Should Teachers Present “Both Sides” of the “Holocaust”?
A new Texas law is more open-minded than legislators intended.
by Hadding Scott
DUE TO a recent rightward shift in political and cultural winds, there has been a controversy focused on the Carroll Independent School District (near Dallas-Fort Worth), where the director of curriculum, in a private conference, said something that to some people seems controversial. Somebody conveyed a secret recording to NBC News, who broke the story as follows:
A top administrator with the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake [Texas] advised teachers last week [on Friday, 8 October 2021] that if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also offer students access to a book from an ‘opposing’ perspective, according to an audio recording obtained by NBC News.(A. Hylton, NBC News 14 October 2021)
Predictably, this stimulated an immediate spastic flow of opprobrium from certain circles, in reaction not only to the suggestion that an opposing perspective on the Holocaust should be presented in public schools, but even to the idea that an opposing perspective exists.
The controversial utterance from Gina Peddy is this:
“As you go through, just try to remember the concepts of 3937, and make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”
On the recording, one hears a teacher ask incredulously, “How do you oppose the Holocaust?” Instead of suggesting titles, Peddy seems to take the question as an expression of incredulity that anybody would question the Holocaust, and she replies:
“Believe me, that’s come up.”
She informs the teacher, who may be unaware of it, that the Holocaust is indeed disputed, and that schools have somehow had to deal with that. It is not evident whether controversy about the Holocaust has “come up” in the Carroll ISD, but in Boca Raton, Florida there was in 2019 the case of William Latson, a principal who was caught in a bind between parents who did not want the Holocaust taught to their children and a Jewish activist who demanded it.
Since the Holocaust is indeed a matter of current controversy, the Texas law requiring deference to both sides logically must apply to Holocaust Revisionism.
One may discern from careful consideration of Gina Peddy’s words that she is not arbitrarily demanding equal time for skeptics of the Holocaust, but merely advising teachers about how to conform to new legal/bureaucratic requirements (with which she very likely does not agree) and to avoid trouble. It is evident from context that she is only using the Holocaust as an example, perhaps in her mind the extreme example, of a subject where an opposing view would be required.
Although NBC’s anchorman introduces the segment by saying that “comments about books on the Holocaust are sparking new outrage,” the substance of Antonia Hylton’s report places the blame on politicians. The first talking head in the report is a parent saying: “With some of the local politics right now, I’m not sure that teachers feel supported.” Then “censorship” and disallowal of books is vaguely discussed: “It all started when a fourth-grade teacher was reprimanded, after a parent complained about her having a book about anti-racism.” The same parent is then shown again, defending the teacher who had the anti-racist book.
The whole complex of controversy started with a reaction against what was being taught in public schools, which, according to NBC’s reporter Tyler Kingkade (interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air) resulted from distance learning during the coronavirus lockdown. With many children suddenly attending classes via Internet, parents for the first time were able to hear what was taught in public schools, and many did not like some of what they heard. For example in fall of 2020, Kingkade says, parents complained about teachers promoting Black Lives Matter. In general the reaction has been based not on ignorance but on newly gained firsthand knowledge and alarm about what children are being taught, and this is happening throughout the United States. (NPR, 21 June 2021)
In particular there is a reaction against “Critical Race Theory.” Critical Race Theory infers from (1) the premise that all races have equal ability, and (2) the observation of racial discrepancies in success, the conclusion that “systemic racism” is causing Blacks (especially) to be relatively unsuccessful in American society. To fix this presumed problem, Critical Race Theory proposes “equity,” which goes far beyond Affirmative Action (which clearly was not enough): it means forcing equal outcomes among racial groups.
The State of Texas reacted with a new law, mentioned by Gina Peddy as 3937, that was intended to stifle teaching of Critical Race Theory in Texas public schools.
In the Carroll Independent School District the reaction came in the forms of a conservative takeover of the local school board, a directive from the school board not to allow books with singular perspectives that could be “considered offensive,” and the ensuing reprimand of a fourth-grade teacher in that district for having in her classroom a book titled This Book is Anti-Racist.
After that, teachers’ concerns about how to stay out of trouble were raised with Gina Peddy, who is the district’s director of curriculum. The recording begins with Peddy saying:
“We are in the middle of a political mess, and you are in the middle of a political mess, and so, we just have to do the best that we can…. There are a lot of districts in the exact same spot we’re in, and no one knows how to navigate these waters. I mean, no one.”
What may have caused some confusion is that House Bill 3797, although supposedly intended to combat Critical Race Theory, actually mandates teaching “the history of white supremacy … and the ways in which it is morally wrong.” In that light, one might suppose that This Book is Anti-Racist would be perfectly fine. Perhaps as a consequence of the perennial Republican dread of being called racist, there seems to be a contradiction between what the law was supposed to do (stop Critical Race Theory) and what it says.
Probably this is why Gina Peddy advised the teachers to take refuge in the law’s requirement of “deference to both sides” in discussions of current events. The problem there is that rigorously respecting “both sides” in all cases must mean, when it comes to matters about which most people agree, affording respect to a minority view – such as skepticism about the Holocaust.
The proponents of Texas’s anti-CRT law do not seem to have contemplated this ramification.
The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith has been supporting “Holocaust education” in public schools since the 1970s. Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL’s “Center on Extremism” pronounced a condemnation of Gina Peddy for trying to help Carroll ISD’s teachers to conform to the law. He himself seemed to exemplify extremism in statements reported by CNN:
As for “opposing” views to the Holocaust, Anti-Defamation League vice president Oren Segal told CNN New Day it’s plain antisemitism.
“The idea that opposing views of the Holocaust would in someway sound legitimate to anybody is a sign of the time perhaps,” Segal said. “It’s antisemitism, it’s Holocaust denial, and it’s the thing that animates extremists. There are no two sides to this issue, there are no two sides to the Holocaust.” (A. Elassar, CNN, 16 October 2021)
The line laid down by the ADL’s spokesman, that “there are no two sides to the Holocaust,” is the line that timid public officials followed.
State Senator Bryan Hughes (R), a proponent of the new law, asserted that its requirement of “deference to both sides” did not include deference toward skepticism about the Holocaust:
“State Sen. Bryan Hughes, an East Texas Republican who wrote Senate Bill 3, denied that the law requires teachers to provide opposing views on what he called matters of “good and evil” or to get rid of books that offer only one perspective on the Holocaust.” (M. Hixenbaugh & A. Hylton, NBC News, 14 October 2021)
Texas state Sen. Kelly Hancock (R) likewise argued that Gina Peddy’s advice to the teachers had nothing to do with the bill:
“School administrators should know the difference between factual historical events and fiction. Southlake just got it wrong. No legislation is suggesting the action this administrator is promoting.” (Twitter)
On the other hand, State Senator Beverly Powell (a Democrat and daughter of a teacher) was sympathetic to the teachers’ position, tweeting:
“Already, we are seeing the impact of a vague and unnecessary bill that leaves teachers and administrators confused and afraid to teach the history of the Holocaust or the Civil War without teaching ‘both sides’.” (Twitter)
Carroll ISD’s Superintendent Lane Ledbetter issued an apology via Facebook, declaring:
“During the conversations with teachers during last week’s meeting, the comments made were in no way to convey that the Holocaust was anything less than a terrible event in history.
“Additionally, we recognize there are not two sides of the Holocaust. As we continue to work through implementation of HB3979, we also understand this bill does not require an opposing viewpoint on historical facts.” (L. Ledbetter via Carroll ISD on Facebook)
There were enough legislators in Texas to pass a law mandating “deference to both sides” in public schools, but it seems that none of that law’s proponents really embrace the full implication of those words. The attempts to justify ostracizing Holocaust Skepticism show narrow, rigid thinking.
Senator Hughes seems to believe that “good and evil” are matters of fact rather than opinion, and, furthermore, that there need be no concern about whether these highly consequential labels have been correctly applied.
Likewise, Senator Hancock’s assumption that there is no controversy about what constitute “historical facts” seems very backward and uneducated. Thomas D. Fallace, an expert on Holocaust education, mentions the persistence of such an attitude:
“In history, the naïve conception (one that many adults still hold) is that a single, objective past exists and that historians look at primary sources to access and report the past directly.” (T.D. Fallace, The Emergence of Holocaust Education in American Schools, 2008, p.164)
“Many adults” indeed! — among them Republican legislators in Texas.
If these Republican legislators knew what they were doing, and were sincere about eliminating subversive propaganda from public schools, they would not treat the Holocaust as sacrosanct. You will hear some teachers today speak of the Holocaust as an indispensable subject, but “Holocaust education” is not exactly traditional. It made small beginnings in the 1970s, grew as a consequence of NBC’s Holocaust miniseries, and only became widely regarded as indispensable after 1993 with the release of Stephen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. The growth of Holocaust education has been driven largely by television and Hollywood. The Holocaust has long been used as a tool for subversive agitation. In 1969 Jean-Paul Sartre accused the USA of “genocide” in Vietnam. More recently, invocations of the Holocaust against efforts to control illegal immigration have been obvious to anyone with ears to hear. It was Holocaust guru Elie Wiesel who coined an important slogan for enthusiasts of illegal immigration:
“You who are illegal aliens must know that no human being is illegal.”
Is that a kind of thinking that Texas Republicans want to support? It has always been conservatives who were called “Nazis.” Recent attempts (e.g. by Dinesh D’Souza) to put the shoe on the other foot have not been very successful and are not likely to be successful. If some Republican legislators in Texas were genuinely conservative and knew what they were doing, they should at the very least insist that the opposing view on the Holocaust be granted the deference that their bill promised.
Gina Peddy responded to the question about how to oppose the Holocaust as if it had been rhetorical, but it is evident that these teachers really are at a loss for how to offer a skeptical view of the Holocaust. An unidentified teacher who was present at the meeting says:
“There are no children’s books that show the ‘opposing perspective’ of the Holocaust or the ‘opposing perspective’ of slavery. Are we supposed to get rid of all of the books on those subjects?” (NBC News, 14 October 2021)
Getting rid of all books about the Holocaust would not be a disaster, since most schools 30 years ago got along fine without them, but if teachers insist on presenting such propaganda, and there really is no book suitable for children that opposes that propaganda, then by all means an effort should be made to fill that void.
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Source: Author and CODOH