Connecting state and local government leaders
A proposed bill would make Massachusetts the 13th state to mandate students learn about the Holocaust as part of public school curriculum.
Students in Massachusetts would be required to learn about the Holocaust under proposed legislation, a tweak to an existing state law that recommends, rather than mandates, the curriculum.
The bill, introduced by state Rep. Jeffrey Roy, requires every school district to “include in its a curriculum a unit of instruction on the Holocaust and genocide,” teaching “acts of genocide across the globe…consistent with the frameworks to address the notion that national, ethnic, racial, or religious hatred can overtake any nation or society, leading to calamitous consequences.”
Roy, a Democrat, had introduced similar legislation for years and thought it might no longer be necessary to push the issue after 2018, when the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education added genocide to its curriculum frameworks. But an increasing number of anti-Semitic attacks and incidents convinced him otherwise.
“But events have occurred in this world and we’re seeing a rising tide of hatred, which has led me to believe we do need to reintroduce this bill and get a statewide mandate,” he told State House News Service.
Roy’s latest effort, currently before the House Joint Committee on Education, comes as anti-Semitic hate crimes continue at near-historic levels across the country. Reported incidents at K-12 schools quadrupled from 2015 to 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League, while assaults rooted in anti-Jewish sentiments tripled.
At the same time, awareness of the Holocaust is waning. More than 20 percent of millennials said they “haven’t heard” or “are not sure if they had heard of” it, and 31 percent of all Americans said 2 million Jews or fewer were killed in the Holocaust, according to a 2018 survey by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. (About 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust, along with millions of other people.)
Only 12 states require Holocaust education as part of middle and high-school curriculum, including Oregon, which passed a measure earlier this year. The bill, signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown in July, requires that schools provide curriculum to “prepare students to confront the immorality of the Holocaust, genocide, and other acts of mass violence and to reflect on the causes of related historical events.” The measure will take effect in the 2020-2021 school year.
Lawmakers in Maryland proposed a similar initiative this year that failed to gain traction in the state’s General Assembly. Officials with the state’s education department had opposed the measure, noting that much of the content required by the bill was already addressed by or “alluded to” in current lessons.
State Sen. Ben Kramer, a Democrat and the bill’s lead sponsor, indicated that he would reintroduce it in the next legislative session, writing in July that the legislation is necessary to “ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust are remembered in perpetuity.”
“Holocaust and genocide education opens the door to teach our children about the beauty of diversity and how we should embrace our differences for the betterment of all people,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun.
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.