When news that a California school district assignedan essay debating the reality of the Holocaustdrew condemnation from Jewish groups, spokesmen were quick to state that none of the students had argued for denial of the Holocaust.
Now, recently released documents show that several eighth graders in California’s Rialto County District did indeed write essays defending Holocaust denial. As reported by Hamodia on May 6, students throughout the district were given source material with basic facts about the Holocaust along with arguments made by Holocaust deniers. The students were instructed to create an argument for or against the validity of the Holocaust as part of an “Argumentative Writing” assignment.
When the story first became public, the District issued a written statement, seeming to defend the decision; “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.”
Since then, the Rialto School District has been clear in their condemnation of the assignment. Attorney William P. Curley III, speaking in behalf of the District told Hamodia; “The School Board, collectively and individually, is appalled at the assignment and is undertaking and supporting all remedial measures believed necessary or desirable to counteract any mistaken conclusions regarding the reality and horror of the Holocaust.”
Last May, the San Bernardino Sun reported the District’s statement that no essays actually denying the Holocaust had been found. However, Director of Secondary Curriculum, Andres Luna did caution that “he still has hundreds [of essays] to go.”
Luna’s warning proved prescient. The release of the original essays showed that while the vast majority of students accepted the Holocaust as an un-debatable fact, several did use material from documents presented to argue that the event has been exaggerated or never occurred. One student wrote; “I believe that it [the Holocaust] was a propaganda act, and my reasons are: no cyanide resident on the walls of gas chambers, only a small amount of Jews died in concentration camps, and even the Diary of Anne Frank is a lie.”
Syeda Jafri, the District’s Director of Communication Services, explained to Hamodia that although the assignment was given in February by a group of teachers, it did not come to the attention of the District’s central offices until April 24, at which point matter began to be addressed. She emphatically stated that; “the district did not ignore this and was on this from day one. I was profoundly hurt that we could have children think that an event that took millions of innocent lives did not exist.”
Despite these declarations, some still have serious questions about what really happened in Rialto.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that “although the assignment was conceived by a group of five teachers the grading was done by teachers throughout the system and no one asked why I am grading such a thing?” While Rabbi Cooper did acknowledge that the District has done a great deal to address the situation, but pointed out that the original five teachers involved have yet to apologize. Furthermore, he said that “the context and language of the assignment leaves open the issue if there was an ideological motivation on the part of the teachers that created it.”
Jafri denied any broad ideological motivation; “Rialto is not an insensitive district, I have been taking my students to the Museum of Tolerance since before this happened.” When questioned about the District’s slow response she admit that “our response was not quick enough,” but added “It took time to regroup and find out what went on. Unfortunately for something like this there cannot be a quick fix, we need to deal with this properly.” Jafri added that, “this is a teachable moment. We are being looked at and we have to be more accountable about what is going in our curriculum.”
Los Angeles askan Dr. Irving Lebovics told Hamodia that these events prove “the importance of vigilance on the issue of teaching the Holocaust. These children were extremely misguided, and misguided children become dangerous adults.”
(See related editorial on page 10.)