State Senate Hears Argument to Require Holocaust Education in Schools
Auschwitz concentration camp in occupied Poland during World War II and the Holocaust. (Shutterstock image)

Supporters testify before Senate committee to require Holocaust, genocide education for middle and high school students

Citing the gradual and certain loss of all those who survived the Holocaust, supporters told a legislative committee Wednesday about the need to beef up a state mandate to teach middle and high school students about the Holocaust and other instances of genocide.

Nancy Barnett of the Holocaust Education Resource Center in Milwaukee told the Senate Education Committee about sharing her late father’s stories of surviving the Holocaust, the mass killing by Nazi Germany of some 6 million Jews as well as people from other targeted groups. She said the world is losing witnesses “to this horrific time in history, but the lessons and messages cannot be forgotten.” 

Committee speakers cited a survey from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany that found 22% of millennials unaware or not clear about what the Holocaust was.

Of teaching about such atrocities, Barnett described it as “a lens to illustrate what can happen when hatred and bullying are left unchecked. The dehumanization at the center of the Holocaust still exists today. We need to plan for a time when the survivors cannot speak for themselves.”

“As the decision makers of tomorrow, students must understand the consequences of indifference and hate,” she said.

Another speaker, Natalie White, described an incident during her first year of teaching at Prairie du Chien High School when she arrived to find a swastika –a symbol of the Nazi regime– drawn on her classroom whiteboard. 

White said she was the only Jewish teacher in the school. Now, she teaches an elective course about the Holocaust but supports the bill’s requirement of teaching about the Holocaust and other genocides as part of a social studies curriculum.

“Mandating is the only way to ensure Wisconsin teachers will have access to resources and professional development that is adequate to appropriately cover this topic,” said White, who believes teaching about these disturbing events from the past can help extinguish ignorance in the future.

Prairie du Chien High School teacher Natalie White (seated) is accompanied by some of her students as she testifies in Madison. (WisconsinEye screen capture image)

“My students become empathetic learners not only in regard to the Holocaust, but when discussing LGBTQ rights, modern genocide, and issues affecting our local community,” she said.

The Assembly has already approved the bill. The Senate meets one final time this month before wrapping up the 2020 regular session for passing new legislation.