Loyal members of LU Nation will remember a post by Howard Portnoy in May 2014, outlining an outrageous classroom assignment given to 8th graders in Rialto, California:
Here is the assignment, which was handed out in April:
“[S]ome people claim the Holocaust is not an actual historical event, but instead is a propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain. Based upon your research on this issue, write an argumentative essay, utilizing 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. Remember to address counterclaims (rebuttals) to your stated claim.”
District spokeswoman Syeda Jafri explains that the assignment was developed by district teachers in connection with the eighth grade’s reading of the “Diary of Anne Frank” in April. It is aligned with Common Core Standards, which promote, among other things, critical thinking skills.
There was lively discussion at the time this story broke about whether this was a valid critical-thinking exercise.
But in a dénouement that should surprise no one, we learn today from the Los Angeles Daily News (LADN) that dozens of the 8th graders who turned in this assignment ended up concluding that the Holocaust was a hoax. Not only did they doubt it: they absorbed, from an anti-Semitic Holocaust-denial website – whose material was handed out to help them complete the assignment – a set of anti-Semitic tropes, against which their juvenile minds presumably had no defenses of skepticism or principle.
LADN staffers have read through hundreds of the students’ essays from this assignment, to which LADN was given access by the school district. (The essays are available for viewing through a subscription link at the LADN story.) Here is how the assignment went down (emphasis added):
To write the in-class essay, students were given printouts from About.com, History.com and Holocaust denial site BibleBelievers.org.au.
The claims made in the Holocaust denial handout were not specifically addressed by the other materials provided, apparently leading some students to conclude the Diary of Anne Frank was a hoax and that there is no evidence any Jewish people were gassed to death in German concentration camps.
Students completed the assignment in class, with no access to a computer or the library to debunk the claims made by the site.
LADN points out that an “authority” cited by the Holocaust-denial website is an utter fraud who has none of the credentials he has claimed to have (e.g., to be an expert on engineering or gas chambers). Innocent students, writing in class with no access to other materials, ended up producing essays in which they quoted this “authority” as a basis for concluding that the Holocaust was a hoax:
“According to Fred A. Leuchter (leading specialist on the design and fabrication of execution equipment) there is no significent cyanide traces in any of the alleged gas chambers,” one student wrote. “So any open minded person can easily be persuaded to believe that the gassings were a Hoax.”