8th grade assignment: Write essay about whether Holocaust was real or made up


Undated image shows the main gate of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz I, Poland, which was liberated by the Russians, January 1945. Writing over the gate reads: “Arbeit macht frei” (Work makes free – or work liberates) (AP Photo)

This  is a story about some school district leaders who need some education — fast.

In an effort to have students meet Common Core standards relating to critical thinking, a group of eighth grade teachers in the Rialto Unified School District designed an assignment (see document below) that asked students to write an essay arguing whether the Holocaust was real or made up. A few thousand students completed it in April while reading “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

(Yeah, you read that right.)

There is nothing in the Common Core standards that invites this particular assignment.

According to the San Bernardino Sun:

The district says the assignment is merely to teach students to evaluate the quality of evidence made by advocates or opponents of an issue.

“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.”

The Sun said that school district officials initially defended the assignment as one aimed at developing critical thinking but later said it should not have been given and won’t be again.It quoted school board member Joe Martinez as saying the Common Core was designed to teach students critical thinking and that was the aim of the assignment. Martinez said in part:

“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.

(Yeah, you read that right.)

The interim superintendent, Mohammed Z. Islam, will make sure the assignment is never given again, district spokeswoman Syeda Jafri said in a statement. It said:

We are aware of the controversy surrounding the distribution of an Eighth Grade Writing Prompt during the third quarter of the academic year. The intent of the writing prompt was to exercise the use of critical thinking skills. There was no offensive intent in the crafting of this assignment. We regret that the prompt was misinterpreted.

We concur with the United States Holocaust Museum website, which states, “Teaching Holocaust history demands a high level of sensitivity and keen awareness of the complexity of the subject matter.” We appreciate the suggestions of the Anti-Defamation League, as we have shared goals when it comes to our student s and our community.

The District will provide additional review of future writing prompts in an effort to ensure appropriate subject matter.

The core values of the Rialto Unified School District remain excellence, accountability,diversity,integrity, community and safety.

Matthew Friedman, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of Los Angeles — who is an expert on Holocaust education — had sent an e-mail to the school district that said:

“It is ADL’s general position that an exercise asking students to question whether the Holocaust happened has no academic value; it only gives legitimacy to the hateful and anti-Semitic promoters of Holocaust Denial.”

On the ADL’s Web site, Friedman is quoted as saying that there is so much misinformation on the Internet about the Holocaust that such an assignment can be misleading and even dangerous to students.

“If these questions do come up, it’s better to show the huge preponderance of evidence that’s out there — testimony, documentation, death camp sites, archaeology, etc. –and to also critically examine the motivations of people who question the reality of the Holocaust. This is more of an issue of teaching good information literacy.”

 

Here’s the assignment, obtained by The Sun:

 

Rialto Unified Holocaust Essay Assignment by aileenmdonnelly

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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