level of detail about Jewish practices is excessive. This approach reflects precisely the problem with demands made by other organizations’ proposals and the unwillingness of the Dept of Education to take a targeted and incisive approach to curriculum development. The Department has put its own curriculum proposal together, and on July 14, 2021, a public meeting will be held to discuss the Department’s proposal.
Someone should attend and bring the popcorn.Published in