Letter from the Director: Updated 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 has partnered with like-minded organizations to address what we perceived as the reduction and marginalization of the Holocaust within the new proposed Georgia Performance Standards. To express our concerns, we encouraged our constituents to make their voices heard through the survey posted by the Georgia Department of Education as well as through a letter-writing campaign. The designated period for public feedback ended on March 14, 2016.
In the survey and in our letters, we and our constituents made the case for the inclusion of quality Holocaust education in the Georgia social studies standards, referencing the rationale provided by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:
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."
In the spirit of respectful cooperation, the staff of the Georgia Department of Education acknowledged our concerns regarding the proposed changes to the standards and worked with us to address our misgivings. This cooperation has resulted in a number of changes to the new proposed standards which, for the most part, will provide the content, context and rigor necessary for successful teaching and learning about this challenging but important topic. As with all negotiations, some compromise was necessary:
- Grade 5: Previous elements have been reinstated, as we have requested.
- Grade 6: Previous elements have been rewritten in order to provide clarity and to allow students to examine the Holocaust as a watershed event in history.
- Grade 8: The 8th grade Holocaust standard was not reinstated, based on overwhelming teacher feedback. From their survey responses, we could see that many teachers expressed feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of standards already part of the 8th grade social studies curriculum. The number of standards in the 8th grade curriculum is indeed significantly greater than those of other grade levels. Additionally, they saw it as a “stretch” to connect Holocaust history to Georgia history. So, in spite of the Commission’s desire to retain and rewrite the 8th grade Holocaust standard, we also understood that the teachers’ voices needed to be heard. We, and our partners, do see an important connection to Georgia history. Although the result of the feedback is that the Holocaust element will be removed from the 8th grade standards, teachers will still have the option of addressing the Holocaust in their 8th grade classes. The rewritten element we proposed will instead appear in the Teacher Notes for 8th grade:
"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."
The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and its partners will continue to provide resources, programs and professional development to support teaching about the impact of the Holocaust on Georgia.
The Georgia Commission on the Holocaust has also received a commitment from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s (USHMM) Director of Teacher Education and Special Programs to provide support for Holocaust education in Georgia. The USHMM’s new initiative examining American responses to the Holocaust will produce important connections to U.S. history and the Holocaust. New research and resources will be made available to Georgia educators as work on the initiative progresses. Teachers of U.S. History will then find these new materials incorporated into the standard’s Teacher Notes.
Along with the Georgia Department of Education, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and our partners are committed to providing Georgia educators with quality resources for teaching about the Holocaust. We look forward to continuing this important work to ensure that students in Georgia are given the opportunity to learn about this important period of history and its ramifications for today.
We appreciate your efforts to work with us to support quality Holocaust education in Georgia.
Sally N. Levine
Georgia Commission on the Holocaust