Politics & Government

124 pages. No mention of the ‘Holocaust’? Proposed SC history guidelines raising questions

A rose hung in 2015 on the entrance gate during the international Holocaust remembrance day in the former Nazi Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany.
A rose hung in 2015 on the entrance gate during the international Holocaust remembrance day in the former Nazi Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany. File photo

South Carolina’s public-school teachers know they must cover the Holocaust in discussions of World War II because the Nazis’ campaign to exterminate 6 million Jews and other minorities is mentioned specifically, by name, in the state’s current social studies standards.

However, a proposed 124-page revision to those standards leaves out the word “Holocaust,” raising questions about whether the genocide will remain a required topic to teach in classrooms.

Those concerns have been heard, said state schools chief Molly Spearman on Friday, in an effort to assure the public.

Spearman said she is “committed to explicitly naming the Holocaust in the final version of updated social studies standards, set to be revised and go before the State Board of Education for adoption next year.

The omission likely is the result of efforts to broaden education standards, a department spokesman said.

“South Carolina has a long history of supporting the remembrance of the Holocaust and its victims,” Spearman said. “This history and its teachings are supported by tremendous resources that are available to students and educators.”

The writers of the social studies standards, set to take effect in 2020, did not intend “to abandon these teachings,” she said. Efforts to broaden education standards sometimes can lead to omissions of specific concepts, figures or events.

“I fully support and am committed to explicitly naming the Holocaust in the final version,” she said, adding she will instruct her staff to make the change before September when the State Board of Education is expected to consider the standards for adoption.

“I encourage all parents and citizens to review the standards closely and provide feedback to ensure that the standards reflect the values and knowledge we want to instill in our South Carolina graduates,” Spearman said.

The department is accepting public feedback on the proposal through February on their website.

The current political climate and recent events in South Carolina could make the public particularly sensitive to whether the Holocaust is stated explicitly in the state’s education standards.

Dylann Roof, the convicted shooter in the 2015 shooting at an historic African-American church in Charleston, said he was inspired by Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany who ordered the genocide.

So why was the Holocaust left out?

Education standards dictate what social studies topics students must learn at every grade level. The state’s social studies standards are undergoing a review and revision process, which happens every five years. The plan is to have them in place in 2020.

The revisions are written by a team of educators and other stakeholders from the community – not by employees of the Department of Education, spokesman Ryan Brown said. However, the department and Spearman will give input on the standards before they are revised and approved.

The word Holocaust likely was removed as writers attempted to broaden the standards, Brown said. He suspects, “Their intention (the standards writers) was to cover everything in that time period of WWII, but certainly in the times that we live in, it’s going to be a charged issue.”

The fear is, he said, “If it’s not expressly mentioned, the word, then it won't be taught.”