Maryland expands Holocaust curriculum

By Ben Waldman

To increase awareness about anti-semitism, Maryland state officials announced plans to increase the amount of Holocaust related instruction in the state’s public school system Oct. 24.

The change will include mutiple additions to curricula, including the creation of a Holocaust unit in 4th and 5th grade social studies classes, holding a discussion of the roots of antisemitism in 6th and 7th grade social studies, and implementing objectives focused on the Holocaust in both U.S. History and Modern World History in high school.

“We strongly believe there is a need to enhance Holocaust education in our state, so that all children learn about this horrific event and ensure it never happens again,” State Superintendent Karen B. Salmon said in a press release. “We see the changes that we are making as a substantive improvement over the current objectives and frameworks.”

Maryland’s current Modern World curriculum doesn’t specifically mention the Holocaust. Instead, it refers to genocide in general to encompass both the Holocaust and the atrocities that the Japanese committed during World War II.

Maryland Senator Ben Kramer introduced a bill in February 2019 that would mandate the state Board of Education make the Holocaust explicitly part of the state’s social studies curriculum. The bill was never brought up for a vote. Kramer decided not to reintroduce it because of the school board’s planned curriculum additions. 

“The writing was on the wall,” Kramer said. “The impetus for what they’re doing was their concern that I was coming back with the legislation again, this session, and I’ve been making a lot of noise about it.”

Bethesda’s large Jewish population influences the way social studies teachers teach the Holocaust at Whitman, AP European History teacher Kirkland Shipley said.

“The students that have Jewish heritage have a lot more capability because they’ve had an education on the topic,” Shipley said. “For those kids, I always try to present it as ‘I know you know this story, but let’s open your minds to talking about it again.’”

Junior Marc Blitz supports the changes. Almost everything he knows about the Holocaust is from Hebrew school, not Whitman, he said.

“Compared to what I’ve learned in Hebrew school, what I’ve learned in MCPS is nothing,” said Blitz. “I think it’s really bad if we don’t learn about that part of our heritage.”