A Modest Proposal for U.S. State-Mandated Holocaust Education
Some of you may recognize the use of “A Modest Proposal” as a seeming reference to Jonathan Swift’s 1729 satirical essay. Yet in actuality this blog post is about a serious topic that has been put forth by Holocaust scholar Arthur Shostak, author of the 2017 book “Stealth Altruism: Forbidden Care as Jewish Resistance in the Holocaust.”
Before I present Shostak’s proposal, I’d like to answer a concern that many of you may have:
My husband, in talking about teaching the Holocaust, rightly pointed out that there is so much more to Jewish history than the Holocaust.
Of course I agree about so much more to Jewish history. Yet what I said is:
Teaching the Holocaust is not just important for Jewish history; it is also important for humanity’s history. Besides six million Jews – millions of other ‘undesirables’ were exterminated by supposedly highly civilized nations.
If we do not study how ordinary Germans (and their collaborators) were turned into blood-thirsty murderers, we will not have the understanding and the tools to prevent this happening again on such a large scale.
And, yes, there have been genocides since the Holocaust, although probably none as thoroughly prepared for as the Holocaust. (One small example: School books in German schools were changed to reflect Nazi ideology in order to prepare German children to believe in their superiority over “others.”)
Learning about the Holocaust is important for all humanity – to learn from the past so as to try to prevent massive extermination of any groups of people from ever happening again.
Call for national high quality education curriculum for U.S. states:
As Shostak points out, state-mandated Holocaust education at this date exists in 23 of 50 states in the U.S. – and these mandates can widely vary. It’s not enough to teach about the Holocaust – the material must both educate and also encourage young people to move from bystanders to upstanders.
Below is a brief version of Shostak’s proposal for the mission of a national organization to provide high quality Holocaust education curriculum to U.S. states. He can be reached at [email protected] to further discuss this proposal.
Arthur Shostak’s “modest proposal”:
Eight ways exist for a new national organization to help 23 state-mandated programs in Holocaust education in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Wisconsin:
1) Highlight Dan Freedman’s article “The State of Holocaust Education in America” [Moment, Winter 2022], a timely overview complete with searching questions.
2) Recommend study of state Holocaust education goals in Wikipedia’s June 24, 2022, update of “Laws Requiring the Teaching of the Holocaust.”
3) Recommend the most successful field-proven teaching aids (e.g., books, documentaries, films, ideas, lessons, musicals, poetry, plays, speakers, etc.).
4) Sponsor interactive free Zoom workshops. Topics might include: How can the effectiveness of Holocaust education best be measured and improved?
5) Offer free mentoring to any state considering joining the 23 mandated states.
6) Draw on lessons from comparable Holocaust education efforts in other countries, such as in Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
7) Critique alternative Holocaust education formats, such as one hour in a social studies course, a week in a social studies or WWII course, an elective term during high school honors course, etc.
8) Call overdue attention to the “help story,” which salutes upstander victims who made high-risk secret efforts to aid others. Set alongside the horror story, these two stories could provide invaluable classroom instruction.