That ‘Did the Holocaust Happen?’ Middle School Essay Exercise Turned Out Even Worse Than Thought

Still inappropriate!Credit: Eric ConstantineauIt can be hard to keep up with the outrage du jour, so folks may have already forgotten about the awkward, poorly conceived writing exercise developed by educators for the Rialto Unified School District in Rialto, California. The district decided to have eighth-grade students practice their written debate skills last May by giving them a couple of documents to read and then asking them whether the Holocaust actually happened.

A public relations disaster then obviously occurred, and after briefly defending the exercise, the district decided not to repeat it. The school district also said that it didn't find any essays where students argued that the Holocaust was a fraud, which probably came as a relief.

But it turns out the claim wasn't true. The Sun of San Bernardino got their hands on student essays and found dozens of them had argued that the Holocaust didn't happen. Reporter Beau Yarbrough exposed the truth over the weekend:

Rialto Unified School District administrators, besieged by criticism after the assignment became public in May, claimed at the time that none of the students who completed the assignment questioned or denied the Holocaust, but a survey of the students' work by this news organization found numerous examples of students expressing doubt or flatly denying that the Holocaust occurred.

"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.

Back in May, I criticized the exercise not so much for the content but for the limited information provided to the students and the district's decision to use such a heavily one-sided argument to try to teach debate skills (as well as giving the exercise to eighth-graders, who are arguably too young to be debating this topic). It turned out the limited information was a bigger factor than I thought. The assignment sheet told students that they could search for other sources of information to bolster their case as long as they documented them. That does not appear to be how the exercise played out in class, according to The Sun:

Students completed the assignment in class, with no access to a computer or the library to debunk the claims made by the ["Holocaust is a hoax"] site. Such debunking is easily achieved with Internet access

Yarbrough goes on to explain exactly what evidence from the Holocaust debunkers has itself been debunked.

The district is refusing to identify who was responsible for putting the assignment together or whether there will be any repercussions for them.

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  • John||

    I don't think this is necessarily a bad assignment. Doing this essay could teach a lot of good lessons about the nature of historical evidence and what it means for us to know something happened in the past. The problem is that most teachers are incapable of doing it properly. The proper way to do it would be to first assign the kids to write an essay explaining why they think or do not think the holocaust occurred. Let them do their own research and come to their own conclusions. Grade them on the quality of their writing and thinking, not necessarily on the side they take. Then after the essays are turned in, take a couple of hours of class time to mercilessly demolish the arguments that say it didn't happen and explaining exactly what did happen.

    The kids would then learn a valuable lesson about the nature of proof and how easy it is for a clever advocate to distort reality. That, I think would be a very valuable and memorable lesson that would stay with the kids. It would teach them not to believe everything they read and to be rightly suspicious of conspiracy theories and various other "you don't know the full truth" kinds of claims.

  • sarcasmic||

    Silly John! Schools isn't a place to teach children how to think, it's a place to tell them what to think!

  • John||

    There is that and there is also the fact that few teachers are smart enough to win a straight up argument with their students sufficient to demolish the denier arguments as I describe.

  • ||

    There is that and there is also the fact that few teachers are smart enough to win a straight up argument with their students sufficient to demolish the denier arguments as I describe.

    Sad part is, this is as true in science and even math as it is in more humanities-oriented curricula.

  • Free Society||

    Lies are best presented as fact using the least empirical scientific findings available as supporting evidence.

  • Restoras||

    Lies are best presented as fact using the least empirical scientific findings available as supporting evidence.

    As in, anthropogenic global warming.

  • Idle Hands||

    yes it sounds like a good exercise, but the Holocaust is the one they picked? You could literally have picked any world event and the one they went with was the Holocaust? Just stupidity plain and simple.

  • John||

    This is true. It is a bit controversial. But only because people assume that the school is too stupid to make the truth clear.

    That being said, yes they should have made a better choice. Something like the Kennedy assassination would have made the same point. Let them write all about the various conspiracy theories and then demolish them one by one.

  • Bobarian||

    The problem with the JFK argument is the high liklihood of some teacher taking on some 'grassy knoll' argument and explaining that it really was the 'Cigarette Smoking Man' who did it.

  • Brett L||

    Wait, I thought we were all in agreement that it was a mob hit for the President disrespecting Joe DiMaggio by sleeping with his ex-wife.

  • Restoras||

    Could have used the Moon landings instead.

  • Rob||

    It is a bit controversial.

    Whether or not the Holocaust was real is "controversial"?

    Seriously?

  • John||

    No implying that it wasn't real is controversial.

  • ||

    It may have been at one point, bu in a generation or two it probably won't be if current demographic trends hold.

  • perlhaqr||

    Yeah, we did something similar to this in either seventh or eighth grade, but rather than "happened or didn't happen" it was "defend or prosecute", and the subject was the Japanese Internment in WWII, rather than the Holocaust.

    And even that was probably not as well thought out as it might have been, as an assignment.

  • John||

    But that really is a debatable issue. The point of my lesson would be that some issues really are not debatable even though people try to make them so.

