Editor’s note: Jennifer Rich, an assistant professor of sociology at Rowan University in New Jersey, is a Holocaust scholar and director of the Rowan Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Here, Rich explains how the “Never Again Education Act,” which the US House passed overwhelmingly on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, aims to make lessons about the Holocaust more prevalent in American schools. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law on June 11, two weeks after the Senate unanimously approved the legislation to provide $10 million in education funding.
The Never Again Education Act will seek to address these kinds of gaps in knowledge by making Holocaust education a bigger and more important part of education in various middle and high schools across the country. The legislation provides $2 million a year, for five years, to be given to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The museum will distribute the money to various teachers and educational leaders who apply for grants to teach kids about the Holocaust.
Schools without any Holocaust education in place will get top consideration. The museum must also increase digital and print educational resources, do more to help teachers and future schoolteachers become more knowledgeable about the Holocaust and teach it more effectively, and conduct research on the impact of Holocaust education.
History in general is not a tested subject like math, reading and writing. And the subject of the Holocaust itself is often limited, as I found in forthcoming research, to one or two class periods a year — usually as part of a lesson about World War II more broadly.
As a result, teachers rely heavily on textbooks when teaching about the Holocaust and end up spending a minimal amount of class time on the subject. I have found that teachers can be uncomfortable teaching about the Holocaust because they worry about their lack of knowledge on the subject. They may also be uncertain of how to relay such intense information to their students.
Holocaust denial and distortion do similar things.
Holocaust denial rejects the evidence that the Holocaust ever happened. Holocaust distortion minimizes the events that took place. While both have long been present in both American and global conversations, recently these have been at the forefront of discussions in new ways.
For instance, Holocaust denial has taken place in schools. It has even occurred at schools with state-mandated Holocaust education, such as Florida, where a principal told a parent that he wasn’t permitted as a district employee to say the Holocaust was a “factual, historical event.” In New Jersey, the first state to require Holocaust education, a teacher urged students to question the Holocaust.
Unfortunately, social media enables denial and distortion to proliferate in unprecedented ways.
The short answer is that this proposed law is only intended to improve the quality of Holocaust education, specifically.
A skilled teacher can, and should, make connections between the Holocaust and other genocides and mass atrocities by looking at recurring historical themes including — but not limited to — racism, xenophobia and nationalism. Additional legislation, as well as a hard and honest look at America’s complicated history, would be helpful next steps.
This work may not be easy, but helpful practices include using precise language in classrooms, having a clear set of goals in teaching and using age-appropriate lessons.
This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news outlet unlocking ideas from scholars, under a Creative Commons license.
Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.