Holocaust Handbook: Should the Government Fund the Distribution of a Holocaust Handbook to Schoolchildren?

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Should the government fund the distribution of a Holocaust handbook to schoolchildren?

Soldiers bayoneting rabbis on the streets of Poland; prisoners dragging the dead from extermination camp ovens: The gory details of the Holocaust usually have not been considered suitable for children -- until now. Tell Ye Your Children, a Holocaust handbook for students, has been so successful in Sweden, the U.S. federal government is thinking of distributing it to the 52.2 million schoolchildren in this country.

The book would be the first government-sponsored education project about the Holocaust, an atrocity estimated to have claimed some 6 million lives during World War II. To date, 17 states either mandate or suggest school Holocaust programs: California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington. Only Florida and New York back up their programs with state funding.

Lack of funding leaves teachers to their own ingenuity, says Dawn Arnold of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, coordinator for a forthcoming conference on Holocaust education. "Our whole idea is to give a day of training to teachers teaching the Holocaust" she says. "It is not like teaching Moby Dick. Children died, people died. How do you make sure it doesn't happen again?"

There are 65 Holocaust resource centers and six Holocaust museums around the country. "It's being taught widely" says William Shulman, president of the Association of Holocaust Organizations in Bayside, N.Y., through a combination of books, films and field trips. But is it being done effectively? "No one can answer that" he says. "No one has done an evaluation or even designed an instrument to measure this."

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington has counted 2.5 children among its visitors since its opening in 1993, more than half with school or youth groups. About 3,050 school groups arrive each year, museum officials say, averaging 158,000 children annually. …


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