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December 4, 2013
A First Step on Holocaust Education
Legislation to spur Holocaust education in Pennsylvania has been languishing for too long in Harrisburg. It’s time to make it law.
Several versions of the legislation have sprung up in recent years, dividing both legislators and even Jewish advocates. In 2012, state Rep. Brendan Boyle, who represents part of Northeast Philadelphia, proposed a bill that would mandate Holocaust and genocide education as part of the public school curriculum for grades six through 12. State Sen. Anthony Williams of Philadelphia introduced similar legislation in the Senate.
When Boyle’s bill gained no traction, in part due to petty politics, Rep. Paul Clymer of Bucks County proposed alternative legislation, calling for the state Department of Education to provide teachers with the training and educational materials needed for Holocaust education. Although Clymer’s bill does not require schools to teach it, it does mandate funding for teacher training for any schools that decide to do so.
Clymer’s legislation, which has passed the House and is now in the Senate, would enable schools to receive Holocaust education funding beginning in 2015, according to Hank Butler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition. The state has not provided such funding since 2008.
The Clymer legislation has left Holocaust education advocates in a quandary: fight for the preferred goal of mandating Holocaust education or accept — and lobby for — the watered-down version that would at least provide funding for teacher training and materials and likely would expand such education.
The measures have gotten new attention with a YouTube video by a local activist, Rhonda Fink-Whitman, that has gone viral and points to a gross lack of knowledge among college students about the atrocities of the Nazi regime during World War II. She and others are pushing for no compromise on this issue.
But some Jewish communal professionals and Holocaust educators think it wiser to take what is possible now and not squander the opportunity to restore state funding for Holocaust education.
Butler of PJC noted that part of the problem is that there is no appetite — or history in the past 25 years — for mandating curriculum of any sort on the part of lawmakers. “The issue before us,” he said, “is are we willing to forgo needed funding now to educate our teachers” by risking a fight over mandated education that likely wouldn’t pass for several legislative sessions.
As the number of survivors continues to decline, education about the worst atrocity in human history is essential.
The Senate should pass the bill now before it as a first step toward expanding and funding Holocaust education, with an eye toward a state mandate in the future.