by Sarah Perry
May 8, 2014
Mere days ago, the Rialto Unified School District was defending an eighth-grade writing assignment that asked students to debate whether the Holocaust was merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain.
California is a “Common Core State,” so it follows that the assignment was part of the newly Core-aligned curriculum issued to teachers in Rialto Unified classrooms. The school board so affirmed. According to school board member Joe Martinez, the Common Core Standards “emphasize critical thinking in students, which is what the assignment is intended to teach.”[i] School district spokeswoman Syeda Jafri added that the assignment was simply designed to engage the students in just such a process.
A portion of the contested middle school assignment reads:
“When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence…For example, some people claim the Holocaust is not an actual historical event, but instead is a propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain.”[ii]
This subversive assignment was distributed to a portion of the 26,000 students in the San Bernardino County school district until a correspondent from the Los Angeles chapter of the Anti-Defamation League raised the flag on what might otherwise have been the quiet and tragic indoctrination of fertile minds on a myth that’s been fully debunked, and by using inferior textual material from http://About.com, and http://biblebelievers.org.au/holohoax.htm, no less. Is this the elevation of English Language Arts education through the analysis of “complex” or credible texts that the Standards promised to deliver? Perhaps future Core-aligned textual sources will include http://Yelp.com and http://MySpace.com.
Notably, none of the parents whose children received the assignment made complaints themselves, perhaps due to their ignorance of it. Unlikely? New York parents and teachers took to protesting Core exams after it was revealed that the parents were not allowed to see the tests, the teachers were not allowed to review the graded tests, and the tests themselves were riddled with ambiguous questions.[iii] The Common Core Initiative has been met with widespread criticism, but its lack of transparency in particular continues to astound the populous. As the Standards are instituted state-by-state, with full implementation anticipated by 2015, the interpretation of Common Core’s goal to “broaden worldviews” appears to be making its calamitous entrance.
Under the glaring spotlight of public criticism, interim Superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam is now set to talk with administrators (its “CORE team”) to “assure that any references to the holocaust ‘not occurring’ will be stricken on any current or future Argumentative Research assignments.”[iv]
Common Core supporters have claimed that despite the Standards’ uniformity and a copyright held jointly by the NGA and the CCSSO (preventing an opportunity for even modest modification of the Standards), that there yet exists a forum for ground-level creativity. Proponents allege that teachers are indeed provided with a blank canvas onto which they might paint lessons adhering to the grand, inflexible agenda of a bureaucratic regime. Perhaps this creativity has debuted first in the arena of historical accuracy.
Perhaps we have reason to shudder thinking of what comes next.