What Can’t Be Taught in the Classroom

letter-447577_1280

This in from an alert reader: “Teachers drop the Holocaust to avoid offending Muslims.”

Not what you expected, was it? We’re used to being told how things like same-sex relationships need to be taught in the classroom, in order to support tolerance. We’re told that for teachers to do otherwise would be irresponsible, no matter how offensive some parents might find an extensive discussion of the topic. But now we see that teachers do use their discretion to avoid offending people… to avoid teaching basic world history.

A few days ago I saw a letter to the editor (which journal, I have already forgotten) in which the writer dismissed the idea that children need to be fully informed about all possible behaviors in order to learn tolerance. He is right, of course. The baby-boomers weren’t taught to tolerate people with green highlights or eyebrow piercings, they just do it. Teaching children a set of things and saying “you must tolerate these” is far less effective than teaching general principles of tolerance. And in truth, the key point to be made is that unless a person is truly evil, you condemn the behavior, not the person. To an individual homosexual, a person can be tolerant, sympathetic, and understanding — even while simultaneously subscribing to the Torah’s view of the male homosexual act as to’eyvah.

Children don’t need lessons in unusual behaviors, of whatever kind, to learn tolerance. They do need lessons in history. Schools are falling down on the job on both counts.

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17 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Today’s hoax looks disturbingly like tomorrow’s reality. That’s why it got some traction.

  2. Josh Cypess says:

    Note, the UK story is a hoax. It was written on April 1st. See this message from the ADL.

  3. dovid says:

    “why the Nazis went as far as considering “Mischlings” (one Jewish grandparent) on equal par with full-fledged ones?”

    The Nazis embraced and further developed a racial theory which dominated their decisions even though it had absolutely no scientific basis. Of course, they regarded Northern European and German people at the pinnacle of the Arian race. They regarded the French and Italians as inferior, degenerate Arians, but Arians nevertheless. Within this theory, Jews were at the very bottom. Hitler embraced this theory because it gave him “scientific” justification to his loathing of Jews and for their extermination. In the Nazi world, purity of lineage made the difference between life and death, acceptance into a university or rejection, job promotion or stagnation, etc. But purity of lineage was not always sufficient. The shape of the skull, physiognomy, and height also played an important factor. This theory is so full of holes and was applied so inconsistently that one would laugh at it, had its consequences not been so deadly. For instance, Mengele, who acquired unparalleled infamy in Auschwitz, had an impeccable Bavarian lineage even though he was rather short and of somehow dark complexion for which he was taunted and roughed up by his classmates who called him: the Jew. If you think of it, Hitler himself did not meet the Nazi requirements for Nordic facial features and fair complexion. Heinrich Heydrich, the second in command in the SS, who had the most Arian features within the Nazi upper hierarchy, was rumored to have had a Jewish grandfather. A citizen of Nazi Germany had to prove his lineage through baptismal records going back several generations. Mischlinge were called those who had some Jewish ancestry. They slated for extermination just like any Jews because in Hitler’s mind, they were irreversibly affect/infected by Judaic morality and accountability to HaShem. I would like to point out that the Nazis are on record killing Christian ministers for the same reason. As mentioned in the original post, Christianity has adopted some of Judaism’s principles and practices of morality which Hitler wanted to eradicate.

  4. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Jacob, I didn’t explain myself properly. I meant to say that the Romans pursued genocide against Carthage in the third Punic war. As far as we know, they were successful ( http://history.boisestate.edu/WESTCIV/punicwar/17.shtml ). Our ancestors were never the threat that Carthage was, and the Romans never saw the need to get rid of all Jews.

    As for the Texas school system, Dovid’s point is also applicable here. It would be hard for a Chiloni teacher in Israel to say that Jews are the chosen people. It would be even harder for a gentile teacher to say the same thing. Hitler may have associated the belief in accountability before G-d with Judaism, but most Texans will say that that’s part of their religion – regardless of where it came from originally.

    Anyway, I’ve lived in Texas since 1998, and I’ve yet to see signs of anti-Semitism (I speak Hebrew to my kids in public, so our Judaism is hardly a secret). Anyway, it won’t give anybody any ideas that contemplating the fate of the previous inhabitants of this are won’t give them anyway.