    Teaching them to attack a debatable issue is a good thing. But I would want to teach something a bit different. I would want to teach them that with clever and dishonest enough advocacy even the most obvious and true fact can be made to look debatable.

  • Horatio||

    Like how the Kochs's are cleverly confusing people about Global Warming?

  • John||

    LOL. Yeah, something like that.

  • Dweebston||

    Urban heat islands are a myth perpetuated by the Kochs! Spread the word!

  • Sevo||

    "You could literally have picked any world event and the one they went with was the Holocaust? Just stupidity plain and simple."

    I dunno. It wasn't the best PR move, but the Holocaust is an important historical event (and I hope they tied it to the context of WWII).
    Sounds to me like they didn't give the kids enough research material.

  • Rob||

    Even posing a question as to whether the Holocaust happened is insulting. There is no debate on this subject - the event happened. One could make arguments about whether trails after the war should have happened, or which people should have been tried at Nuremburg. However, inviting debate as to whether a horrific event in human history actually took place is just wrong.

  • kbolino||

    However, inviting debate as to whether a horrific event in human history actually took place is just wrong.

    Because a 12-year-old is going to have the maturity and experience to not only have already considered the matter, but to have researched and evaluated it extensively and effectively.

    The victims are already dead, it does not do them any disservice to use the event as an example of historicity and historical research, the ways in which people can cherry pick facts and concoct half-truths to reach ridiculous conclusions, and moreover the monstrous implications of ideologies founded on such notions.

  • ||

    Because a 12-year-old is going to have the maturity and experience to not only have already considered the matter, but to have researched and evaluated it extensively and effectively.

    You don't think that's a good reason why maybe you shouldn't plant the idea in their head that the holocaust was a hoax?

  • wagnert in atlanta||

    The problem is that if you don't do that, and then demolish the notion with all the facts you can muster, someone else will do it -- and they won't be interested in demolishing it.

  • MegaloMonocle||

    I'm with John. This has the makings of a good learning experience. Argue for something you disagree with, evaluate the claims and "evidence", that kind of thing.

  • toolkien||

    Of course there's little doubt something DID happen, but deep, rational thinking goes to WHY and HOW it happened. What was the nature of how it all came to pass the way it did. But the catholic narrative rarely goes beyond "it did happen, and it was because evil, devilish people - who dropped out of the sky - did it and we killed them all". There's no way on earth that a public school, as currently constructed, is going to examine all the structures and biases in Europe at large, and socio-economic choices made, as far back as the mid 1800's, which culminated in the latest, most efficient pogrom against the Jews.

    In short, the blame falling on Statism, and the superstitious who adore it, isn't going to come anywhere near into the picture. It was the silly Nazi's, and their fetish for scary red and black attire, that was the root of the Holocaust. Anything other than that will fall too close to home for the corpora-fascists in our education system.

    So, I don't really know how much more useful catechismic approaches to history are going to be than forming an opinion of denial. If one can't apply the systems in place that led to the Holocaust, and map them over to what is going on around one today, you might as well have extra study hall.

  • John||

    Well, sometimes there isn't a good explanation for why something happened. Indeed, our quest for rational explanations for everything often leads us to create really shallow and stupid explanations for things. In fact, you inadvertently give a good example of this. You are absolutely correct in pointing out that people often attribute the Holocaust to some formless group called "the Nazis" as if they were aliens who came to earth and not part of and produced by German society. But that makes for a very simple and rational explanation for a monstrous evil; this group of really bad people took over and did bad things. The reality of course is much more complex and much more resistant to rational explanation. If evil were not resistant to rational explanation, there wouldn't be so much of it since we could reason our way to avoiding it. Sadly, we can't often do that. The nature of man is to be able to construct superficially rational justifications for the most irrational and evil things.

    I would submit to you that there is no fully rational explanation for why or how the holocaust happened because there are not fully rational explanation for any sort of mass behavior or really even individual acts of evil.

  • toolkien||

    But it stands that one can't sit by and say that it is all so horribly complex and not gather enough wisdom from the happenings, especially when one can stack it up with other examples. One can start to discern common roots, such as the number of people done to death under communism along with all the people done to death under Nazism. The common root is, of course, Statism.

    Instances of attacks on the Jews happened every so often. The main lesson of the Holocaust is the efficiency by which that installment occurred.

    And this most pragmatic lesson isn't going to be expounded in the slightest. It's how we've come to passes we have in this country. Over simplified teachings of the Holocaust have left the citizenry on the brink of hard line left or hard line right coming very soon. There's very little likelihood that the necessary economic corrections coming down upon us isn't going to bring with it hardliners. The application of the lesson, overall, was to not let ourselves get into the same economic cauldron which incubated Nazi Germany.

  • John||

    There are a million pragmatic lessons to be learned form the holocaust. That is true. I didn't mean to imply that just because it defies a fully rational explanation that it defies all explanation. It just means it defies full explanation. There are still lots of really important partial explanations that provide valuable lessons going forward.

