Common Core School Assignment: Was Holocaust Real or 'Merely a Political Scheme?'

May 6, 2014 - 9:49 AM

The Rialto school district in California gave eighth graders an 18-page assignment that asked them to consider arguments on whether the Holocaust was an "actual event" or a "propaganda tool that was used for monetary gain."

The project created media outrage, but the school district initially defended the assignment, saying that Common Core standards are intended to teach critical thinking. The school district, through interim superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam, revised its position when L.A.-based Anti-Defamation league expressed its concerns.

The assignment given to the eighth graders read:

"When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence. 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."

KTLA reports:

The 18-page assignment instructions included three sources that students were told to use, including one that stated gassings in concentration camps were a "hoax" and that no evidence has shown Jews died in gas chambers.

"With all this money at stake for Israel, it is easy to comprehend why this Holocaust hoax is so secretly guarded," states the source, which is a attributed to a webpage on biblebelievers.org.au. "In whatever way you can, please help shatter this profitable myth. It is time we stop sacrificing America's welfare for the sake of Israel and spend our hard-earned dollars on Americans.

The other sources were from the websites history.com and about.com.

The Rialto school district said in a prepared statement Monday that its "CORE team" will meet and plan to revise the assignment, KTLA-TV reports.

Common Core state standards are supposed to emphasize "critical thinking," but it seems the curriculum writers can't think critically themselves. Increasingly, we've seen the term "critical thinking" used to justify absurdity: from homework where sixth graders are asked to remove two rights from the Bill of Rights, subtraction taught via drawing a number line, or even poetry being removed from the literature curriculum entirely.

In an email (sent Friday morning), school board member Joe Martinez uses familiar reasoning in defense of the assignment:

"One of the most important responsibilities for educators is to develop critical thinking skills in students. 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."

How can students "come to their own conclusion" about an actual historical event? Especially when, instead of being taught that history actually occurred, they're taught it is simply one in a multitude of "theories?"