Michigan Law Requires Teaching of Genocide in Social Studies

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Legislation that amends Michigan public schools’ social studies curriculum mandates that schools must teach students about genocide. This policy would include lessons on the Holocaust and Armenian Genocide.

The law, which was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder this week, recommends six hours of age- and grade-appropriate instruction centered on genocide between grade 8 and grade 12, according to Michigan Public Radio’s Lev Facher.

“Our next generation of leaders needs to have the wherewithal to recognize and help prevent widespread harm to their fellow men and women,” Snyder said in a statement. “Teaching the students of Michigan about genocide is important because we should remember and learn about these terrible events in our past while continuing to work toward creating a more tolerant society.”

Snyder added that his signing of HB4493 should not be misunderstood to mean that elected officials of the state are the best guides of which topics should be included in classroom curriculum.

On Tuesday, Snyder signed 11 bills into laws, after which the state lawmakers broke for their summer recess.

Rep. Klint Kesto (R-District 39), who sponsored the bill, said it was important that students study the history of genocide, such as the tragedies inflicted upon Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks and the genocide of the Jewish people by the Nazis. These actions should never occur again, he added.

The American Genocide Education Committee (AGEC), which is made up of Armenian-American organizations and churches, and the Armenian National Committee of Michigan joined with the Armenian-American community to advocate for the new measure, says The Armenian Weekly.

Although the bill references the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide, Gov. Snyder says it is not necessary that the instruction remain limited to only those events.

During World War II, an estimated 6 million Jews were murdered. Approximately 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks during World War I. Turkish officials have said the number of deaths reported and the claims of genocide cannot be proven, says Beth Dalbey, reporting for Patch Media.

Michael Gerstein of the Associated Press writes that according to Michigan Department of Education spokesperson Bill DiSessa, Michigan high school students should be learning about the Holocaust.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has some guidelines when it comes to teaching students about the Holocaust. Instruction on this part of history requires high levels of sensitivity and careful appreciation of the intricacies of the subject matter.

The suggestions included a warning to teachers to avoid simple answers to complex questions and stay away from “comparisons of pain.” The museum officials also say the history of this atrocity should not be romanticized.

The museum officials say teachers should translate the statistics that are part of the narrative of this horrific time into people. They also encourage instructors to create a balance in establishing whose perspective informs students’ study of the Holocaust.

The museum’s website also explains that before 1944, the term “genocide” did not exist. The word refers to violent crimes committed against a group to destroy the group’s existence. Among the suggestions for teaching genocide is to include positive actions that have been taken by nations and individuals in the face of genocide.