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Holocaust may be added to curriculum

Social-studies core is up for revision in next couple years

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Utah's core curriculum — the blueprint for schoolteachers' lessons — doesn't mention the Holocaust.

Even so, a State Office of Education survey shows students are learning about the Holocaust. How could they not, with World War II in the curriculum, said Robert Austin, state social-studies specialist. In fact, practices of Utah teachers mirror those nationally, as surveyed by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The depth of student knowledge on the subject varies, Austin said, and maybe it's time for consistency, especially as the social-studies core is up for revision in the next couple of years.

"I imagine there definitely will be discussion of specific inclusion of the Holocaust and more general mention of genocide," Austin said.

"Teachers feel compelled to teach about the Holocaust, and rightly so," he added, "(but) it's always a question how much you put in (lessons)."

Seventeen states have passed legislation regarding Holocaust education in public schools. About half of them — including California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Washington state — have laws requiring or encouraging it in lessons.

"It's important, I feel, to know about the Holocaust," Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, told the State Board of Education on Friday. "My hope is that the Holocaust can actually serve more as a tool for greater humanity."

Utah teachers often include the subject in English classes — a common practice nationwide, Austin said.

A State Office of Education survey shows sixth-graders reading the novel "Number the Stars" by Lois Lowry, and junior high kids reading "Diary of Anne Frank" and Elie Wiesel's "Night," both in small rural and large urban school districts. Three Utah teenagers last school year were among 50 nationwide to win Oprah Winfrey's essay contest on "Night." One small district offers a World War II history class in high school. Last fall a Holocaust survivor visited schools in Jordan District and Murray High School.

Fifty-five Utah junior high teachers last year trained with a Holocaust museum fellow in Provo. High school lessons invite further study on the subject, Austin says, specifically in the core's section about World War II causes and consequences.

But questions have arisen about Holocaust education in elementary school.

The Holocaust Memorial Museum recommends Holocaust education begin in seventh grade. But the new elementary school social-studies core curriculum can lay a foundation that can serve as a building block for further studies when children become teenagers. Teachers will continue to receive training in Holocaust content and preferred methodologies, which would include age appropriateness, Austin reported.

"We do have an opportunity to do curriculum mapping of the Holocaust and Holocaust education, so every year a child is educated in Utah it's clear what topics they're looking at," Austin said.

E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com