Perhaps it's the educators, and not the students, who are in need of instruction on critical thinking at the Rialto Unified School District in Southern California.
On Wednesday, the school board apologized to anyone who would listen for an eighth-grade writing assignment conjured up by teachers and the district's educational services division that asked 2,000 students in five middle schools to consider questions about the Holocaust, including, “Was the Holocaust an actual tragic historical event or a propaganda tool?”
The 18-page assignment, designed to satisfy Common Core standards for critical thinking, included three lengthy, pre-written essays that provided background information and staked out positions on both sides of a subject that is only a debatable issue among Nazis, right-wing extremists and fact-deprived morons. After digesting the essays, students were to organize their thoughts in grids while answering a series of probing questions. The exercise in February took three days to complete.
After figuring out if the Holocaust was tragedy or propaganda, students were asked, “If your claim is adopted, will people in our society be more or less inclined to prevent acts of genocide in our world? Explain your thinking?”
“Explain your thinking” is what Rialto educators were asked this week when news oozed out about the assignment's subject matter. School board member Joe Martinez said, “Current events are part of the basis for measuring IQ. The Middle East, Israel, Palestine and the Holocaust are on newscasts discussing current events.” District spokeswoman Syeda Jafri said until the media exposure, no one had complained about the exercise.
That was on Sunday. By Wednesday, the tone had changed, following widespread condemnation and death threats to Jafri and interim Superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam.
“From the bottom of my heart, I feel sorry for this whole thing happening,” Islam said. Board President Joanne Gilbert said it was a failure of internal checks and balances. But no individual took credit for proposing the idea or volunteered a defense of the propaganda argument, which was provided by BibleBelievers.org.
“Within five minutes, any intelligent, open-minded person can be convinced that the Holocaust gassings of World War II are a profitable hoax,” the essay states in its introduction. And then it gets ugly. The website is filled with anti-Semitic claptrap, but that's not evident from its splash page or index. Whoever dug this garbage out of the dumpster knew where to hunt for it.
The Riverside Press-Enterprise reported that the eighth-grade students will be making a field trip to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles for a healthier perspective on the Holocaust. Superintendent Islam “also will lead sensitivity training for teachers and staff, and all eighth-grade teachers will receive additional sensitivity training” there.