March 10, 2016

Letter from the Director: Response to change of standards for teaching the Holocaust in Georgia's schools

Dear Friends, Partners and Colleagues,

As a stakeholder in quality Holocaust education, the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust is deeply troubled by the reduction and marginalization of the Holocaust within the proposed Georgia Performance Standards.

Effective Holocaust education can be transformative. Students in Georgia should have the opportunity to learn this important history and reflect on its application in today’s complex world.  For this reason, and those explained below, we ask you to express your opposition to changes in the proposed Georgia Standards.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum provides the following rationale for why it is important to teach about the Holocaust:

The Holocaust provides one of the most effective subjects for examining basic moral issues. A structured inquiry into this history yields critical lessons for  an investigation into human behavior. It also addresses one of the central mandates of education in the United States, which is to examine what it means to be a responsible citizen." 

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has set a standard for quality Holocaust education. They identify the goals for Holocaust education. Their rationale states: 

"By studying the Holocaust students come to realize that:

  • Democratic institutions and values are not automatically sustained, but need to be appreciated, nurtured, and protected.
  • Silence and indifference to the suffering of others, or to the infringement of civil rights in any society, can—however unintentionally perpetuate these problems.
  • The Holocaust was not an accident in history; it occurred because individuals, organizations, and governments made choices that not only legalized discrimination but also allowed prejudice, hatred, and ultimately mass murder to occur.

The Holocaust was a watershed event, not only in the 20th century but also in the entire course of human history. Studying the Holocaust also helps students to:

  • Understand the roots and ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping in any society.
  • Develop an awareness of the value of pluralism and an acceptance of diversity.
  • Explore the dangers of remaining silent, apathetic, and indifferent to the oppression of others.
  • Think about the use and abuse of power as well as the roles and responsibilities of individuals, organizations, and nations when confronted with civil rights violations and/or policies of genocide.
  • Understand how a modern nation can utilize its technological expertise and bureaucratic infrastructure to implement destructive policies ranging from social engineering to genocide.

As students gain insight into the many historical, social, religious, political, and economic factors that cumulatively resulted in the Holocaust, they gain awareness of the complexity of the subject and a perspective on how a convergence of factors can contribute to the disintegration of democratic values. Students come to understand that it is the responsibility of citizens in any society to learn to identify danger signals and to know when to react."

As regards study of the Holocaust, the proposed new social studies standards demand less knowledge and understanding from our teachers and students. These changes may be seen specifically in the following proposed standards; we request that the following changes be made:

  • Grade 6: A standard regarding the Holocaust has been deleted. Please reinstate, from current standards, SS6H7: b. Explain the impact of WWII in terms of the Holocaust, the origins of the Cold War, and the rise of superpowers.
  • Grade 8: The only standard regarding the Holocaust has been deleted. We understand the lack of clarity in the current standard, SS6H9:  c. Explain the impact of the Holocaust on Georgians. We propose a rewording of the standard to make it specific, and thus address educators’ concerns about how to teach the standard. The proposed language is:

"Analyze connections between Georgia and the Holocaust; include the importance of Georgia as a home to survivors of the Holocaust, the Holocaust survivors who returned to Europe as members of the American military, Georgia servicemen whose participation in the liberation of the concentration camps influenced their lives and service to the state after the war, and the contributions made by Holocaust survivors to Georgia after the war."

  • World History: The Holocaust standards have been deleted or made less specific. Please reinstate, from current standards, SSWHI7: c. Describe the rise of fascism in Europe and Asia by comparing the policies of Benito Mussolini in Italy, Adolf Hitler in Germany, and Hirohito in Japan.
  • World History: The Holocaust standards have been deleted or made less specific. Please reinstate, from current standards, SSWHI7: e. Describe the nature of totalitarianism and the police states that existed in Russia, Germany, and Italy and how they differ from authoritarian governments.  Please also change Russia to the Soviet Union.

We strongly urge the Georgia Department of Education to reconsider the proposed standards, reinstate the Holocaust standards that have been deleted and adopt the revised wording for the standard in grade 8 as outlined above. This will ensure that Georgia students are given the opportunity to learn about this important period of history and its ramifications for today.

The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and its partners are committed to providing lessons, strategies and resources to support Georgia educators in their efforts to teach about the Holocaust.

Thank you for your support and commitment to quality Holocaust education.

Sally N. Levine
Executive Director
Georgia Commission on the Holocaust

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