II’ve been trying to imagine what Gina Peddy might have been thinking when, on October 8, she informed a group of elementary school teachers in Southlake, Texas, that if their classroom libraries included books about the Holocaust, students would They should also be oriented towards books. with “opposing points of view.”
Peddy, executive director of curriculum and instruction for the Carroll Independent School District, later explained that she was simply helping her staff comply with Texas House Bill 3979. Signed into law Sept. 1 by Governor Greg Abbott, the ruling prohibits educators from speaking on controversial historical issues, social or political issues. If these issues arise, HB 3979 requires teachers to “explore these issues from diverse and conflicting perspectives without deference to any perspective.”
Peddy’s speech was secretly recorded by one of those attending the training session. On the tape, you can hear the bewildered protests his board received. When a teacher demanded to know how one is supposed to “oppose” the Holocaust, Peddy replied, “Believe me. That has emerged. “
If only someone had recorded the conversations in which that topic “came up.” Did any of the participants observe that the only “diverse perspective” on the Holocaust is Holocaust denial – the heinous claim that Hitler did not organize 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 Nazis’ quest for racial purity? Did anyone suggest that, under the new guidelines, it would now be illegal to teach The Diary of Anne Frank without citing the hideous volleys that have questioned the authenticity of the diary, including Ditlieb Felderer’s 1979 Diary of Anne Frank, A Hoax, which calls to the iconic magazine “the first pedophile pornographic work to be published after World War II.”
Traditionally, Holocaust denial has been fueled by the crudest and most egregious kind of anti-Semitism. There’s no way of knowing if that particular brand of bigotry was a factor in this case, but my hunch is that Peddy was talking about the Holocaust in part as a way of not talking about the other “controversial” issues that are the real focus of HB. . 3979: racism and LGBTQ + rights.
One can’t help but wonder if the response would have been so pervasive and intense if Peddy had suggested that books on race relations were countered by other books that address the toll, the very existence, of systemic racism. In fact, Rickie Farah, a fourth grade teacher in the Southlake district, was recently reprimanded by school board administrators for making This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell available to her students; his case attracted minimal attention beyond the local press.
The question of what specific books and topics can and cannot be taught is only part of what is so disturbing about HB 3979 and Peddy’s advice to teachers. What is worrisome is the idea that legislators, rather than educators, should determine and impose limitations on the school curriculum. The problem is the way Peddy – and presumably others – have interpreted the new law to mean that teachers and their students should ignore the evidence from history, that students should not be encouraged to distinguish between what what really happened and what did not happen. ‘t, and that a variety of hot topics are not simply inappropriate, but are forbidden to bring up in a classroom.
If teachers are required to tell their classes that there is “another point of view” on whether the Holocaust happened, should American history lessons now also include books that claim America was never a slave nation or that racism ended? with Emancipation? Proclamation? If the discussion around a novel or story leads a class to conclude that LGBTQ + people have a right to basic human rights, should the class be asked to seriously consider the opposite view: that those rights should be denied to anyone? that differs from the heterosexual norm?
Education is a dialectical process. Lively classroom discussions are an essential learning tool, a way to teach children to weigh tests, process information, consider options, and make informed decisions. But HB 3979 is intended to prohibit teachers from discussing some of the most important and relevant issues that concern us all. It discourages students from trying to find answers to questions that will help determine what kind of adults they will become, what kind of country and world they will live in.
We are already seeing the consequences of a poorly financed, unequal and deteriorating education system. Students who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat their mistakes. Children who are forbidden to discuss the most critical issues of the day will gravitate to progressively more atomized and irreconcilable factions, unable to participate in the free and open exchange of ideas on which our democracy depends. Children who do not learn, early on, to distinguish truth from fantasy will become adults prey to the selfish and inaccurate claims of demagogic leaders. They will be victims of all the crazy conspiracy theories that make their way onto social media and make decisions that go against their own interests and those of their society.
Persuading students that lies – about history, social forces, science, the world around them – are as valid as provable truths will make us a nation of swindlers and their hapless footprints, a country of liars and people who have never been taught to know when they are being lied to.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism