Eighth-grade assignment: Debate whether the Holocaust actually happened

Today’s dispatch from the “Department of What Were They Thinking:”

Eighth grade students in Rialto, California, were given an assignment to debate whether the Holocaust really happened.

The assignment instructions included three sources that students had to use, including one that said gassings in concentration camps were a hoax and that no evidence has shown Jews died in gas chambers, KTLA reports. One section of the assignment asserted that Anne Frank was a fraud.

Parents did not object to the assignment.

It wasn’t until a newspaper — the San Bernandino Sun — blew the whistle that critics forced the school to drop the assignment. But not before a member of the school board defended it:

“One of the most important responsibilities for educators is to develop critical thinking skills in students,” (school board member Joe Martinez) wrote in an email Friday morning.

“This will allow a person to come to their own conclusion. Current events are part of the basis for measuring IQ. The Middle East, Israel, Palestine and the Holocaust are on newscasts discussing current events. Teaching how to come to your own conclusion based on the facts, test your position, be able to articulate that position, then defend your belief with a lucid argument is essential to good citizenship. This thought process creates the foundation for a good education. The progression is within district board policy and also supports the district’s student inspired motto: ‘Today’s Scholars, Tomorrow’s Leaders.’”

  • Thomas Mercier

    Debating is good for critical thinking. Questioning perspectives on historical movements is good for critical thinking. Debating the occurrence of well document mass atrocities is not beneficial for much of anything.

  • lynndobb

    There are always going to be conspiracy theorists making claims against the evidence. Learning how to research to refute these claims is logical. With the staggering amount of evidence supporting the reality of the Holocaust, there is no fear the students would walk away with any other conclusion than that it happened as reported, regardless of what a few say. This seems like an appropriate 8th grade assignment, not intended to confuse the students, but to give them an introduction to figuring out what the evidence supports in issues less clear cut.

  • Joe

    Did they do any field research in Europe for this assignment? It sounds like a pointless thought experiment for 14 year olds to me. If they want to teach eighth graders about rabbit holes, try Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll.

  • jon

    I think it depends on how the assignment was presented.

    Clearly one of the challenges for educated students going forward is presenting factual information to dissuade those with irrational anti-factual beliefs from them, without become belligerent idiots themselves.
    There are plenty of folks who deny facts that disagree with their belief structure… young earth creationists argue against carbon dating, flat earthers argue against circumglobal navigation, climate change deniers argue against climate change. If students will need to interact with these people, they will need to know how to handle the situation, and it could be a valuable skill in the future knowing how to speak to illogical people logically without being draw down to a shouting match.

    That being said, there are more appropriate topics to attempt to discuss, things like the advanced mathematics of ancient civilizations, things that don’t hit so close to home for people who lived through these atrocities, or had parents/grandparents, who lived through them or committed them.

    for some things 70 years is still too soon.

  • Mary Turck

    Critical thinking has nothing to do with historical denial. Would critical thinking skills be fostered by having students debate whether the earth revolves around the sun? Whether water freezes at low temperatures?