    One of the best I think is how badly things go wrong when law is disconnected from morality. The Germans were fabulous at writing laws and following them. They still are. At the end the Holocaust was just lunacy. But in the beginning it was very systematic and rules based. The Germans were meticulous about following the law. It is just that the law was increasingly evil. Many German jurists facilitated the Holocaust in the name of "it was my duty to apply the law as written".

  • The Last American Hero||

    Still reading Chiktracts?

  • XM||

    This wouldn't have been a bad assignment if it was an analysis of an written piece of work. The students could have read someone's theory that holocaust was a hoax, and assigned to judge the author's use of evidence, write why they may agree or disagree with his / her position, etc. Something concrete.

    But the real problem is that the students were given a chance to take sides on an issues that's simply NOT subjective. This wasn't some theoretical exercise. If you wrote that the Holocaust was fake, you were supposed to believe it. So if they wrote a fundamentally sound essay on this topica, it's still only an elegant lie.

    I was a teacher and a tutor, and there's no way I would give a passing grade to someone who wrote "Why you don't need air to live". The quality of the prose, grammar, and style is beside the point. Especially for an elementary student, who needs growth in JUDGING and QUESTIONING the evidence, instead of just citing whatever source that's available to them (COUGH Asian kids COUGH)

  • John||

    One more point, as bad as it is for kids to grow up thinking the holocaust didn't happen, I think it is worse for them to grow up thinking all or some accepted wisdom and dogma about the past is beyond challenge. It is not good enough to know that the holocaust, or anything else for that matter, occurred because everyone said it did. You have to understand why and how we know it occurred and why the accepted wisdom about it is the truth and why the competing claims are nothing but crackpot counter factual bullshit. Without the second part of the lesson, you are likely to believe the crackpot bullshit.

  • toolkien||

    I wish I had read this first. Makes my post obsolete.

  • John||

    No worries.

  • Mike A.||

    No. A significant percentage of the population isn't smart enough, inquisitive enough, engaged enough to put that kind of effort into a middle school class problem.

    For them, the important thing is knowing that the holocaust happened.

  • kbolino||

    For them, the important thing is knowing that the holocaust happened.

    And thus the first stone in the foundation of statism is laid, for I know better than you and so shall I make this decision for you...

  • Rob||

    And 8th grade students (13-14 year olds) are sufficiently grounded in the world to understand the deep cultural nuances of the Jewish diaspora, and it's relationships with Eastern and Western Europe? That isn't even something many academics cannot manage to do after years of dedicated studies.

  • Bee Tagger||

    The Sun of San Bernardino got their hands on student essays and found dozens of them had argued that the Holocaust didn't happen.

    Considering that this may qualify as hate speech, this sounds like entrapment.

  • Idle Hands||

    Could have probably hashed out a less controversial subject, of all things why the Holocaust? How was there multiple people who thought this was an okay idea? One teacher I could see, but an entire district? What a colossal group of idiots.

  • John||

    I still don't understand what their point of doing it was. The reason why people went so apeshit is because they didn't make their goal clear. It sounded like they were telling the kids "hey we really don't know what happened and the are a reasonable positions on both sides". That of course is a completely offensive and appalling thing for them to do.

    If, however, they meant it as an abject lesson in "don't believe every claim you read" and intended to run it as I describe above, then I don't think the parents should be offended. If you want to give this assignment, as some point the school has to make it clear that one side of the argument really is right and the other completely wrong. I don't see where they did that and that is why people got so pissed.

  • Idle Hands||

    I agree but its def. a subject you have to be incredibly careful with, kind of like if they did the same thing with slavery. Its just they really didn't think it through at all.

  • -Umbriel-||

    I basically agree on the positive potential of the assignment, but why choose such a lopsided issue, unless one was going to specifically assign all the students to argue the contrarian side? The Holocaust is a politically fraught issue, but the core problem with the assignment would still be there if you made the topic "Did the Second World War happen?" -- if all the students take the easy side, they'll end up just parroting the accepted version of events, and not learn much critical thinking at all.

    In my most extensive debate class, in college, the instructor took a series of quick class votes on a variety of issues to find one on which there was a significant split, and then made that (in this case, the legality of abortion)the topic for the main semester project. That seems like a much more sensible approach, though I guess it would require a bit more effort on the part of the teachers to make sure they were adequately informed on the topic chosen.

  • John||

    The problem with thta approach is that it doesn't teach the lesson I think ought to be taught. Yes, the assignments you talk about are valuable but they don't teach this lesson. They don't teach that a reasonable sounding case can be made for even the most counter factual and dishonest positions. That is a lesson that I think ought to be taught and isn't taught by just choosing really debatable things like abortion and such. You only learn that by looking at issues for which there is no reasonable case, like there was no holocaust or the moon landing was faked, and yet some people insist on constructing arguments to support.

  • -Umbriel-||

    I see your point, but the way to teach that lesson isn't just to pick a lopsided issue, it's to assign students to take the contrarian position. I could definitely see the intended benefit if they'd assigned the kids to argue that the Holocaust didn't happen, though they'd probably catch flak on any issue they picked for this approach -- the moon landing would likely have offended fewer people, but would have raised accusations of being "anti-science".

