RIALTO, Calif. – An eighth-grade English assignment that was meant to develop students’ critical thinking skills has, instead, created some 50 new Holocaust deniers.
In May, Rialto Unified School District leaders came under intense criticism after it was revealed the district’s roughly 2,000 eighth-grade students were given an in-class essay assignment in which they were asked to consider if the Holocaust was “an actual historical event” or if it might have been “a propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain.”
Students were directed to “research” the issue and take a position on it, supporting their conclusion with “textual evidence” – printouts of information culled from three websites, one of which was a Holocaust denial site.
When news of the assignment broke, Rialto Unified school officials attempted to soothe angry community members by stating that none of the students actually argued that the Holocaust did not occur.
But an investigation by Los Angeles Daily News proves otherwise.
The Los Angeles Daily News asked for and received copies of the student essays, and had staff members read through them. The staffers found “at least 50 essays (that) denied or doubted the Holocaust occurred.”
“Even many students who agreed the Holocaust occurred said there were good reasons to believe it had not or that elements of the historical record were actually hoaxes,” the Daily News reports.
The paper provides several chilling excerpts.
One student declared there was no way the Holocaust occurred because the Nazis “would have had to have killed 187 people an hour in order to kill 6 million people. Therefore it is impossible.”
Another flatly asserted that the Holocaust is “a profitable hoax made by the Jews to obtain land, money and power.”
One student concluded: “With the evidence that was given to me, it clearly was obvious” that the Holocaust never occurred “and I wouldn’t know why anyone would think otherwise.”
Several students based their skepticism on arguments put forth by discredited Holocaust denier Fred A. Leuchter, who has argued the Nazis never used gas chambers to kill Jews.
One student wrote that if the Nazis “would have even experimented these so called gas chambers the Nazis would have died also, so I do not believe in gas chambers.”
Another made a similar argument: “if gassing would have occurred everyone (nearby) would have died, because the floors had cracks in the floor and holes in the wall.”
Still another asserted “there is no significant cyanide traces in any of the alleged gas chambers. So any open minded person can easily be persuaded to believe that the gassings were a Hoax.”
Some students even used the “evidence” provided by their teachers to declare that “The Diary of Anne Frank” – the first-hand account of Nazi atrocities that students had been assigned to read earlier – was a fraud.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this assignment is that some Rialto teachers praised Holocaust denying students for their well-reasoned arguments, as determined by comments found on the student essays examined by Daily News staffers.
“You did well using the evidence to support your claim,” one teacher wrote to a student who had concluded the Holocaust “was a fake” and a “hoax.”
Even though it has now been exposed that several dozen Rialto students were turned into Holocaust deniers by this assignment, district officials are still refusing to identify the educators responsible for creating the lesson. Officials won’t even say whether or not the responsible parties have been – or will be – disciplined.
Rialto Unified officials have apologized for the assignment and pledge that it won’t be used again. The southern California district also attempted to undo some of the damage by sending its eighth-graders to the Museum of Tolerance.
But Neal Fialkow, a Pasadena attorney who has reviewed the students’ essays, is still troubled by the entire incident.
“When you took a look at the way the assignment is created and written, it causes all of these impressionable children to start their essays with ‘in my opinion, the Holocaust did exist,’” Fialkow told the Daily News. “So it puts in the seed of doubt.”