The review of the standards happens every 10 years, and there is a public comment period for this draft that runs until Jan. 4, 2021. The MDE website, which lays out the schedule, usually takes nearly two years before the final standards are adopted.
“I wouldn’t say [this is] the beginning of the process, but we’re still pretty early in this process,” said Ethan Roberts, the government affairs director at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. “And they released the first draft, which is very much a work in progress.”
The JCRC will be hosting a Zoom meeting at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 21 to answer any questions that community members might have about the process and how Minnesotans can get involved.
In a Dec. 10 letter sent to MDE’s Doug Paulson, the director of academic standards and instruction effectiveness, and Filiz Yargici, the social studies specialist, four of the items in the current draft were amended to include the Holocaust, and two new items were written.
The letter was written by JCRC Executive Director Steve Hunegs and Alejandro Baer, the director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota. The two pointed out that there is a decline in the standards from two references to none, as well as there being no reference in the current draft to the Holocaust and other 20th and 21st century genocides, comes at a time when antisemitic incidents in schools have been on the rise over the course of the past decade, according to the ADL’s Audit of Antisemitic Incidents 2019, and FBI’s database for Hate Crimes from 2011-2019.
“At a time when there is increasing ignorance about the Holocaust, as well as other 20th and 21st century genocides when 34 states have passed legislation and/or revised their standards to address this lack of awareness, and when studies show a rise of antisemitic, xenophobic and racist acts in U.S. elementary and high schools, it is alarming that Minnesota would consider moving backward,” Hunegs and Baer wrote. “We cannot ignore the importance of Holocaust and genocide education in our public schools as lessons for tolerance, pluralism, and civics in our lives today.”
In an interview with TC Jewfolk for The Jews Are Tired Podcast, Gov. Tim Walz – a former high school social studies teacher who wrote his master’s dissertation on the teaching of Holocaust and genocide studies in schools – discussed the importance of continuing to teach the subject.
“All the data – and think about this, this is decades ago – was already pointing to our students [that] they could identify as a historical anomaly that something happened. And they could give you the number 6 million. And they could talk about this. But what they did was, they saw it as a historical anomaly in a vacuum. And they saw no connection to their own life,” Walz said. “And so when Minnesota has a chance to put these into our standards, we need to take this to an entirely another level, that we don’t teach it in a historical vacuum of what happened. And those signs that start to come up, and it’s not an overreach, and we don’t want to scare our children. But there are clear-cut signals that you can start to see where these things happen. And so I hope we come back to that. I hope we tell the story.”
Roberts said that a meeting between the JCRC and MDE officials, as requested in the letter, has been agreed to. The MDE has five Zoom opportunities for public comment: December 16 from 7-8 a.m. and 7-8 p.m.; December 17, from 7-8 a.m. and 7-8 p.m.; and December 21 from noon-1 p.m.
TC Jewfolk contributor Lev Gringauz assisted with the reporting for this piece.
This piece received 1st Place in the category Award for Excellence in Writing About Education Reporting from the American Jewish Press Association at the 40th annual Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism.