How They Teach the Holocaust
A scandal erupted in 1988 when the United States Department of Education rejected an application for a $70,000 grant to disseminate Facing History and Ourselves, a privately-produced curriculum to teach junior-high-school students about the Holocaust. It seems that an outside reviewer for the department had criticized the curriculum for failing to present the viewpoints of the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. Though the department denied that its decision had been determined by the outside reviewer—or, as the curriculum’s supporters charged, by the negative opinion of the conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly—Congressman Ted Weiss (New York) invoked his status as the son of Jewish refugees from Nazism to air the matter before his congressional subcommittee. After hearing testimony from the author of Facing History, who was also the executive director of the foundation distributing it, the subcommittee concluded that “the peer-review process had been subverted by opponents of Holocaust education.”
During the ensuing controversy, in which charges of right-wing conspiracy and anti-Semitic intent were hurled at the Department of Education, the editor of an educational newsletter invited me to write a piece defending Facing History. I never did so, for my own reading of the curriculum persuaded me that the Department of Education had ample reason to turn down the grant application. Putatively a curriculum to teach the Holocaust, Facing History was also a vehicle for instructing thirteen-year-olds in civil disobedience and indoctrinating them with propaganda for nuclear disarmament.
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