Remove it from the curriculum
Are we forgetting the Holocaust?
I asked myself this question recently as I perused an English Language Arts curriculum map for grades 6-8 and found that out of dozens of texts the curriculum uses over the three years, only one text addressed or had any connection to World War II: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. However, this book, while an excellent and necessary text, does not focus on the Holocaust; instead, it depicts Japan’s brutal treatment of American POWs during wartime.
The curriculum map I browsed through recently is commonly known to teachers as Engage New York. It is more accurately called EL Education, formerly known as Expeditionary Learning, an open educational resource that can be accessed at no cost online. It is a rigorous Common Core curriculum that “supports teachers in making the transition to Common Core instruction,” according to this informational brochure.
I’m afraid the omission of Holocaust literature from this curriculum means we are forgetting one of history’s most horrific sins.
In March, research firm Schoen Consulting revealed the results of a “Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study” commissioned by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, New York, NY. Major findings of the survey revealed:
- Seven out of ten Americans say fewer people seem to care about the Holocaust than they used to
- Nearly 31 percent of all Americans and 41 percent of Millennials believe that substantially fewer than six million Jews were killed (two million or fewer) during the Holocaust
- 45 percent of all Americans and 49 percent of Millennials cannot name a single concentration camp or ghetto of the 40,000 that existed
In fairness, the Engage New York middle school ELA curriculum does list other grievous events in world history. The curriculum contains a diverse range of texts. For example, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park chronicles the life of Salva Dut, a “lost boy” refugee fleeing the war in South Sudan. Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai tells the story of Ha, a ten-year-old girl Vietnamese girl forced to flee the violence of her home country to find refuge in the United States. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass recounts the hardships and dehumanization of the slavery system of the American South.
And yes, perhaps placing emphasis on these other events adds greater relevancy to classroom discussions of oppression. Students can, after all, livestream discussions with Salva Dut. Also, some middle schoolers have grandparents and great-grandparents who may have fought in Vietnam. The effects of American slavery are still reverberating in our current racial divisions and controversies. In contrast, very few Holocaust survivors are alive today. I’m sure that in the minds of many kids, the Holocaust is ancient history.
However, studying the Holocaust is necessary. And I’m glad there is at least one Holocaust-oriented text in Engage New York’s ELA & Literacy Curriculum for grades 9-12: Wiesel’s Nobel lecture, “Hope, Despair and Memory.”
Without doubt, the inhumane intention, shocking magnitude, and cold machinations of Nazi Germany reveal humanity’s darkest side. We must learn from the Holocaust to prevent its reoccurrence. As Wiesel wrote in his lecture, “Remembering is a noble and necessary act. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history…It is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received, and the evil we have suffered.”
Here’s another major finding from the “Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study”: a majority (58 percent) believe something like the Holocaust could happen again. I fear that if students don’t read about the Holocaust, it will be forgotten, and could likely reoccur.
And, in case you’re wondering why an English teacher is teaching history, it’s really a very common approach educators take to teach literacy skills. It’s necessary to provide a context within which language arts skills—reading, writing, speaking and listening— can be taught. Comma worksheets don’t engage students; real-world events do.