Jewish Skeptics Critical of Race Unfazed by Texas Holocaust Educational Incident

JTA – When a school administrator in Texas was recorded saying that a new law requires teachers to offer an “opposite” view on the Holocaust, the series of state laws that aim to ban the teaching of critical race theory took a turn. new light.

For Jews who support education about systemic racism and oppose laws restricting such education, the Texas incident proves their point. Just as there is no historical debate on the historicity of the Holocaust, “there is also no ‘both sides’ of American slavery, systemic racism, lynchings and land theft and indigenous genocide.” tweeted Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, a prominent liberal Jewish voice.

“Remember folks, the suggestion to teach both sides of the Holocaust has come up because there is a law in Texas that is there to censor teaching on anti-racism,” wrote Ruttenberg, the resident scholar at the National Council of Jewish Women. “This is about white supremacy, yes, and / but at its root it’s about antiblackness.”

But some of the strongest American Jewish voices who oppose critical race theory, or the associated idea of ​​”waking up,” say the incident in Texas has not led them to reconsider their position. They say the message from the Texas administrator represents a distortion of the values ​​they want to see in schools.

“The Holocaust, like the history of slavery in the United States, is not an idea or an opinion,” David Bernstein, founder of the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values ​​and opponent of critical theory-centered education, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. of the breed. . “It is a historical fact. One can support the free expression of ideas and still recognize that there are people who pedal hateful and stupid claims that must be discredited. “

Critical race theory is a concept in legal studies that says that racism is embedded in the laws and institutions of American society. Lately, conservative activists have seized on the idea that public school students are taught history through a lens of critical race theory. Some states, like Texas, have passed laws that prohibit teaching the concepts underlying the theory.

Texas law states that when teachers teach “widely debated and currently controversial public policy or social issues,” they should do so “from diverse and conflicting perspectives without deference to any one perspective.” Recently, the board of the Texas school district where the administrator works reprimanded a fourth-grade teacher for including a book on anti-racism in her classroom library, according to NBC News, who first reported the Holocaust comments.

Texas law is intended to counter the idea that “an individual, by virtue of his race or sex, is responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.” But the tape’s manager suggested that his focus on balance applies to teaching historical events like the Holocaust.

Bernstein’s relatively new organization, the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values, published a letter this year articulating a Jewish opposition to efforts to teach critical race theory in schools. “The way to fight racism is not to stop discussion and debate. Doing so is the antithesis of American ideals and the antithesis of Judaism, ”the letter says. “The way to fight racism is to insist on our common humanity and engage in dialogue, even with those who disagree.”

Illustrative: A photo with Martin Luther King Jr. is on display in the Take A Stand Center at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center on October 26, 2017 in Skokie, Illinois. (AFP PHOTO / Joshua Lott)

Some signatories to the letter said they oppose Texas legislation and distinguish between teaching historical events and teaching any interpretation of the effects of those events.

“The dispute over the interpretation of events is completely legitimate, but the dispute over the existence of events is dangerous or stupid or both,” said Rabbi David Wolpe of the Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. “You can, for example, argue endlessly about the effects and causes of slavery, but arguing that slavery did not happen is idiotic or pernicious, and the same is true of the Holocaust.”

Bernstein said he is not opposed to teaching about systemic racism amid the broader discussion of race in America, but he is opposed to teachers exclusively saying that systemic racism is to blame for current racial disparities. He doesn’t think that stance will inevitably lead to state bans like the one in Texas.

“The fact that there are people who are trying to ban any discussion about the CRT, with which, as I said, I totally disagree, does not mean that anyone who raises concerns about the ideological indoctrination of children agrees with it,” he said. . “The fact that there are extreme cases and gray areas does not mean that we should shut down the free expression of ideas.”

Russel Neiss, a Jewish educator who warned in an opinion piece this year In the St. Louis Jewish newspaper that laws against critical race theory could have a setback in Holocaust education, he said that people who distinguish between teaching historical events and their causes and effects do not understand how Holocaust education occurs. Holocaust in general.

When you start banning all of these approaches to understanding history, you are banning the way we teach Holocaust education in America today.

“The way that Holocaust education is taught in America is that it talks about systems of oppression, it talks about dehumanization,” Neiss told JTA. “I don’t even know what it means to just teach facts. The facts do not mean anything unless they are contextualized in a historical context, unless they are contextualized in a way of understanding that particular time. ”

He added: “When you start banning all of these approaches to understanding history, you are banning the way we teach Holocaust education in America today.”

Neiss worries that Jews who uphold critical race theory may end up helping a movement that will undermine education about the Holocaust.

“We have people with a particular political agenda who are using scare tactics to try to advance their political agenda, and it will go back to biting their butt like it has done here,” he said.

Holocaust educators are also talking about what the Texas incident might portend. The Center for Holocaust and Humanity in Cincinnati said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned” by reports of the administrator’s comments.

Illustrative: Students from Ateris Bais Yaakov, a girls’ school in Monsey, New York, visit the Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center in Brooklyn. (courtesy)

“With hate crimes in the United States increasing to record levels, it is imperative that teachers are encouraged to devote instructional time to teaching the Holocaust, a pivotal event in human history, freely,” the statement he said, adding that teachers may feel inhibited from “providing the necessary historical context and discussing the practices and ideologies that contributed to the Holocaust, such as stereotypes and anti-Semitism.”

Bethany Mandel, another signatory to the letter from the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values, says she doubts that Holocaust education in Texas will be hampered. He said he felt the administrator on the recording sounded like he was opposing the restrictions – the administrator tells the teachers, “I think they’re terrified, and I wish I could remove that” – and that the teachers seemed to find his comment on the Holocaust. ridiculous.

Mandel, who homeschooled his own children, said he opposes Texas law because he believes states should strive not to enforce what teachers teach. She feels that Texas law reflects recently passed California legislation, favored by liberals, that requires schools to teach ethnic studies. The fight for ethnic studies has divided Jews in the state and encouraged opponents of critical race theory, who argue that the state’s sample curriculum exemplifies what they are fighting against.

“I don’t think the government should come from above and have these dictations in the classroom, both with ethnic studies and with Texas law,” Mandel said. “It really hampers teachers’ ability to recognize what their children need and how to best meet those needs.”

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