Congress mandates Holocaust education in grades K-12; science and math
requirements to be dropped. New legislation would also replace arts
and crafts in senior citizens' homes with workshops on Holocaust denial.
Shoah education aim of federal bill: Funding for legislation could
provide curriculum guidelines and training for educators
By Kristin Erekson
The Jewish Advocate
With more than 62 years having passed since the Shoah, local and state
lawmakers are working to give Holocaust education a boost.
Currently being reviewed by committees in the U.S. House of
Representatives and Senate, the Simon Wiesenthal Holocaust Education
Assistance Act if passed would provide select organizations
nationwide with competitive grants to be used to develop Holocaust
curriculum guides as well as training for teachers.
The act would distribute $10 million $2 million yearly for five
years in federal funding to establish these programs, according to
Newtonville resident Rosian Zerner, a Holocaust survivor from
Lithuania who is supporting the bill. The U.S. Secretary of Education
determines the recipients of the funds and the amounts of the awards.
"Massachusetts should be at the forefront of this legislation," said
Zerner, who has been fervently sending out letters and meeting with
legislators to garner more support for the act. "Holocaust education
is important because it not only stands as a symbol of what should not
be repeated in history but it is also necessary at a point where there
are so many Holocaust deniers."
Upon receiving a letter from Zerner, Congressman Barney Frank
(D-Mass.) decided earlier this month to become a co-sponsor of the
bill. Frank said he is "doing this for the world."
"The more you learn about things, the better it is to make sure you
avoid anything like it," Frank added
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, who is the author of the bill in the
Senate, told the Advocate in an e-mail that the Holocaust Education
Assistant Act is needed now more than ever because there are some who
still deny "the Holocaust's very existence."
Menendez, along with other lawmakers, found it fitting to name the
bill after the late Simon Wiesenthal, a survivor of the Nazi death
camps who dedicated his life to documenting the crimes of the
Holocaust and to hunting down the perpetrators still at large. The act
has no connection with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Menendez said.
"I believe this legislation will be an important step to ensuring that
students continue to learn about the Holocaust in an accurate and
comprehensive manner," Menendez added.
According to the text of the act, several states, such as California,
Florida and Illinois, now mandate Holocaust education in curricula.
However, Heidi P. Guarino, spokeswoman for the state Department of
Education, said Massachusetts does not exactly "mandate" the teaching
of the Shoah.
Instead, Guarino added, the Massachusetts History and Social Science
Curriculum Framework dedicates one world history learning standard to
the Holocaust, as well as another addressing the creation of the state
of Israel in 1948.
If the bill is passed, Guarino said that it will "spur a very intense
effort on the development of teaching units and other materials on
Alan Ronkin, deputy director of the Jewish Community Relations Council
of Greater Boston, told the Advocate that teaching about the Holocaust
is "critical to shape the next generation."
Added Ronkin: "Holocaust education not only teaches about the past,
but it also uses the lessons of the past to help shape students'
decisions to become future leaders [who fight] against racism, bigotry
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