  • Rob||

    Bullshit. If you want to teach students (especially early teens) a lesson about not believing every claim they read, have them pull up any meme from Facebook and then look it up on Snopes.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Other choices:

    Slavery was a net benefit for the blacks

    Smallpox blankets and Manifest Destiny were myths

    Shakespeare was a black woman

    Hitler, evil or just misunderstood?

  • ||

    Your third choice doesn't make sense. Shakespeare was a man. He was a white man.

    Now having said that the person known as Shakespeare likely didn't write a lot of things attributed to him. It's just as plausible that Christopher Marlowe wrote it all. Or even Bacon, but my money is on Marlowe.

  • Idle Hands||

    Your just blinded by your White-Privilege to see it was clearly trans-gendered Panda that was mostly black with a typewriter that penned those plays the public just wasn't ready for the truth.

  • ||

    Was is SF or another book work on here that claimed William Shakespeare actually wrote the works attributed to him?

    Well it wasn't.

    **throws down gauntlet**

  • SugarFree||

    I don't claim it, I Occam's Razor it. The works of Shakespeare are some of the most analyzed and contextualized works in human literature. Absent positive proof--which thousands of people have devoted their lives to finding--I don't see the point of claiming otherwise.

    Find something else to write about, grad students. (And no, I don't mean "[anyone who ever did anything remotely interesting] was secretly gay!"... what a worn out genre.)

  • The Last American Hero||

    Finding definitive proof refuting Shakespeare as the author of his works is like finding definitive proof of Big Foot.

  • Obama's Buttplug||

    Contrary to his claim that he is a straight man married to a woman, Sugarfree is a flaming homosexual. Discuss.

  • ||

    It wasn't Shakespeare, it was another guy with the same name.

  • Bobarian||

    I've always understood Shakespeare to actually be a really large number of monkeys.

  • Brandon||

    The moon landing: Are mailboxes overrated?

  • ||

    Mailboxes and the moon landing have little to do with each other. Except for the fact that both can involve launching projectiles a great distance.

  • Hyperion||

    Agreed, they have about as much to do with each other as:

    Public Schools - Education

  • Brandon||

    How about this then: Are astronauts horribly overrated?

  • Pope Jimbo||

    How about Joe Rogan vs. Phil Plait on whether the moon landing was a fake? It is a great example of a crazy person sounding way more convincing than a smart guy who knows a ton about astronomy.

    A write up with links to the actual pod cast:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine......8P21vldWSo

    This is something pretty non-controversial that would help kids with critical thinking.

  • John||

    Now that is a great alternative.

  • Pope Jimbo||

    The part that I think is really important is that it demonstrates that "celebrities" - while very good at using their medium to get there point across - may not actually know jack shit about what they are talking about.

    Hopefully it makes an impact on the kids so that the next time they see Jenny McCarthy or Meryl Streep, or Ted Danson yammering on about vaccinations, alar or the near collapse of the oceans they maybe think twice about the validity of their arguments.

  • John||

    Yes.

  • Idle Hands||

    Ted Danson all arguments are refuted by the fact that he dated Whoopi Goldberg and this.

  • Pope Jimbo||

    Why does that invalidate his opinion? Because he looked better than Whoopi?

  • Michael||

    Oh, man. The comments section to the Yarbrough article is completely batshit insane. Please proceed at your own peril.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Pics or it didn't happen.

    Debate over.

  • Jerryskids||

    Something something racist teabagger.

    Debate over.

  • MasterDarque||

    Who gives a fuck about whether is happened or not. Tons of bad shit has happened in history and I am not sure why this one event is supposed to be so sacred and undeniable.

  • sarcasmic||

    Why do you hate the JOOOOS?

  • Obama's Buttplug||

    Shoah me the money!

  • Idle Hands||

    I would agree, but surely you could see how this is an issue for a lot of people. You could accomplish the same task easily enough with something else that you know wouldn't ruffle many feathers.

  • Jerryskids||

    Resolved: There is no debatable subject that won't ruffle at least a few feathers. Discuss.

    I would suggest that Holocaust denial was chosen as a subject of debate simply because it is so non-debatable. Should the assignment have been to debate gay marriage or drug legalization or immigration reform or global warming or evolution or intervention in Iraq or adoption of Common Core?

  • Idle Hands||

    This is true but certain issues rustle some jimmy's more than others.
    See:
    Abortion
    Civil Rights
    Holocaust Deniers
    Israel/Palestinian crisis
    Civil War

  • ||

    Oh, I don't know...maybe because it involved the extermination of several million people by a state for no reason other than their religion, sexual preference or mental capacity.

  • sarcasmic||

    And it could happen again.

  • ||

    Hell, it did a mere decade later in China (on an even greater scale) and a little after that in Cambodia (on a smaller scale).

  • sarcasmic||

    Rwanda.

  • Rob||

    Darfur, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    Sadly, there will be others.