  5. Jacob Haller says:

    Ori, you’re observations are usually insightful but this time you fell short in a couple of examples. Correct me if incorrect but the Romans did not pursue full genocide against the Jewish people. For one thing Vespasian allowed the Rabbis to continue to operate their Bet Medrash in Yavne and unlike the Nazis there was no formal plan to eradicate all Jews living in exiled communities whether within or external to the Empire.

    Also, your remark about how in Texas there is a Holocaust curriculum but no mention of why the Nazis chose the Jews amongst all other groups. This I fear will leave the students to their own devices and the pessimist side of me sees your observation dovetailing with Hillel’s remark of putting ideas into people’s heads. I sincerely hope to be wrong.

    Dovid, I tend to agree with your overall thesis but does it explain why the Nazis went as far as considering “Mischlings” (one Jewish grandparent) on equal par with full-fledged ones?

  6. dovid says:

    Rome and Carthage were rivals who fought each other for political and economic hegemony of the Mediterranean Basin. Neither party sought to obliterate the other. As far as the Israeli school system is concerned, their teaching the Holocaust as a uniquely Jewish experience would force them to face at least the possibility if not the reality that the Jews are the chosen people and everything that results from it, a fact that they are not ready to contemplate.

  7. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Dovid, you’re right that the Nazis were the only ones since Roman times who tried for complete genocide (if you think the Romans were mean to us, you should see what they did to Carthage). However, that’s not the Holocaust History taught in Israel in the secular school system. They teach more the crimes of the Nazis, what enabled them, and the Jewish responses – at least the physical ones.

    I haven’t looked in all school systems, but I know that in Texas they teach the Holocaust without specifying why the Nazis chose the Jews. So they way they teach it, they teach the parts that are universal, not the parts that are specific to Jews.

  8. Steve Brizel says:

    Take a look in the UK -The Moslem community objects to any special commemoration of the Holocaust. We should not kid ourselves and think either that Holocaust studies eradicate anti Semitism or will be considered as important on the American scene.

  9. dovid says:

    “we tend to think of the Holocaust as Nazis killing Jews.”
    “it is not the only thing that happened. The Nazis killed between 9 and 11 million civilians, for various reasons. Jews were merely the largest group of victims.”

    Wrong answer, Ori, wrong answer. The genocide being committed by Muslims against Muslims in Darfur, as all the crimes committed by one group against another group throughout history have been clashes over control of land, water rights, etc. People kill people. Muslims kill Muslims. Japanese killed Koreans and Chinese. Even numbers are misleading. Arabs have killed more Muslims in the past 100 years than Jews. Soviet casualties in WWII were over 20 million people of which only 5%-7% were Jews. But there has never been a people, single out in the history of humanity for total destruction as Jews have been singled out. A Chinese friend agreed with my statement but added that somehow we, the Jews, must be at fault.

    She is right. Hitler, to his credit, clearly indicates what our ‘fault” has been all these years. He openly acknowledges in Mein Kampf that he and his Aryan race are barbarians. He continues by writing that he is not abashed by his sub-human condition (qualifier is mine) and that his hatred of Jews was caused by Jews’ introduction of the concept of man’s accountability to a Supreme Authority into the world. HaShem did not intend to preserve this concept within the confines of a small Jewish kingdom somewhere in the Middle East. One of the purposes, probably the main purpose of the Jewish exile was to spread the knowledge of HaShem and man’s accountability to Him into the world. Much of this was accomplished with the advent of Christianity and later of Islam. They adopted the concept of morality and accountability in their systems of belief with some variations. Hitler hated it and tried to out-root it. All attacks of Jews throughout history to this day were meant to be attacks against HaShem. You may point out that secular Jews, to whom Judaic morality and accountability to Hashem were alien, were equally victimized by the Nazis which is true. Hitler, to his credit, recognized that Judaic morality is etched in the Jew’s psyche, regardless of his practices and as such, secular Jews did not escape his radar. Today’s Iran is also a case in point. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to destroy Israel even though the two countries don’t share borders and never had territorial disputes. Also, the Arabs’ war against Israel is not about a small piece of real estate. It is a war against morality, decency, and accountability.

