- The Washington Times - Monday, May 5, 2014

A Southern California school district is standing by an eighth-grade writing assignment that asked students to argue whether they believed the Holocaust was fact or fiction.

The Rialto Unified School District argues that the assignment was meant to teach students how to objectively evaluate conflicting opinions, the Los Angeles Daily News reported.

“When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence,” the assignment read. “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. Based upon your research on this issue, 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. Remember to address counterclaims (rebuttals) to your stated claim. You are also required to use parenthetical (internal) citations and to provide a Works Cited page.”

The Los Angeles-based Anti-Defamation League has spoken out against the district, but the district insists the assignment is part of the Common Core state standards meant to emphasize critical thinking.

“One of the most important responsibilities for educators is to develop critical thinking skills in students,” school board member Joe Martinez told The Daily News. “This will allow a person to come to their own conclusion. Current events are part of the basis for measuring IQ. The Middle East, Israel, Palestine and the Holocaust are on newscasts discussing current events. Teaching how to come to your own conclusion based on the facts, test your position, be able to articulate that position, then defend your belief with a lucid argument is essential to good citizenship.”

District spokeswoman Syeda Jafri told the paper: “There is no doubt the Holocaust was one of the most horrific, traumatic time-pieces in our history. We want our students to engage in developing critical thinking skills and have an in-depth perspective on the importance of the Holocaust. Although I received one email last week in reference to this subject, the district has not received any concerns about this writing prompt from any teachers, administrators or parents. However, due to its sensitive nature, we are always open to go back and examine the prompt.”

• Jessica Chasmar can be reached at jchasmar@washingtontimes.com.

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