On the one hand, we have the Rialto Unified School District, located just east of Los Angeles. For some reason, some of their eighth grade teachers thought it would be a good idea to give their students a “critical thinking exercise” that asked them to “write an argumentative essay, utilizing cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you believe the Holocaust was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain.” One of the sources the teachers provided to their students in order to research the assignment is a known Holocaust denial website (biblebelievers.com.au), and its opening sentence reads “Within five minutes, any intelligent, open-minded person can be convinced that the Holocaust gassings of World War II are a profitable hoax.”
Don’t do that.
The Rialto school board appropriately took responsibility for what happened and apologized, saying it was all a big mistake and the assignment will be scrapped, and the LA ADL branch says they have no reason to believe that the assignment was part of a “larger, insidious, agenda,” but still, yikes.
On the other hand, we have the enterprising fellow who, when the story about the Holocaust denial assignment was reported, took it upon himself to call in a death threat to the school district.
Don’t do that, either.
Not only is there no justification for threatening to kill somebody over a middle school homework assignment, but that kind of thing has a tendency, understandably, to make the institution circle the wagons, both to protect itself and to protect the individuals who were directly responsible. That’s a shame, since, as Josh Marshall writes, there’s a lot that is really troubling about this whole episode that cannot be easily explained away with a simple “oops, our teachers messed up.” Nobody with any sense of social awareness could possibly think that an assignment like this could be passed off as just some benign exercise in argumentation, and when the district claims that a group of apparently oblivious teachers, rather than just one, collaborated on the assignment it just stretches the bounds of credibility. Then add in the fact that one of the sources was taken from a known Holocaust denial cesspool, and you’ve really got to suspend disbelief to accept that this was somehow all just a tragic error in judgment. But the nutter who phoned in the death threat has made it less likely that the full story will ever come out.