Maryland’s leading Jewish community advocacy organizations and key state legislators applauded plans recently announced by State Superintendent Karen B. Salmon to enhance and expand required Holocaust instruction in public schools.
“The latest national statistics on the lack of knowledge among American young adults about the Holocaust are very troubling,” said Del.Shelly Hettleman of Baltimore County. “Teaching about the Holocaust is vitally important for its historical significance in and of itself, but its universal lessons about the dangers of prejudice and racism will help ensure that genocide and other atrocities will never happen again.”
The planned changes announced by the state superintendent include requiring Holocaust instruction within the state’s new fourth and fifth grade social studies framework; teaching about the roots of anti-Semitism as part of middle school social studies education, in preparation for learning about the Holocaust in high school; and strengthening the required education in high school on the origins of the Holocaust and the American response in U.S. history and modern world history classes.
The state superintendent also emphasized the need for local school systems to devote funding for professional development of teachers around Holocaust instruction.
A survey of 1,350 American adults released last year by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that 66 percent of American millennials cannot say what Auschwitz was. Nearly a third of all Americans in the survey believe that 2 million Jews or fewer were killed in the Holocaust, when the actual number is about 6 million.
Earlier this fall, the Baltimore Jewish Council (BJC), the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington and members of the General Assembly wrote to the state superintendent and Maryland State Board of Education urging them to more clearly define state requirements for Holocaust education. Fifty-nine delegates and 20 senators signed letters organized by Hettleman and Dels. Dana Stein and Michele Guyton of Baltimore County and Sen. Ben Kramer of Montgomery County.
In the 2019 General Assembly session, Sen. Kramer introduced legislation to require greater Holocaust education in middle and high schools in Maryland. While the proposal did not receive a committee vote, the testimony and conversation about the bill prompted the BJC, JCRC and members of the General Assembly to ask the state superintendent and state school board to make the type of changes sought by Kramer’s bill.
“As legislators, we have an obligation to speak up if we believe that critical areas are not being adequately and consistently taught in our public schools,” said Stein. “We reached the conclusion that Holocaust education qualifies and changes needed to be made.”
“As a former member of the State Board of Education, I know how important it is when the leadership of our public schools takes up an issue and explicitly makes it a more significant part of the state’s curriculum standards,” said Guyton. “We appreciate the significant step taken here by Dr. Salmon, and we intend to stay engaged with the Maryland State Department of Education to ensure that these recommendations are implemented across all of our schools.”
“For years, we have been concerned that the state curriculum guidelines on Holocaust instruction are too vague and create too much potential for variations in the quality and quantity of what is taught among our state’s 24 jurisdictions,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the BJC. “With this announcement, our state educators are making an emphatic statement about our collective obligation to teach all children about the Holocaust in a consistent and detailed way.”
“Over the past few years we have seen an increase in hate crimes, incidents, and threats being committed at our local public and nonpublic schools,” added Ronald Halber, Libit’s counterpart at the JCRC. “We must address this disturbing trend with more concrete and proactive measures. Teaching about the Holocaust and genocides, and the origins of these horrific events, is critical to fighting hate and bigotry.”