GUEST VIEW: Censorship creeps into the curriculum when left unchallenged
By Fern Schumer Chapman
Researchers and historians investigating the Holocaust classify those involved into three groups: perpetrators, victims and bystanders. Countless passers-by witnessed horrific abuse, then atrocities, in complicit silence. Their inaction allowed the perpetrators to commit a horrific campaign of mass murder.
Members of the Southlake, Texas School Board – one of the top-ranked districts in the state – stood on the sidelines by giving “the benefit of the doubt” to a school administrator who asked teachers to provide books offering âopposing perspectivesâ on the Holocaust. School officials explained that this is required under a new Texas law restricting the way teachers can present historical and current events, including the Holocaust and the history of racism in the United States. . They were also home to a group of parents who have been fighting for over a year to stand in the way of new diversity and inclusion programs.
They are not alone. This growing threat will radically change what American children learn about the Holocaust and other stories of marginalized people. Alarmingly, several states have introduced similar measures under pressure from parents who oppose education about racism, anti-LGBTQ bigotry and other prejudices, often under the false label of critical race theory. .
Censorship and revisionist history went unheeded in Southlake, where school principal Lane Ledbetter quickly reversed the school administrator’s remarks. No one, she said in a statement, wanted to “convey that the Holocaust was nothing less than a terrible event in history.” Additionally, we recognize that there are not two sides to the Holocaust. “
While it’s reassuring to hear that the school district has recognized that there are not two sides to the Holocaust, this muffled âapologyâ is filled with shy, reckless and complicit language. The Holocaust was not “a terrible event”; it was one of the most heinous crimes against humanity in history.
We see exactly how the Nazis gained ground – in small steps. Southlake school officials had the opportunity to take a stand, face a wrong and lead the opposition to a dangerous mandate.
âIf I were the superintendent,â Southlake alumnus Jake Berman told the school board, âI would say, ‘We’re not going to participate in this law.’ district two decades ago. He said the insults made him consider suicide and led to depression even in adulthood. Berman also pointed out that the school’s inaction fuels a culture where more anti-Jewish prejudice and racism can thrive.
âThe message you and the state send to your teachers opens the door to more of this kind of [bullying] behavior of your students, âhe said. “If you don’t think these same attacks are happening today in your schools regarding someone’s skin color, gender, or religion, you are sorely mistaken.”
In the classroom, the likely outcome is a chilling effect on teaching anything about the Holocaust. Teachers can fear reprisals and even the loss of their jobs if they do not comply with the new law.
What we see here is the proverbial frog in a pot of water. The temperature rises gradually, almost imperceptibly. Holocaust revisionism begins with small steps that cast doubt on the absolute reality of a brutal, systemic and painstakingly recorded massacre. Slowly, but intentionally, these revisionists try to deny this reality, mitigating our loathing to atrocity while establishing anti-Jewish bigotry as normal.
Since publishing my first book, Motherland, my mom and I have shared her story with students in hundreds of schools. In 1938, when she was 12, she fled Nazi Germany and came to America as an unaccompanied minor. In all of our school presentations, addressing thousands of students, not once were we asked about âopposing viewsâ. The questions we invariably receive are, “Why are Jews being targeted? Why do people hate Jews so much? How could the world let this happen? “
These are serious questions requiring complex answers, which can only be developed through the use of critical thinking skills – precisely what dedicated and sensitive teachers hope to impart to their students.
One of the main goals in my life has been to cultivate empathy in the hearts of students. As teachers, as parents, as Americans, we all need to find the courage to speak out against bullying, prejudice, and isolation. I hope that students develop the moral courage to act with respect and compassion and become assertive citizens of conscience.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” Desmond Tutu, a South African Anglican cleric and theologian, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work as a anti-apartheid and human rights activist. , said. “If an elephant has its foot on a mouse’s tail and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
In its cowardly inability to speak out against impermissible state law – or even its own administrator – the Southlake School Board exhibits a neutrality the mouse wouldn’t appreciate. It’s shaping, for students and our nation, exactly how to be a complicit spectator.
Author Fern Schumer Chapman has written several books documenting his mother’s experiences during and after the Holocaust, including âMotherlandâ, âIs It Night or Day? And “Brothers, Sisters, Strangers”.