DCPS needs more Holocaust education

Sophie Reeves

My sophomore World History class at Wilson, until November of this year, proved insightful. So, you can imagine my surprise when I checked my Canvas to see a lesson labeled “Eastern Europe and the Holocaust,” below it an ungraded Playposit video labeled The Path to Nazi Germany. Worth a grand total of zero points. Put plainly, a single day to cover a  devastating catastrophe is nowhere near enough. Our school is being dangerously negligent in its Holocaust curriculum. 

 We’ve got a problem. The United States has a problem, DCPS has a problem, and Wilson has a problem. While watching the Playposit, it struck me as a bit strange, to say the least, that students could choose to simply not complete an assignment regarding such an earth-shatteringly painful event. Shocked as I was, it is not just our school that is failing to educate its students about the Holocaust.

On a broad scale, Holocaust erasure is not new. In the first ever nationwide Holocaust knowledge survey, conducted by the Conference for Jewish Material Claims Against Germany last year, 1 in 10 under 40-year-olds said they had never heard the term “Holocaust.” 63 percent of Millennials and Gen Z did not know six million Jewish people were murdered. In the current political atmosphere, blatant antisemitism and the lack of basic knowledge amongst youth today is a warning sign, and should also be treated as a call to action. 

When I asked several DCPS students the question “Do you think DCPS’s Holocaust education was sufficient?”, Ella Osdoba, a junior at School Without Walls, said, “I think some individual teachers do a really good job, but we cannot rely on good teachers. It must be a mandatory part of the curriculum.” Wilson student Charlotte Oshtry replied that she had received little or no Holocaust instruction in school. 

In the 104 page DCPS curriculum plan for grades K-12, there is one line that uses the word “Holocaust.” Only one.

In my personal experience at Wilson, the Holocaust has barely been covered. I wanted to explore why, at Wilson in particular, we are not receiving adequate education on the Holocaust. I’m not Jewish, and so I have learned about the awful event through books and individual research. Other Wilson students like junior Will Smith and senior Charlotte Tompkins mentioned that during their AP World History class, there were only two brief lessons on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust—which was more than our World I and World II classes. There is close to no Holocaust information in the basic curriculum for World History I and II.

AP World History has since been removed from the Wilson course list. This means that there are currently no opportunities to get a close-to-appropriate Holocaust education, but it also gives way to question why an AP course was the only way to access this information in the first place. AP classes are propelled by college educated, higher income families. White students are enrolled at higher rates than any other group. Education on the Holocaust needs to be equally available, no matter what.  

In an interview with World History II teacher Ashley Senior, she stated, “I do think it should be included more throughout the social studies curriculum. Especially now, where we have conspiracy theories, people who argue that the Holocaust didn’t exist.” Senior also mentioned that most people working on the curriculum don’t work in classrooms, and so, in the case of the Holocaust, lesson planning is rushed and problematic as teachers scramble to meet standards.

A change must be made. There needs to be added guidance and time allotted for teachers to spend informing students on the events leading up to and during the Holocaust, as well as the aftermath and the way it affected Jewish communities. 

We study history so that we can learn valuable lessons from it. Without a doubt, elementary, middle, and high schoolers deserve age appropriate, unprejudiced, and factual information on the Holocaust. Wilson, DCPS, and schools around the country are not providing substantial information about an extremely serious and important part of history. While writing this article, a question for the Wilson community began to form in my mind: Why do we allow this erasure to happen? Because it surely doesn’t meet our standards, and the lack of knowledge our students have been provided with on such an important matter is clearly unacceptable.