A school administrator in Southlake, Texas, advised teachers last week that if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also have a book with an “opposing” perspective.
The only “diverse perspective” on the Holocaust is Holocaust denial: the odious contention that Hitler didn’t arrange the murder of 6 million Jews and hundreds of thousands of Roma, homosexuals, Poles and political prisoners; that Auschwitz and Treblinka were fabrications designed to discredit the Nazi’s quest for racial purity? Did anyone suggest that, under the new guidelines?
One can’t help wondering if the response would have been quite so widespread and intense if it had been suggested that books on race relations be countered by other books addressing the toll – the very existence – of systemic racism. In fact, Rickie Farah, a fourth-grade teacher in the Southlake district, was recently reprimanded by the school board trustees for making Tiffany Jewell’s This Book is Anti-Racist available to her students; her case attracted minimal attention beyond the local press it would now be illegal to teach The Diary of Anne Frank without citing the loathsome broadsides that have questioned the diary’s authenticity, among them Ditlieb Felderer’s 1979 Anne Frank’s Diary, A Hoax, which calls the iconic journal “the first pedophile pornographic work to come out after World War II”.
The question of what specific books and topics can and can’t be taught is only part of what’s so disturbing about Texas law HB 3979 and the advice to teachers. What’s troubling is the idea that legislators, rather than educators, should determine and impose limitations on a school curriculum. The problem is the way in which administrators have interpreted the new law to mean that teachers and their pupils should ignore the evidence of history, that students shouldn’t be encouraged to distinguish between what actually happened and what didn’t, and that a range of hot-button subjects are not merely inappropriate but forbidden to mention in a classroom setting.
If teachers are obliged to tell their classes that there is “another point of view” about whether the Holocaust occurred, must American history lessons now also include books asserting that the United States was never a slave-holding nation or that racism ended with the Emancipation Proclamation? If the discussion surrounding a novel or story leads a class to conclude that LGBTQ+ people are entitled to basic human rights, must the class be asked to seriously consider the opposing view: that those rights should be denied to anyone who differs from the heterosexual norm?
My comment: My father arrived with an advanced guard at a mass extermination camp in Northern Germany at the end of the war. He left me in his Will a leather-thonged, bloody whip which he took off a Nazi guard, who he arrested. Dead, naked bodies were in piles in clear sight. His words to me? “Never forget!” Holocaust denial is a gross obscenity and a deep moral failing.