In California the Rialto Unified School District is coming under fire for a district wide persuasive essay assignment which asked students to respond to the prompt: "Was the Holocaust a Hoax?" Students were directed to, "write an argumentative essay, based upon cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you believe the Holocaust was an actual event in history or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth.."
As a student and teacher of history I would argue that such assignments have no academic, moral, or or progressive value. These types of assignments are not only a-historical, but give legitimacy to the spreading of hateful, anti-Semitic propaganda and Holocaust Denial. The attempted extermination of European Jews is not an event open to debate in terms of whether or not it happened, the debate can and should be how could the world allow it to happen or what steps can we take to ensure similar events never happen again.
The Rialto Unified School District issued a statement that it meant no offense and stated that the Holocaust is a historic fact... then why the assignment?
What concerns me the most is not just the ignorance and inherent bigotry of the assignment, but the fact that as a district wide writing prompt, no administrators or worse still, no history teachers refused to give it to students. Teachers of history are charged with the sacred trust of teaching not only what happened, but why things happened, as well as how proclamations of ignorance and hate can lead to the worse actions capable of man.