  • Christophe||

    I'd argue that using percentages of total population is the right metric. Which would make Cambodia the big one.

  • Brandon||

    This is sub-Tony trolling.

  • ||

    Fuck off, Orrin.

  • John||

    Who gives a fuck about whether is happened or not.

    The remaining still living victims and the families of the victims who are only a generation or two removed? Them for one.

    Beyond that when an entire continent blows a fucking gasket and sticks 13 million people ovens for the crime of being from a lower race, it would seem to me that it is pretty damned important to understand why it happened so we can at least try to ensure it doesn't happen again. You could say "who cares it is over with" about any tragedy, if you are a fucking moron who thinks there are no lessons to be learned from disasters.

    Lastly, it matters that it happened if for no other reason than it enables us to properly assign blame to the people and the ideologies responsible. That way when dumb asses like you show up claiming it doesn't matter and offering the same or similar ideologies, we can say it does and here is why.

  • Rob||

    I once met a man who had a Nazi tattoo. There was something about seeing that tattoo which made the whole sad event real for me in a way I can't describe.

    I don't have a problem with inquiries into the events and cultural climate which lead to the Holocaust. However, I do object to any lending of credence whatsoever to the idea that the Holocaust did not happen.

  • kbolino||

    However, I do object to any lending of credence whatsoever to the idea that the Holocaust did not happen.

    That's well and good, and you get to choose your associates accordingly. What you do not get to do is dictate the realm of acceptable thought for others.

    This is part of the reason that public schools are ultimately doomed to failure: offense will always trump logic.

  • toolkien||

    I can see your point if it were to single out one event against one set of people while events as bad - if not worse, against others - are allowed to be forgotten. Then the issue is with "why here, why now, why this"?

    But, in short, the lesson of the Holocaust is the efficiency with which the particular event was carried out, even as a product of half baked aims and objectives by Statist boobs. The increased efficiency with which people were stamped, and herded, and caged, and murdered. EVERY incidence of such needs to be remembered and brought to bear against Statist insanity.

    It's why every rational person should stop and observe a state in which we are Trillions in debt, Trillions more promised, jails filled with non-violent offenders, troops stationed around the world, militarized police, and 24/7 surveillance. One can only imagine the efficiency with which the slaughter could/will be conducted.

    So if the lesson is lost by being too parochial, your statement has (albeit cynical) validity. If the lesson is lost because there's no reason to dwell on the past at all, you're wrong.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I agree with John. I don't know if middle school is the right time to start teaching kids about what counts as evidence, but it is a lesson that kids should learn before they have served their sentences in the public education system.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    In classical education, logic and argumentation begins in middle school

  • Vulgar Madman||

    "Exhaggerated": a Hillary reference?

  • Rich||

    "That 'orrible 'aggis!"

  • Rich||

    The district is refusing to identify who was responsible for putting the assignment together or whether there will be any repercussions for them.

    Indeed, one might argue that this assignment never happened.

    Seriously, how about teaching Logic 101 in elementary school?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    You know who else didn't want to hear opposing arguments about the Holocaust?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    The EU?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Mel Gibson?

  • ||

    The Turks?

  • sarcasmic||

    Margret Sanger?

  • Idle Hands||

    Margret Sanger? who is that?
    /typical prog in a pink "I heart PP" t-shirt.

  • Idle Hands||

    The secret "Jewish Hollywood Cabal".

  • Sevo||

    Idle Hands|7.14.14 @ 11:21AM|#
    "The secret "Jewish Hollywood Cabal"."

    Oy! Whadaya mean "secret"?

  • Idle Hands||

    That's the secret part its become so public that its created a new level of secrecy, sort of like Area 51.

  • Jaybirdmojo||

    Lynx and Lamb? (Whatever happened to them, anyway?)

  • BakedPenguin||

    According to Wikipedia, they've renounced their racial views, have become liberal, and are now espousing marijuana legalization as their main cause.

  • Jerryskids||

    Marlee Matlin?

  • ||

    ::spit take::

  • Bobarian||

    Adolph Hister...

    Seriously, that guy's been getting shit since Nostradamus fucked him over.

  • GILMORE||

    ^This

    "John|7.14.14 @ 10:53AM|#

    I don't think this is necessarily a bad assignment"

    Is the *method* of the assignment flawed in some way such that it predisposes students to choose a flawed version of history, and encourages them to mis-understand, mis-use or mis-state facts?

    If so, then the type of testing/schooling would be reprehensible on its own regardless of what the actual content was.

    I did similar exercises myself where in HS we were *intentionally* given limited sources and expected to form an argument using only that information, and not what we may have already known via other sources. It was to both show how people could arrive at 'mistaken' but soundly-derived conclusions, as well as encourage people to really scrutinize sources as to the manner information was gathered, and what obvious underlying bias may have influenced the findings.

    There's nothing wrong with students drawing counter-factual conclusions *if that is part of the exercise*, utilizing limited information.

    Regardless, it seems that all of this is besides the point, and that this probably happened the way it did because *public school teachers are fucking idiots*, and there's not much more to it than that.

