Meaningful, not superficial, Holocaust education is now mandated in the New York State school curriculum. There is no exhibit or curriculum that explores how it was possible to get enough humans to murder 6 million that does not show some of the children’s books and methods of “othering” that set the stage for the fear, hostility, resentment, anger and, most significantly, the dehumanization that made such atrocity possible.
So it is all the more concerning that our schools and libraries have been under attack by those who would ban books, censor speech, orchestrate scripts, even threaten the lives and livelihoods of teachers, administrators and librarians in order to prevent the rising generation from not only seeing how that process of dehumanization unfolds, but sow the same fear, hostility, anger and denigration of “others” that turns humans into savages.
And what is more, it is even happening in our communities where the Holocaust is our heritage.
Those who detest public education used to attack schools for the taxes we pay. These past couple of years, though, the focus has been on culture wars – attacking our schools as incubators for “indoctrination” and “grooming” children toward “deviant” lifestyles rather than critical thinking and innovation, and skills and the self-confidence our children will need to successfully navigate the world. In some places, school boards have been literally invaded, and school board members harassed and even threatened with physical violence, under the oxymoronic banner of “Parents Rights.”
Whose parents? Whose rights?
What exactly are “parents rights,” that is, beyond a political slogan that has proved so winning for Republican candidates from Glenn Youngkin in Virginia to Bruce Blakeman in Nassau County? In practice “parental rights” basically puts one parent’s values over others, one child’s “feelings” over others who are made to feel inferior, “other” being of less value and status. Literally, one parent can raise an objection and have “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation” banned as pornographic after a Vero Beach, Fla., parent objected.
And now they are coming after other books about the Holocaust including Jodi Picoult’s Holocaust novel, “The Storyteller,” and Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel, “Maus.”
Tennessee is banning teaching about the Holocaust.
Holocaust curriculum is intended to engender tolerance, understanding and empathy, and counter bigotry, prejudice wherever it may be, whoever hate may be directed against. (Recall the wonderful film, “Freedom Writers.”)
The American Library Association cited 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022 , the highest number since ALA began compiling data 20 years ago and double the number in 2021. https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10
Let’s understand the source and the true intent of these assaults on public education. Going back to Reagan, it was about attacking teachers whose unions tended to support Democrats and tenure which shielded teachers from political and cultural intimidation. But to garner the necessary mass of support, the attack was strategically conflated with school prayer and channeling taxpayer money into parochial schools (choice!), violating the Establishment Clause in the Constitution that separates church and state. (Now Texas is passing laws requiring the Ten Commandments be displayed and time in the day set aside for prayer and Bible study.)
But radical right-wingers, like Steve Bannon leading the charge, see young people (Gen Z) as a rising sea of voters who overwhelmingly are accepting of people of other races, religions, ethnicities, identities; demanding action to address the existential threat of climate change and sensible gun safety regulation; opposing police brutality; standing up for women’s reproductive rights and who overwhelmingly support environmental, social, political, economic and criminal justice. They trace the source of what they have categorized as “woke” to public school culture that, like here in Long Island, teaches respect for diversity, fosters inclusion and equity, and gives young people the skills and independence to think critically, question and find their own answers. (No coincidence that the Republican National Committee is now looking for ways to suppress voting by college students and raise the voting age to 21.)
And that’s what they want to stamp out – look over the list of banned books – ones that highlight environment (“Lorax”), stories about children who manifest differences from the majority in their community; that foster empathy (“Charlotte’s Web”); heroes who show courage to be who they are and stand up to bullies; young people who have to deal with sexual abuse.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey just ousted the state’s top early education official over a teacher resource guide that promotes inclusion of different kinds of families and acknowledges the reality of racism in the nation’s history.
That’s the “woke” that Florida Gov. and presidential wannabe Ron DeSantis wants to pull out by its roots, and instead plant the seeds of hate, bigotry, superiority and entitlement.
While having the audacity to declare “education not indoctrination,” DeSantis is passing a law designating Nov. 7 when all Florida students will receive instruction on the “evils of communism, and communist dogma, Marxist socialism.”
Lest you think these forces are far away, think again. Texas has been dictating what publishers put into textbooks; Florida forced the College Board to change its AP African American Studies curriculum. Our school board meetings have had their share of parents demanding certain books be banned.
Long Island has had the top performing schools in the nation and our graduates among the most successful, precisely because the mission, the culture of our public schools has been to provide each and every student the confidence, the sense of acceptance and self-worth, along with the resources to fulfill their full potential.
School and library elections have become way more than about budgets, taxes, and which trustee candidate is the more popular. It is about the soul, the values of our community, the society we shape, nurture and grow.
And it’s why who we elect to our school and library boards are so critical, and why the upcoming school and library elections on Tuesday, May 16 (7 am-10 pm) are so very crucial.