Teaching and Holocaust Denial

At Exploring our Matrix the issue of teaching evolution was raised. In particular, the issue of whether students should be allowed to voice their criticism of evolution in a science class.

The accusation was made that evolution is the only topic you are ‘not allowed’ to criticise in class. Which I suspect is incorrect on both fronts. I suspect you are allowed to criticise it, you’re just not allowed to take over the curriculum pouring out talking points you’ve been fed from outside. And I suspect it isn’t unique in that.

One other area that, while much smaller, is both educationally important, and has a very detailed denial movement, is holocaust denial.

I assume that the holocaust is a major part of the history curriculum in state schools. I assume that, from time to time, a student will appear who has been fed the talking points on why it never happened, and why the whole thing is a big conspiracy. And I assume they are dealt with in much the same way that a creationist is dealt with in science class.

But.

That’s a lot of assumptions. A bit of googling and I couldn’t find much actual information to confirm or deny my assumptions. I know the readership here is small, but I wonder if you can flesh out the question, if you have heard of any incidents, or if you know a student or teacher who’s faced this in reality.

It could be just a false analogy, of course, something I’m inventing to puff up my anti-creationist bias. But I would like to know. What do you think?

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Teaching and Holocaust Denial

  1. I don’t know the answer, but perhaps you could say the same about conspiracy theories about the Moon Landing and 9/11.

  2. Ian

    Yes, I suspect the 9/11 issue will become increasingly important in schools. Is the Moon Landing and cold-war history a central pillar of the curriculum? I don’t know. But if so, yes.

    Any information on any of them would be good!

  3. I’m not sure how often this comes up in K-12 science classes, just because World War II is at the tail end of the curriculum and is kind of squeezed in. Maybe at the college level, or some kind of twentieth-century specialized course. It has come up in the philosophy courses I teach.when we talk about moral relativism, because our reading asks how you would criticize a Nazi during WW2-era Germany.

    As an aside, I’ve found my normal response generally works well in that context: students wishing to challenge the accepted history (or the accepted whatever for that matter) must use actual academic sources to do it (and we’ve discussed what counts as a good academic source in class on previous occasions), and they must show why this criticism is actually relevant. Basically I require them to prove any assertions they make that aren’t generally accepted fact, and if they don’t then I grade them down on that level.

  4. Actually, I’m fairly sure the Holocaust doesn’t come up in K12 science classes at all. I meant K12 history classes, or any kind of K12 class at all. I was thinking of creationism, I guess, and my thoughts got jumbled up between neurons and keyboard.

  5. Grizel

    Ian,
    Here in the US, most history textbooks are fairly bland and seem to be focused on instilling a sense of nationalism within the student. I have several friends who are teachers in public schools and I don’t recall any tales of Holocaust deniers, but I don’t recall specifically asking about this subject either. I’ll mention it to each when I get a chance.

  6. A child who challenges the biology curriculum is encouraged to believe that he is doing God’s work and is likely to get positive reinforcement from his parents, his pastor, and at least some of his peers. I doubt that Holocaust denial has sufficient community support anywhere to offset the backlash that would come from challenging the history curriculum.

  7. Ian

    @Marta – thanks and welcome to the blog! That is very interesting about the curriculum (I knew what you meant about science). I’m not in the US, so I’ve no direct knowledge of this. In the UK it is covered as part of WWII, which is normally covered three times in curriculum. Or at least, it was a few years ago when my wife was a history teacher.

    @Grizel – thanks for that. It is interesting to hear that. Given that, when I lived there, there seemed to be a general level of pride in the US’s involvement in WWII, I assumed it would be covered. (On an unrelated note, though that generation has largely died out now, growing up in the UK there was a general sense of bitterness from the generations above me, about the US not entering the war when Europe was falling to the Nazis, so when I first moved to the US, I remember being a bit surprised at US pride in its WWII achievements).

    @Vinny That’s a good point, Vinny, but my understanding is there are some small groups who are highly motivated in their anti-semitism in that way. Again, perhaps I’m inventing demons.

  8. Ian,

    I don’t doubt that such small groups of Holocaust deniers exist, but creationists have cable networks, nationally syndicated radio hosts, and legal foundations ready to jump in to support the kid who challenges the biology curriculum–not to mention pandering politicians.

  9. Ian

    @Vinny – oh absolutely, I didn’t mean to suggest that I thought they were comparable in terms of size or influence.

  10. Ian,

    Of course not. I’m just suggesting that the Holocaust denial movement lacks the infrastructure and critical mass that enables/inspires the creationists to mount their challenges publicly even though the fanaticism/bat-shit-lunacy of individual members of each movement might be comparable.

  11. Ian

    Oh I see, yes. Sorry. Hmm. You may well be right, its a good point. I certainly think that, if there are examples for holocaust denial, they’ll be at best really local and specific, based around a particular hard-line family or odd religious group. Your point about critical mass is an excellent one I hadn’t thought about.

  12. Just to let you know I am reading and unfortunately have no information.

  13. I think it’s one thing to say that there’s holes in the knowledge and/or pieces that don’t fit. It’s quite another thing say that such holes demand everything else gets thrown out, too. Astronomy, for example, once proposed circular orbits. That’s close-ish but wrong. That doesn’t justify a geocentric flat earth. Refining the prior idea (using squashed circles; ellipses) works instead.

  14. Ian

    David, I agree. The creationists in that thread are correct. There are significant problems in evolutionary biology at the moment.

    But they are problems that will be solved with more research. And the result will be a slightly elliptical version of our current model of evolutionary biology. There is literally no possibility of the best biological science of 50 years hence looking anything like creationism.

  15. Ian

    Thanks for checking in, Sabio 🙂

  16. The Holocaust happened for sure, the main proof is that holocaust denying theories could sound credible to most suckers only well after the event receded in everybody’s immediate remembrance of WWII : for a long time after the Nazi defeat, everybody living in Europe could hear personal war stories from every middle-aged male around who had lived under nazi occupation, been compelled to do free labor for the Germans in camps or workhouses, and see that the Jews and other target groups were regularly being sorted out and shipped to other facilities no one never came back from. Holocaust deniers first started out their bullshit in places both sympathetic to fascistic ideals and far away from the theatre of European fascism, like the American Midwest, or the Arabic peninsula, or rural India, they could take on Western Europe proper only from the time two generations had elapsed from the tragedy, and the general popular culture grown oblivious to its former veneration for History, thanks to the spread of American-style fiction culture or Islamic fundamentalism. Faurisson could only remain an isolated crackpot while people still had a taste for History, he grew popular only when in most French suburbs History had become a contemptible topic among youths and also intellectuals, especially after the demise of marxism. As long as the event was going on or its memory still fresh, most if not all efforts of mendacity by the powers that be had been in the direction of downplay of the tragedy, to avoid various responsibilities such as the presence of American corporations like IBM in the concentration camp system.

    The moon landing never happened and that can be proven by the same argument in reverse. Contrary to nazi occupation and concentration camps, which is a tragedy tens of millions witnessed with their own eyes, even though each one with an ant’s eye, all details underlying the NASA feats could be witnessed by 99.9% only through screen media and various reports, even among the NASA organizational body itself due to the military secrecy of most operations. Moon landing deniers were very numerous right from before the alleged event, and had to be threatened, ridiculed and suppressed on a one by one basis, quite often by the use of psychiatric repression. They were especially numerous on the communist side but USSR, in the strategic negotiations with NATO for nuclear armament limitations, were offered immediate military and material advantages (American wheat, among others, for at that time USSR experienced bad harvests) in exchange for their official lip-service silence about that matter, which did not prevent secondary communist leaders like Castro or Ulbricht to go on with moon landing denial, as well as the general soviet public to express doubts and denials on a regular basis in many discussion clubs and organs. Many countries like India and France had a scientific establishment expressing denial or doubt just before succumbing to American pressure. The Americans, like the Russians, could send vehicles on the moon, like they are now doing on Mars, but not manned ones, for the very blunt reason the space outside the Van Allen belt is mortal due to solar and cosmic radiations. Micro-computing as we know it nowadays was then already known by the US Army but was military secret, so as to enable the taking and transmission of clear lunar landscapes as well as the tele guiding of the rovers. They are now taking space photographs of the lunar surface showing the rover and the lunar module base together with the ruts, but no traces of boots if you look with attention.

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