Maryland’s leading Jewish community advocacy organizations and key state legislators applauded plans announced by State Superintendent Karen B. Salmon to enhance and expand required Holocaust instruction in public schools.
Earlier this fall, the Baltimore Jewish Council, the Jewish Community Relations Council 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 Delegates Dana Stein, Shelly Hettleman and Michele Guyton of Baltimore County, and Senator Ben Kramer of Montgomery County.
“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 Baltimore Jewish Council. “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,” said Ronald Halber, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. “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.”
The planned changes announced by Dr. Salmon include requiring Holocaust instruction within the state’s new 4th and 5th grade social studies framework, teaching about the roots of Antisemitism as part of middle school social studies education, and strengthening the required Holocaust instruction in both high school U.S. history and high school modern world history.
“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 Delegate Dana Stein. “We reached the conclusion that Holocaust education qualifies and changes needed to made. We appreciate that the state superintendent has listened to our concerns and is willing to make the necessary changes.”
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.
“The latest national statistics on the lack of knowledge among American young adults about the Holocaust are very troubling,” said Delegate Shelly Hettleman. “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.”
“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 Delegate Michele 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.”
In her letter to legislators earlier this fall, Dr. Salmon laid out a number of specific changes that she will be recommending, including:
- Adding a unit to address the Holocaust within the 4th and 5th grade social studies framework that is currently being revised by MSDE.
- Adding objective(s) regarding the roots of Antisemitism to an upcoming revision of 6th and 7th grade social studies education, to give students the context to study the Holocaust in high school.
- Including a new Holocaust objective in a high school U.S. history revised framework that is nearly completed – “Students will assess the progression of U.S. involvement in world affairs by tracing the origins of the Holocaust and the American response.”
- Adding an objective to “evaluate the cause, course, and consequences of the Holocaust” to the Modern World History framework for high school. Maryland’s current framework referred to genocide, but did not specially reference the Holocaust.
- Emphasizing that local school systems should devote funding for professional development of teachers around Holocaust instruction.
In the 2019 General Assembly session, Senator Ben 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 Senator Kramer’s bill.
October 23, 2019