LI schools need to offer consistent Holocaust education
Without fanfare, the state Education Department late last year released an important report.
“Holocaust Instruction in NYS Public School Districts” was issued to comply with legislation sponsored by former State Sen. Anna Kaplan and signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul last year. State officials surveyed every school district to assess Holocaust education in elementary, middle and high schools and training teachers received.
Then they produced a 16-page report.
Sixteen pages, to study nearly 700 public school districts statewide. Sixteen pages, to examine how schools teach the genocide of millions. Sixteen pages, including the table of contents, appendix and description of guidelines, leaving about six pages for results.
“Results show that all districts that must instruct about the Holocaust are doing so,” the report stated. “In fact, a large majority of schools go beyond the New York State Learning Standards to create instructional programming about the Holocaust in courses and grade levels where it is not required content.”
But the problem with Holocaust education isn’t whether a school teaches the Holocaust at all — but how, and how much. The report doesn’t answer those questions, nor indicate there’s anything more to do.
The report also doesn’t include a district-by-district breakdown of responses. But a Freedom of Information request produced them, in a spreadsheet with nearly 700 rows. There, one can see the real — and inconsistent — range in how schools across the state instruct about the horrors of the Nazi regime’s systematic persecution and execution of 6 million Jews during World War II.
On Long Island, some school officials detailed exactly what and how they taught, book by book, speaker by speaker, lesson by lesson. Others seemed to copy and paste the vague state framework for social studies, providing no specifics. Some Long Island administrators indicated they lacked specific Holocaust education training for their teachers.
The varying descriptions indicate that if Long Island school officials accessed the local data, they could learn from their colleagues, gain ideas, share resources and opportunities, and discover new ways to incorporate the Holocaust within and beyond the curriculum.
Some local districts utilize specific books — like Number the Stars by Lois Lowry for elementary school, Night by Elie Wiesel for middle or high school, and a more recent novel called Refugee, by Alan Gratz. Others invite survivors, or children of survivors, to speak. Some have students develop exhibitions of artifacts, while others have older students teach younger ones. Some offer electives on genocide, while others visit the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington. A few put the Holocaust into context of current events, such as the Charlottesville, Virginia “Jews will not replace us” rally in 2017. And some Long Island schools take advantage of the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center in Glen Cove, which offers professional development, school visits, in-school resources and more.
But some school districts on the Island don’t appear to do any of that.
With so many required courses to teach, basic skills tests to prepare students for, and other tasks on a school district’s plate, teaching the Holocaust might not rise to the top of everyone’s list. But in a world where antisemitic flyers on Long Islanders’ doorsteps has become a norm, where hateful incidents are never a surprise, where Holocaust denial is horrifyingly real, and where national surveys have showed most adults don’t know basic facts about the Holocaust, it should.
COLUMNIST RANDI F. MARSHALL’S opinions are her own.