Essay: Is the Holocaust real or propaganda?

Did the Holocaust really happen or was it “a propaganda tool used for political or monetary gain?” In a Southern California district, Rialto Unified, eighth graders were told to use three sources — including one that calls the murder of Jews a “hoax” — to research the “debate.” Then they were to write an essay, citing their research, to “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.”

In an email, school board member Joe Martinez defended the assignment as an exercise in critical thinking. “This will allow a person to come to their own conclusion.”

Their own conclusion? “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts,” said Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

After more furor, the district said teachers would revise the assignment.

Teachers, who were doing a unit on the Diary of Anne Frank, came up with the Holocaust debate idea, no doubt thinking it would meet Common Core standards’ call for argumentative writing. (Anne Frank also is a hoax, according to the assigned denial site.) They’ll think of something else.

It’s just a coincidence — really — that the primarily Latino district is run by an interim superintendent named Mohammad Z. Islam.

British Pathé releases 85,000 newsreels

Newsreel archive British Pathé has uploaded its entire collection of 85,000 historic films to YouTube.

“Spanning the years from 1896 to 1976, the collection includes footage – not only from Britain, but from around the globe – of major events, famous faces, fashion trends, travel, sport and culture,” says the company. “The archive is particularly strong in its coverage of the First and Second World Wars.”

It sounds like a history teacher’s dream.

The lines they are a-changin’

The Centennia Historical Atlas shows how European and Middle Eastern borders (not just the Crimean peninsula) changed from the year 1000 to a few years ago. I don’t think it’s completely accurate, but it’s still very cool.

How WWI got started

How Come They Don’t Teach You This In School?, asks QuickMeme.

How Come They Don't Teach You This In School? This is Brilliant... -   Misc

Carnival of Homeschooling

SmallWorld at Home is hosting this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling from the snowy South.

Sarah includes snowman photos from local homeschoolers. “For some of these kids, this was their first snowman-building experience. Just a few days after our big snow, we have daffodils starting to pop up. Such is life in the South.”

Eva Varga explores family genealogy to give her children a sense of history.

Remembering FDR’s tweets

Jimmy Kimmel’s Lie Witness News celebrated President’s Day by telling people that President Franklin Roosevelt had died — that day — and asking them to remember him. How about FDR’s funny Twitter feed? Yeah, that was great. (It was Kimmel, not Fallon.)

Down with history textbooks

Long, fact-laden history textbooks are “boring and intimidating,” writes teacher David Cutler in The Atlantic.

Textbooks present history as unchanging, but as time passes, our understanding and interpretation of the past constantly evolves.

Textbooks are one-sided, offering a top-down, often white-male-centric view of history.

Without a thesis or any semblance or argument, textbooks don’t accurately reflect how most scholars (at least good ones) write and present history. Teachers should assign readings that model effective historical writing.

Teachers “who don’t know history or the historian’s craft” use textbooks as a crutch, Cutler writes. “Teachers who depend on textbooks are likely to test what is in the textbooks: long lists of facts.” Students memorize, then forget.  

“Kids don’t study history to ‘learn the historian’s craft’,” responds Robert Pondiscio on Facebook. “They study history so that they have some context in place and time for their own lives, and cease laboring under the misconception that the world was handed down to them in present form as they find it.”

And it’s just not true that teachers or textbooks present history as “a long list of facts,” writes Pondiscio. 

‘You have to know history to teach it’

“You have to know history to actually  teach it,” historian Eric Foner says in an Atlantic interview. Too many history teachers are athletic coaches, he says.

Students need to know historical facts — and to understand “every selection of what is a fact, or what is important as a fact, is itself based on an interpretation,”  says Foner. He wishes his college students could write essays.

Many elementary schools spend little time on history, writes Lisa Hansel on Core Knowledge Blog. Students don’t develop the historical knowledge or vocabulary to understand history when it’s introduced in later grades.

On of Ed Week’s most-viewed commentaries of 2013 was on students’ lack of history knowledge, notes Hansel.

Author Vicky Schippers, claims that we’re teaching history wrong—as “a litany of disconnected names, dates, and events to be memorized before an exam” instead of as “a study of struggles, setbacks, and victories.”

Schippers tutored “Tony,” a would-be high school graduate who “had no sense of U.S. presidents, the sequence of wars in which the United States has been involved, the U.S. Constitution and the structure of government, and the central issues over which our democracy has struggled.” He’d heard of Abraham Lincoln, but couldn’t link him to the Civil War.

Hansel wonders if Tony got a string of bad history teachers — or if it was something else.

It could be that all of Tony’s history classes consisted of terribly boring facts that Tony decided not to memorize. But I’d guess that at least some of Tony’s teachers delivered the facts along with the struggles and stories—and I’d guess that Tony’s listening and reading comprehension were too limited to follow along.

K-6 teachers average 16 to 21 minutes a day on social studies, according to a 2012 survey. And history is only a fraction of that.

Making Americans: Core civics


Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg

Social studies — including history and civics — is being crowded out of the classroom by the push to raise reading and math achievement, said Stefanie Sanford at a Manhattan Institute event on Civic Education and the Common Core. As a Fordham trustee and chief of Global Policy and Advocacy for The College Board, Sanford thinks the new standards will revive civic education.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1816, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free . . . it expects what never was and never will be.” It was his strong belief in education as the bedrock of democracy that made Jefferson one of our earliest and strongest champions of public education.

The amount of time devoted to history and civics education “has been on the decline for decades,” says Sanford. Schools have shifted time from science, history, and the arts to English language arts and math. But reading achievement has stagnated in the last 40 years.

In 1971, the average reading score on the twelfth-grade NAEP was 285. In 2008, it was 286.

While the goal of improving reading achievement is noble, our efforts to do so have been misguided and have inadvertently undermined our efforts to improve civic education for two reasons.

First, student reading comprehension will not improve unless we teach content.

Research tells us that, once students have learned how to read, the best way to improve reading comprehension is to broaden students’ content knowledge and to expand their vocabulary. That means that, rather than shifting time away from history and civics, if we really want to improve reading achievement, we should redouble our efforts to teach important content. And that includes teaching U.S. history and civics.

Second, civics education cannot stand alone.

. . . civics education should be infused throughout the K–12 curriculum. Students in English classes should be asked to read and understand the Founding documents—not just for their historical significance but also for their literary merit. And they should be invited to study and analyze the great texts that are part of the Great Conversation. These are part of a well-rounded ELA curriculum, not an add-on that comes only if and when schools have time. We cannot expect to graduate a generation of culturally and historically literate American citizens unless our curriculum and instruction are infused with the great literary works that informed and drove our nation’s great history.

Sanford is the author of Civic Life in the Information Age: Politics, Technology, and Generation X.

History

President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, 1963. (Courtesy of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library / PBS)

I was in a sixth-grade science class watching a movie. Someone had just turned “cyanotic blue.” The PA system went on and the principal said the president had been shot. I thought: “He’ll be OK. Assassinations are history, like Abraham Lincoln. They’re not something that could happen now.” The next period, our P.E. teacher told us the president was dead. The scariest thing was seeing how shocked our teachers and parents were. I wasn’t used to seeing adults cry.