Monday, May 5, 2014

WAS THE HOLOCAUST REAL?

A LOCAL SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SCHOOL DISTRICT is in deep doo-doo because an exercise in a junior high school class in that district asked students to prove or disprove the reality of the Holocaust or something like that. I really don't understand the brouhaha over that exercise; it seems to me that such an exercise would be exactly the kind of thing that a good, progressive school would present to its students.

Let me be clear: I have no doubt whatsoever that the horrible reports we've all read about how the Jews, gays, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, and certain other groups of people were treated under the Nazi regime were true. For well over the last 20 years that I worked I was in the lighting industry, which is heavily Jewish, and several of my customers --- and my last boss, in fact --- had those hideous death camp tattoos. For that reason, as well as many others, I truly, truly believe that the Holocaust occurred as we've heard. But the reality is, there are many people --- including some very intelligent people with impressive letters behind their names --- who, for any of a number of reasons, deny that there was such an event.

I can't think of ANY downside to having kids look critically at both sides of that issue. I don't have any doubt that arguments supporting the reality of the Holocaust will win out, but I don't see any reason why students (most of whom will hear, at one time or another, arguments opposing the reports that have been handed down by most modern historians) should not understand the reasoning behind the Holocaust deniers, and thus, the reasons why their position in support of the idea are valid.

Students SHOULD be exposed to arguments on both (or all) sides of important issues. How in the world do I know that my position on a particular subject makes more sense than that of those on the other side if I don't understand the reasoning behind their position? I really do need to examine my position as it stands in relation to differing positions.

I can think of other subjects that might be explored in similar fashion, though I wouldn't necessarily suggest that it should be on the junior high school (middle school) level: Race-based affirmative action; Was there a historical Jesus? The place of Cesar Chavez in American history; The reality (or fiction) of Climate Change; Abortion rights vs. Right-to-live; Equality, Equal Opportunity --- Is there a Difference? What, exactly, is Racism? --- and many other subjects.

This situation is the very reason why I so strongly oppose Home Schooling. An educational experience is deficient, in my opinion, if it does not expose students to more than one side of every issue; otherwise, those students do not have really valid reasons for arriving at the conclusions they do embrace. It does no student good to feed him or her one particular set of ideas, and to deny that student the opportunity to hear (or read) and explore other, different, ideas. I am bothered by the fact that, when I watch "The McLaughlin Report" on PBS-TV every Saturday, I find myself understanding the cool, calm, Aristotelian logic of the arch-conservative Pat Buchanan, while I cringe at the screeching, emotion-laden, 1960s-era liberal orthodoxy of Eleanor Swift, with most of whose ideas I am in agreement. Of course, Mr. Buchanan ( and other Jesuit-educated conservatives such as George Will and the late Bill Buckley) and I start from completely different major premises, so we arrive at dramatically different conclusions, but the reasoning behind their arguments is almost flawless.

We all --- students as well as the rest of us --- need to examine more aspects of positions than just the one we've staked out. We need to understand WHAT people who disagree with us believe, and WHY they believe it. Otherwise, we're just parroting what we've heard or read. And that is not an education. That is not good.