Recently a Florida principal came under fire for his comments around the Holocaust curriculum at his school.
Florida has required Holocaust education since 1994. However, Boca Raton’s Spanish River Community High School was only offering a one-day lesson to sophomores and even that lesson was optional because, according to the principal of the school William Latson, some parents “don’t want their children to participate.”
Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened and you have your thoughts but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs so they will react differently,” Latson reportedly responded. “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee.”
According to Latson the school gives students the information about the Holocaust and allows them to draw their own conclusions. Apparently, the school uses this same teaching strategy when it comes to slavery too.
This approach is entirely incorrect both ethically and pedagogically…but it is unfortunately NOT unique. Revisionist history can be found all over education today. Whether it’s optional Holocaust denial in Florida or textbooks that refer to slaves as “workers” in Texas, there seems to be no shortage of attempts to re-frame the way we think about the past and that is problematic.
Let’s take this most recent example:
Historians do occasionally question whether some historical events actually happened. But typically, those events happened hundreds if not thousands of years ago in times or communities that didn’t keep reliable records. Sometimes historians have to determine if a historical source refers to an actual event or some type of myth. This applies to situations like the Exodus from Egypt or Emperor Nero playing his fiddle while Rome burned.
The Holocaust is NOT one of those events. It didn’t happen hundreds or thousands of years ago. It happened around 75 years ago. It didn’t happen in some pre-historic or pre-literate society; it happened in Eastern and Western Europe in the 20th century. No reputable historian seriously questions whether it happened. Unlike the events of antiquity, we have records, we have eyewitness accounts, we have photographs and video documentation, and we have survivors with medical records that back up their accounts. No reasonable person could seriously deny such an event taking place. So, for a school to treat it the same way they treat actual historical unknowns, or like a pseudohistory is wildly inappropriate.
Additionally, the pedagogical approach of allowing students to draw their own conclusions is out of place for a lesson about the Holocaust. Normally this method is used when dealing with topics that have opposing sides like political debates. Teaching the Holocaust is not the same as teaching different market approaches in economics. The Holocaust happened. It is an absolute. There may be valid debates that come out of the lesson but there is not any serious debate that can be had about whether it happened.
While parents should take an active role in their child’s education and a school should listen to them, they shouldn’t be able to dictate curriculum to the point where a school is catering to Holocaust denial. Imagine a parent taking issue with their child learning the order of operations in math class? This situation is not any different.
Revisionist history in schools has reached a point where it can’t be ignored. Educators and families need to pay close attention to what is being taught in their history classes. Recently after much pressure, the Texas Board of Education voted to finally teach that slavery was the main cause of the civil war. So, paying attention and putting pressure on the school districts works, but remember, millions of kids went through Texas schools before that change was made. People have to be vigilant and intentional about holding schools accountable for their curriculum.