  • John||

    Is the *method* of the assignment flawed in some way such that it predisposes students to choose a flawed version of history, and encourages them to mis-understand, mis-use or mis-state facts?

    No it is not. There is nothing about the assignment that would predispose kids to argue that the holocaust didn't happen. The assignment is neutral. It does, however, rely on the assumption that at least some of the kids will get sucked into believing the counter factual arguments. It then uses that as a teaching moment to explain the difference between clever argument and valid and true argument.

    Yes, it does not provide the truth upfront. It just lets the kids investigate and come to their own conclusions. If the teacher never provided the truth, then yes this would be a terrible assignment. But as long as the teacher does and explains why the truth is what it is and why we know it to be such, then I don't see how this is a bad assignment.

  • John||

    And yes, I doubt the teacher who assigned this is smart enough to think to run the assignment the way outlined. And even if they were, I doubt many of them are smart enough to defeat their students' denial arguments thoroughly enough to completely debunk them as is necessary for the assignment to work.

  • Idle Hands||

    After reading this I think what probably happen is some teacher at a school did this assignment and the press got a hold of it. The District was then forced to either A: defend the teacher for something stupid or B: admit it has no idea what is happening in its schools. While B is probably what happened and often works at a national level it doesn't sell too well with informed voters in local elections.

  • GILMORE||

    ...Speaking of "people drawing false conclusions from limited data"...

    (and since it hasn't been posed @ H&R yet)

    ...

    Ana Marie Cox on the Reason-Rupe Millenial Poll =

    "Millennials cringe at the old-man-yelling-at-gay-clouds spectacle of the Tea Party"

    (yes, that was the *key take-away* of the reason poll!)

    "... The millennial generation has repeatedly defined itself as the most socially tolerant of the modern era, but one thing it really can't stand is drama.... The conservative strategy of outrage upon outrage upon outrage bumps up against the policy preferences and the attitudes of millennials in perfect discord.... 74% of millennials, according to Reason, want the government to guarantee food and housing to all Americans. A Pew survey found that 59% of Americans under 30 say the government should do more to solve problems, while majorities in all other age groups thought it should do less...."

    Im sure if any data was *omitted* from her analysis, it was a perfectly honest mistake!

  • Sevo||

    Emily's recap of the polls didn't show a picture far of this. It seems (some huge)% of that population simply wants all the free shit in the world, and please don't disturb them.

  • GILMORE||

    Yeah, i know.

    I was kind of mocking both of them at the same time.

    Both have taken the same surveys and teased out *exactly* what they want to arbitrarily spin as 'the most important'.

    The truth is obviously somewhere well short of both AMC's "DEATH TO GOP!!", as well as "The Great Libertarian Hope" One could debate how far each is stretching the truth... (i think Cox's version is almost transparent its so thin)...

    which is a great example of how people will selectively use 'new' data to reinforce their pre-existent argument.

  • Sevo||

    It's also not surprising.
    I was a kid once and all I wanted was for Mom to keep handing out the dough and let me goof off.
    I can see no reason to expect that age cohort to change its desires regardless of when it was born.

  • John||

    There is another thing that neither Emily nor Cox consider; exactly why is it that milennials are tolerant of gays? I think that is a pretty important question.

    I would submit that they are tolerant of gays because being so is socially fashionable, not because they are any more tolerant than previous generations. How tolerant are they of religious people or fat people or smokers or other groups that media culture despises? Not very I bet.

    And even from the point of view of gay rights, milennials being tolerant because its fashionable is pretty cold comfort. Who is to say tolerance for gays will always be fashionable? If it ever isn't, I bet the milennials turn on the gays in a heartbeat. Worse still, if tolerance for gays is just about social fashion rather than a general commitment to tolerate other people's choice in life, who is to say the next generation will find gays so fashionable?

  • wareagle||

    I don't know if it's "socially fashionable" but it's much less closeted. They all know at least one gay person and the world did not stop turning. I'm sure they are intolerant of lots of others things, like intolerant people, for example.

  • John||

    It is totally fashionable. Supporting gay rights is a social signal to show others that you are sophisticated and part of the elite. That is all it is for a lot of people. And you can tell that by how intolerant they often are of groups that are not as well thought of by elite culture.

  • GILMORE||

    I think your analysis fails because you arbitrarily conflate 'social morays' with 'fashion'.

    Its not fashion... its simply changing long-term attitudes.

    Take my grandfather's generation vs my own re: Blacks.

    My grandfather was a white guy in the segragated south.

    My father served in a marine unit that was 'desegregated' while he was in command. He had to enforce an unpopular 'neutrality'.

    I went to school with black kids.

    in each case, they got 1-step less divided.

    Take homosexuality.

    In my grandfather's case, it was a crime.

    In my father's case, it was a sin and a social shame (my uncle was gay and was disowned as a child)

    in my case, I had schoolteachers who were openly gay. One ended up living in my house for a few years. He died of AIDS.

    Same deal. Each generation gets closer and it becomes less of a 'divide'.

