Current events have shown that even those in the highest levels of government are sometimes ignorant about the facts of the Holocaust — like Poland’s prime minister, who in the context of the debate on that country’s new law on Holocaust speech said Jews were complicit in the Holocaust. Then there’s former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who last year said Hitler, unlike Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.”
If our leaders engage with this kind of rhetoric, imagine the impact of not properly educating our younger generation. Holocaust education is something which, based in good intentions, is often contentious in practice.
First, there is a question of content: Do we focus on both the Holocaust and modern genocide? On one hand, the Holocaust is incomparable, however, many Holocaust educators believe we have a moral obligation to address the current injustices plaguing the world.
Second, there is an issue of time and resources. Many, if not all, teachers are hard-pressed to find time in their schedules to address the state-required learning standards, let alone to spare additional class time covering what might be deemed supplementary content, such as the Holocaust.
Third, there is a question of government intervention and regulation. While it is wonderful that some U.S. states have required Holocaust education and the inclusion of certain learning standards relating to Holocaust history and modern genocide, it’s concerning that the curriculum isn’t regulated and that many teachers, noble as their intentions may be, develop lesson plans and curricula based neither in historical accuracy nor in best practices. That being said, regulation of any kind can also lead to abuses and the espousal of misinformation.
So, how do we improve Holocaust education? Teachers and students across the United States need access to both age-appropriate and content appropriate materials. Students should be engaging with this history in a way that honors and commemorates survivors and one that uses pedagogically- sound teaching methods.
There isn’t one universal way to teach the Holocaust. But the key to successful Holocaust education is training well-rounded educators who are able to adapt to the times and make the right judgment calls in their teaching.
Hana Green is the visiting education intern at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond and a student at the University of Haifa’s master’s program in Holocaust Studies.