  10. Bob Miller says:

    Yes, I was extrapolating to the American situation (although my comment on history instruction was a reaction to Rabbi Menken’s ststement, not to the UK article). The UK’s situation looks to me like a harbinger of things to come here, and not a welcome one.

    As regards the decentralized US system, I see the same societal trends, including deference to Muslim demands, as being likely to overwhelm local school boards in many states and regions, though not all to the same extent.

  11. Ori Pomerantz says:

    HILLEL, we tend to think of the Holocaust as Nazis killing Jews. That happened, but it is not the only thing that happened. The Nazis killed between 9 and 11 million civilians, for various reasons. Jews were merely the largest group of victims.

    Also, it’s important to teach people about potential threats. If the Germans had stopped Hitler during the 1930s, their country wouldn’t have been destroyed by WWII. If the British had somebody better than Neville Chamberlin, the war might have come sooner, ended quicker, and been less awful. Maybe the air war over England could have been avoided.

  12. One Christian's perspective says:

    Holocaust studies seen as an imposition on gentiles ? I think not. In 1998, a group of Tennessee schoolchildren embarked on a class project that would change their lives and impact those of countless aroung the world. They collected paperclips to try to understand what 6 million looks like and from this was born a visual experience and a permanent memorial to those who died in the Holocaust. In the process, a WWII transport train car to house the clips was found and shipped to Whitworth. In time, this school project became a community project in the town of Whitworth, Tennessee -rural, mostly Protestant and with little knowledge of the horror of the Holocaust. From this experience, an inspiring 2004 documentary “Paper Clips” was launched. This is a very moving documentary.

    As a gentile and a Christian, I have had a keen interest in the study of the Holocaust even before I knew my very good Jewish friend lost her entire family from Poland to the Holocaust and even before I knew Danish people rescued their neighbors. As a child, I wanted to learn how something like this could happen why some helped and some didn’t. I found a vast tapestry of literature and among that I found snips of golden threads that stood out above this black back ground of death. These threads are glimpses of the light of HaShem reaching into our world through the hands and lives of individuals – Jew and gentile – who revere life over death and goodness over evil. These threads are still being sewn in the hearts of rural Tennessee and other places where ever and when ever you share your story. Please do not stop.

  13. Tal Benschar says:

    When I first heard about this, I wondered, what do Muslims find offensive about Holocaust studies? The Holocaust was perpetrated by Germany, not a Muslim nation, and took place almost entirely in Europe, not a Muslim continent. One would think that a typical Muslim, the history of the Holocaust is, perhaps unimportant, but hardly offensive.

    Then I saw the article:

    Schools are dropping the Holocaust from history lessons to avoid offending Muslim pupils, a Government backed study has revealed.

    It found some teachers are reluctant to cover the atrocity for fear of upsetting students whose beliefs include Holocaust denial.

    Astounding. So now “holocaust denial” is a belief to be respected, on par with belief in God, the Bible or the Koran? Do the teachers realize how absurd and corrosive of liberal thought this really is? What next, we cannot teach that the world is round for fear of offending flat-earthers? We cannot teach the periodic table for fear of offending those who still belief in the ancient four bases of matter?

    We are entering a post-modern Dark Ages, I fear.

  14. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Bob Miller, I don’t know what US government schools teach or don’t teach. I suspect that “US government schools” is too broad to say anything useful, though. The curriculum is set at the state level, IIRC, which means 51 curriculum setting bodies (50 states + district of Columbia). The schools are managed to a large extent at the local level.

    However, this article in the UK Daily Mail spoke about UK government schools. The UK has a much bigger Muslim population and seems to have more difficulty integrating Muslims into the mainstream society than the US does.

  15. Larry Lennhoff says:

    Bob Miller – follow the link and you will see that the article is about UK schools. Read still further and you’ll see these were changes made in individual teachers and not formal curriculum changes at a national level.

  16. Bob Miller says:

    Were we expecting a true, balanced view of history to be taught in American government schools in 2007?

    PC attitudes and a variety of pressure tactics (both the carrot and the stick) will also cause any remaining description of offenses and threats by Muslims against other groups to be erased from the social studies curriculum.

  17. HILLEL says:

    Rav Avigdor Miller, ZT”L, always opposed Holocaust Studies as an imposition on our gentile neighbors–Why burden them with our pain?

    And…for those who don’t like us, why put ideas in their head!