    I don't think that's quite the same thing as "Bellbottoms" or Rayon shirts.

  • John||

    Even if you call it social mores, the point still stands. The implication of melinnials supporting gay rights is that they are more tolerant in general. That is not true. They are just as if not more intolerant than previous generations. It is just that they are intolerant about different things.

    The social mores have rapidly changed in gays' favor over the last 20 years. Since people having become any more tolerant in general, there is no guarantee that they won't change back.

    If tolerance of gays were part of a general trend in tolerance for different choices, it would be very good news. But that is not what happened. It is not bad news. But it doesn't mean society is really getting more tolerant of anything except gays.

  • Brandon||

    What if you are just too lazy to give a shit about something that has absolutely no effect on your life?

  • John||

    You are in the minority. People for whatever reason love to micromanage other people's lives, mostly I think because it gives them a way to feel superior.

    The same people that Emily thinks are so tolerant because of their views of gay marriage, often also think someone who owns a gun is a social deviant. That doesn't strike me as being very tolerant in the aggregate.

  • Brandon||

    ...So the people who made "The Sims" were doing God's work. Or at least Heinlein's.

  • Bobarian||

    I'm sorry John, but the "too lazy to give a shit about something" contingent is never in the minority. That is the driver for most ways people vote or think in life (low information voters).

  • Brandon||

    I think it's the "too lazy to give a shit about something that doesn't affect me" contingent that John is referring to. I make an effort to be well-informed before I vote "no" on 90% of my ballot, since that shit seems to be engineered to affect my life and wallet.

  • Bobarian||

    Well, the "too lazy to figure out if something affects me" crowd are the people that John actually addresses. They're not actually doing anything their self, they're empoyering the minority of people who are really micromanaging other peoples life.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Or how quick they are to use the word Teabagger or throw around gay slurs against people with different world views.

  • toolkien||

    Which would certainly be nice if people were tutored how to be disinterested in the affairs of others. To train people as to the scope of impact that a human being has, and to realize the limited scale within which they impact others, and a realistic understanding the limited impact that others have on them. It is the underlying fear of others, mostly irrational, that has people turning to some super-ordinate reality, and too many times applying Force. The most common outlet, of course, is the State. If we could teach people how to be interested/disinterested in the correct proportion, we'd be getting somewhere. Each individual would be pursuing a distinct and diverse life of their own, limited only by the associations (with conditions) they choose to make (and exit from) and not haunted by specters of their own making, or more likely ones created and conditioned into them by others. Once we have a society with people practicing rational self-interest, with no Forced transfer or subsidy, "fashionable" applications of Forced association won't exist. And, conversely, an individuals orientation will have no interest to me, unless it's a hot, large breasted babe who would categorically reject sitting on my face.

  • Brandon||

    The conservative strategy of outrage upon outrage upon outrage...

    Meanwhile, on HuffPo...

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.....74742.html

    "How to Boycott Amazon in 3 Easy Steps"

  • Lord Humungus||

    David Irving approves

  • Sevo||

    Only if he gets a speaking gig out of it.

  • ||

    The millennial generation has repeatedly defined itself as the most socially tolerant of the modern era, but one thing it really can't stand is drama

    OMG! Charlie Sheen and Miley Cyrus tell me that's unpossible!

  • John||

    And sure they are "socially tolerant" as long as "tolerance" means being gay or a cross dresser. They don't seem too tolerant of a lot of other people.

    I think society is more intolerant and prudish and conformist than it has ever been. It is just conformist and intolerant about different things.

  • GILMORE||

    "I think society is more intolerant and prudish and conformist than it has ever been. It is just conformist and intolerant about different things."

    The later part of your point may have some merit.

    I think you're completely wrong to think that anything regarding racial or sexual-orientation would 'go back' to being discriminated against....

    ...but as far as finding NEW things to demonize? Sure.

    I think there's probably a constant amount of social-demonization in any given environment, and its just a matter of "what".

  • John||

    I think you are a bit optimistic. There is a lot of racial animus out there. And we have an entire Democratic Party whose viability as a national party depends on it. If you don't believe me, go back and look at the numbers of the last ten or so national elections and see what would have happened if the Democrats had only gotten 75% instead of 90% of the black vote. They wouldn't have held the Presidency since Johnson. Also, the emergence of Hipsanics and Asians into the formerly bipolar racial climate of black and white has created a lot of racial tension that we don't hear about it. I wouldn't say it is impossible for that tension to some day burst through in really ugly ways.

    As far as gays go, gays are a very small part of society and have been despised by nearly every civilization in history. Basically, gay rights are something that white Europeans invented and barely exist anywhere else. If the country continues to get more brown and less white, I could totally see gay rights falling by the wayside. How important and protected are gay rights in Latin America? Or in the Middle East or Africa? What makes you think that immigrants from these places are going to adopt the prevailing mores about gays rather than change them? Maybe the adopt them, but it is hardly a sure thing.

  • GILMORE||

    "What makes you think that immigrants from these places are going to adopt the prevailing mores about gays rather than change them?"

    The history of immigrant assimilation throughout the 20th century.

