8th graders: Holocaust is a hoax

The Holocaust was a hoax, concluded dozens of eighth-graders in essays written for an in-class assignment, reports the San Bernardino Sun.

Students were given three “credible” sources — one a Holocaust denial site — and no opportunity to search for more information. They wrote their essays in class. Although they’d read Anne Frank’s Diary, some believed a handout that claimed it was a forgery.

Rialto Unified School District administrators, besieged by criticism after the assignment became public in May claimed at the time that none of the students questioned or denied the Holocaust, reports the Sun. A look at the essays shows that’s not true.

“I believe the event was fake, according to source 2 the event was exhaggerated,” one student wrote. (Students’ and teachers’ original spelling and grammar are retained throughout this story.) “I felt that was strong enogh evidence to persuade me the event was a hoax.”

In some cases, students earned high marks and praise for arguing the Holocaust never occurred, with teachers praising their well-reasoned arguments:

“you did well using the evidence to support your claim,” the above student’s teacher wrote on his assignment.

The student received a grade of 23 points out of 30, with points marked off for not addressing counterclaims, capitalization and punctuation errors.

The assignment was supposed to teach “critical thinking.”

“According to Fred A. Leuchter (leading specialist on the design and fabrication of execution equipment) there is no significant 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.”

Leuchter has admitted he’s not an engineer and has no formal training in toxicology, chemistry or biology. He’s not strong on history either.

Without access to computers, students couldn’t check the “evidence” in the handouts, writes Scott Shackford on Reason‘s Hit&Run blog.

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  1. Sigivald says:

    Well, this was – per Reason’s write-up – a debate exercise.

    Debate as a skill and a class exercise has never been about truth of the given sources; it’s about skilled argument and how to think about the given evidence.

    The only mistake here appears to be deciding that “the reality of the Holocaust” was sensible material for such a task.

    (Indeed, my understanding of normal Debate settings is that people often get assigned “argue that X is the case” and others “argue that not-X is the case”; that would have been even more awkward for the district … though at perfectly valid thought-exercise*.

    But not for 8th-graders.

    * The best way to defeat an argument is to understand it. The best way to understand it is, probably, to try and make the argument. You can’t defeat holocaust deniers by just saying “It isn’t so! It really did happen!”, unfortunately.

    I’ve found, occasionally, on the Internet that I’ve argued things against people who were making an argument for their own side inferior to the one I could make for it, as someone who disagrees with it. And that’s sad … for them.)

  2. “Critical thinking”, they keep using that term, but I don’t think it means what they think it means.

    However, perhaps the controversy has taught a valuable lesson in critical thinking. First, never trust “credible” sources provided to you while you are prohibited from doing even a cursory search for other sources. Second, that the way questions are presented and documents supplied can manipulate the mind and deceive it. Making the worse seem the better without immediate exposure. And most of all, hopefully, the students have learned to distrust authority figures and those who claim to have been endowed with the power to “educate”.

    Also, it is good to learn some of many things so that you are not so readily taken in by manipulation. Always question what is presented to you.

    • Ann in L.A. says:

      When you strip actual history out of history class, this is what you get.

      You can’t “think critically” if you don’t know anything. Shove low-quality or flat-out wrong sources at kids and they have no way of evaluating them, nothing to fall back on.

      Unfortunately, this also means they can easily be manipulated. If you don’t know anything and have no way to evaluate the quality of sources, you’ll end up believing anyone who writes plausibly.

      The Holocaust is so horrendous that it is hard to believe it happened–how could people do that to other people. It is more plausible-sounding to say that it didn’t–couldn’t have–happened, than to look at the facts and know that it did. Here, the truth sounds less plausible.

  3. I bet that these students would also conclude, based on “credible” evidence, that the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus is an endangered species, too….

    Did the teacher spend any time discussing criteria to determine what constitutes “credible sources”?

  4. Mark Roulo says:

    “Did the teacher spend any time discussing criteria to determine what constitutes ‘credible sources’?”
    It appears that the holocaust denier entry was one of three handouts. I’m pretty sure that the teacher(s) did *NOT* explain to the kids that the material being handed out was bullshit (with many historical innaccuracies and wild leaps of illogic. One part claims that Japanese + German “war machines” killed fewer than 1M people. The Soviets lost more than this in the siege of Leningrad alone. The US claims 400K dead alone.).

  5. Jerry Doctor says:

    Don’t teach them any thing about the facts of the situation. Only give them limited, pre-selected sources of information. Argue both sides without regard to the truth or at least what they perceive as the truth. Hmmm… isn’t 8th grade a little young to start training lawyers?

  6. greeneyeshade says:

    Michael Gerson, who might be the Washington Post’s most interesting columnist, nailed this May 21. Money quote, one of many: “The assumption of two-sidedness when considering the Holocaust … requires a morally offensive false equivalence. Academics, for example, vigorously debate the causes of grievances that lead to international terrorism. Crackpots claim that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were plotted by the Jews. Any teacher who confuses these two types of argument cultivates ignorance and bigotry. The same is true for an eighth-grade teacher who poses the questions: Was Anne Frank’s diary a forgery? Was the Wannsee Conference just a staff retreat? Were the Nuremberg trials a kangaroo court?”