In May, I reported on an assignment given to eighth-grade students in Rialto, California asking them to consider arguments on whether the Holocaust was an "actual event" or a "propaganda tool that was used for monetary gain."
Students were given an 18 page assignment and asked to use three sources: printouts from about.com, history.com and Holocaust denial site BibleBelievers.org.au. This was a "critical thinking assignment" and students did not have access to the internet or to a library while completing their essays.
The assignment read:
"When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence. For example, some 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. You are also required to use parenthetical (internal) citations and to provide a Works Cited page."
After a national uproar, the school district, through interim superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam, revised its position and the district school board publicly apologized for the assignment.
But prominent school officials like Associate Superintendent for Educational Services Susan Levine said in May that so far, her office hadn't seen any student essays that denied the reality of the Holocaust, but acknowledged that they hadn't read all the essays, yet.
The San Bernadino Sun analyzed the students' 2,000 essays and found that at least 50 argued the Holocaust was a lie, while many others argued that they thought the Holocaust was exaggerated. "Even many students who agreed the Holocaust occurred said there were good reasons to believe it had not or that elements of the historical record were actually hoaxes," the Sun reports.
From the San Bernadino Sun:
"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 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.
"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."
Without access to a library or the internet, one can see why the students didn't know that Luechter's claims have been thoroughly debunked: according to the Anti-Defamation League, Leuchter, who describes himself as the chief engineer of a Boston firm specializing in gas chambers and executions, has no engineering degree. In 1991, Leuchter admitted in a documentary film "Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred. A. Leuchter, Jr.," that he has no formal training in toxicology, chemistry or biology.
Other students also believed Leuchter's arguments: "if gassing would have occurred everyone (nearby) would have died, because the floors had cracks in the floor and holes in the wall."
In fact, the concentration camps in Auschwitz and Majdanek had ventilation systems, according to blueprints of the buildings.
"I believe it's a hoax because the government ran test and found nothing," another essay reads in part, "ball point pens weren't used when Anne Frank was alive, and it was impossible to kill so many people in that time period."
All of this goes to prove what I said in my original article:
How can students "come to their own conclusion" about an actual historical event? Especially when, instead of being taught what actually occurred, they're taught the Holocaust is simply one in a multitude of "theories?"
“Students got high praise and grades for writing that the Holocaust was a hoax. I’m sick about that, I’m sick about that,” said Rabbi Suzanne Singer of Temple Beth El in Riverside. “It’s worse than I thought it was.”