Maryland schools will now be required to give enhanced instruction about the Holocaust, the state superintendent of schools announced Wednesday.
The Maryland State Department of Education intends to adopt a number of changes to expand and enhance required lessons about the Holocaust after a legislative effort to require the changes.
Planned changes include requiring lessons about the Holocaust in the state’s new fourth- and fifth-grade social studies curriculum framework to be implemented by all 24 local school districts. Schools will also be required to teach about the roots of anti-Semitism and strengthening required Holocaust instruction in high school U.S. history and modern world history courses.
The Maryland State Department of Education will also work with local school systems to create professional learning opportunities “so teachers have the tools necessary to teach the Holocaust with confidence,” according to the announcement from Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon.
Sen. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery) introduced legislation last year to expand Holocaust instruction, but in line with long-standing General Assembly precedent not to legislate curriculum, the bill was not passed.
Instead, 59 delegates and 20 senators signed a letter asking the state department to more clearly define requirements for Holocaust education.
The letter was organized by Kramer and Dels. Dana Stein (D), Shelly L. Hettleman (D) and Michele Guyton (D) of Baltimore County.
For years, Jewish leaders have been concerned that state curriculum guidelines on Holocaust lessons have been too vague and allow for too much variation among local school systems, Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said in a statement applauding Wednesday’s announcement.
Ronald Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said expanded instruction is needed because of an increase in hate crimes threats in recent years.
“We must address this disturbing trend with more concrete and proactive measures,” Halber said in a statement. “Teaching about the Holocaust and genocides, and the origins of these horrific events, is critical to fighting hate and bigotry.”
Hettleman said recent national statistics showing how little young Americans know about the Holocaust is very troubling. A survey by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that 66 percent of American millennials cannot say what Auschwitz was, and nearly a third of all Americans in the survey believe that 2 million Jews or fewer were killed in the Holocaust, when the actual number is about 6 million.
“Teaching about the Holocaust is vitally important for its historical significance in and of itself, but its universal lessons about the dangers of prejudice and racism will help ensure that genocide and other atrocities will never happen again,” Hettleman said in a statement.