Superintendent Calls Holocaust Essay Question ‘Bad Mark’ For District

An eighth-grade writing assignment that asked students to research and take a position on whether or not The Holocaust actually happened drew fury from parents, the district superintendent and a global Jewish human rights organization.

In an article in The Los Angeles Times, interim Rialto Unified Superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam said she was “deeply disturbed” by an assignment which asked students to research and write an argumentative essay about whether or not the Holocaust happened.

According to district spokeswoman Syeda Jafri, the assignment was created by the district’s educational services division as well as a group of teachers – none of whom have had their identities released:

“This is a bad mark on our record and we will fix it and move forward,” Jafri said. “Once in a while, things fall through the cracks.”

According to an article written by Beau Yarbrough of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, the assignment was given to some 2,000 eighth-graders in April.  The full text of the assignment read as follows:

When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence,” the assignment reads. “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.”

Historians believe some 6 million Jews died in The Holocaust during World War II. According the American Jewish Year Book (2012), approximately 6.7 million Jews currently live in the US, 1.2 million of those in California. The state has the second-largest Jewish population in the country, trailing only New York.

Rialto, located about an hour east of Los Angeles, drew the ire of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, home of the Museum of Tolerance, released a critical statement on the school district’s actions.

“The Simon Wiesenthal Center is appalled by this grotesque ‘assignment’,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Los Angeles-based Center. “If the teacher involved wanted to help his or her student understand the nature of hate propaganda, they should have assigned them to research the sources of the bigotry— totalitarian governments like Iran, neo-Nazi groups and bigoted pseudo-intellectuals. The Nazi Holocaust is the most documented monstrous crime in history. This assignment mistakenly provides moral equivalency between history and bigotry. There are people who claim that slavery was a good thing and the Flat Earth Society has a presence online. Does that mean we would ask our students to prepare argumentative essays to such outrageous and patently falsehoods?” 

The Rialto school board issued a formal apology early this week and will implement sensitivity training to its staff to try and avoid future controversies.