    Also, 'Clash of Civilizations' by Sam Huntington has quite a bit of detail about how the 'Western' secular-humanist toleration thing is likely to overwhelm traditionalist societies and cause more intra-cultural conflict, but ultimately greater assimilation.

  • John||

    The history of assimilation argues for it. But we had a much more confident culture back then and demanded assimilation. We don't do that now.

    The problem is that liberal commitment to tolerance, multiculturalism and rejection of assimilation will work to ensure that the immigrants change us rather than us changing them.

    And ultimately, secular humanism has a pretty poor track record of appalling to anyone beyond western intellectuals. Again, I think you are being a bit optimistic. I am very pessimistic about the long term future of gay rights in this country. The demographics are against it.

  • GILMORE||

    I think its you that misunderstands how generational demographics tend to work.

    I've done some professional work on things like 'measuring attitudes of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation attitudes of immigrant families in America'

    Particularly hispanics, but also asian / indian hindu & muslim cohorts.

    1st generation immigrants tend to maintain the strongest retention of cultural tradition.

    2nd and 3rd generation immigrants are effectively indistinguishable from the general public.

    This 'liberal' cultural hoo-haa you're talking about is nearly 100% a fight between Urban white people and Rural white people, and their different attitudes. They fight about "each other's" attitudes towards X, Y, and Z -but rarely does the reality actual immigrants themselves ever get in the way of the debate.

    This idea that theres some cultural time-bomb lurking in the brown hordes is frankly stupid in the extreme. Anyone who believes this hasnt spent enough time hanging out with the brown hordes.

  • John||

    I have spent a lot of time hanging out with the brown hoards. What is stupid in the extreme is people like you who think everyone else in the world will if given the opportunity think just like you do.

    Tell yourself whatever comforting lies you want. But most of the rest of the world is nothing like you and thinks in completely different and pretty nasty ways. You are sadly a typical Libertarian Gimore in that you can't comprehend people as they are instead of how you assume them to be.

  • John||

    And your generation example is idiotic. The change goes both ways. The country changed significantly when it went from being WASP to being pan European. You seem to think that we just absorb people and they have no effect on us. That is idiotic.

  • Los Doyers||

    Whoa. There's a guy down in the comment section of that article who goes by the name "Jim Rizzoli," who apparently has a radio and "cable show" where he actively denies the Holocaust. He even embedded one of his videos in the comments. Potential viewers:ye be warned.

  • Sevo||

    ..."where he actively denies the Holocaust."

    Not surprising. The 'arguments' fall in line with the guys who swear the moon landing happened on a sound stage.
    Any hint that the evidence suggests otherwise is just evidence for how clever the conspirators are!

  • GILMORE||

    "he actively denies the Holocaust"

    I ACTIVELY DENY ALPHA CENTAURI!

    You say 4.37 light years, I say it never happened!

  • Mike Laursen||

    re:"as well as giving the exercise to eighth-graders, who are arguably too young to be debating this topic"

    Many are just blossoming into wonderful, new levels of smart-assery, as did many members of our commentariat at that age.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    For much of the media, when holocaust denial comes up, their go-to guys are some white guys in a compound somewhere, or a blogger of German background.

    But these fellows are marginal.

    If you want to see a community where Holocaust denial is considered far more mainstream, check out some parts of, say, the Middle East.

  • GILMORE||

    There was a time when Foreign Policy magazine was 'cool' to read and comment there (before the Web Redesign from Hell)....

    ...there was a very-common occurrence where some radical leftist truther would be ranting about how Bush!! planned 9/11!! Corporations!! etc. and some other dude would be agreeing with them... and then the latter person would insist that of course that the holocaust was ALSO a conspiracy by the jews and the bankers and.... and the first guy would be like, WTF?? And the latter guy would be like, "Come now, you can't be one of those 'holocaust' sheeple, really? How droll."

    Nothing is funnier than when 2 conspiracy theorists collide and their respective worldviews experience some kind of Venn-Diagram / anti-matter explosion... because only *1* part of their shared-crazy overlaps correctly.

    A riot.

  • JEP||

    My history teacher had us do a mock trial of Martin Luther. I was held in contempt for an outburst about how a nun's testimony was illegitimate because she was a woman.

    I actually had a lot of fun with it.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    +1 John Knox's The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women

  • GILMORE||

    BTW, in case anyone remembers Jen "Feral Genius" Abel (aka the crazy redhead in Connecticut) from back in the day here, she writes for the Guardian now.

  • Obama's Buttplug||

    How I miss the days of Jennifer and Smacky.

  • ConstitutionFirst||

    It looks like it will that much easier to commit the next genocide.
    So who's going to be the next victims? Conservatives? TEA Party? Capitalists? Americans?

  • Cromulent||

    "The district is refusing to identify who was responsible for putting the assignment together or whether there will be any repercussions for them."

    Well, lemme see. The Rialto superintendent's name is Mohammad Z. Islam. Their PR flack's name is Syeda Jafri. Let's start by asking questions of those two and see where it leads.

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