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Holocaust education could soon be required in N.C. public schools

The North Carolina State Legislative building is located at 16 W. Jones St. in downtown Raleigh. 

The North Carolina State Legislative building is located at 16 W. Jones St. in downtown Raleigh. 

A quarter of millennials have not heard of the Holocaust, and nearly 50 percent of Americans cannot name a concentration camp. Only 10 states mandate Holocaust and genocide education, but North Carolina could become the 11th.

House Bill 437 was first filed on March 21 in the N.C. House of Representatives. The bill passed its first reading on March 25 and was then referred to the Committee of K-12 Education. 

The bill is similar to U.S. House Resolution 943, known as the Never Again Education Act, which was proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives in January. The resolution asks “to authorize the Secretary of Education to award grants to eligible entities to carry out educational programs about the Holocaust, and for other purposes.”

The first primary sponsor of the HB 437 was N.C. Rep. Linda P. Johnson, R-District 82. All four primary sponsors of the bill are Republican, but the bill has sponsors from both sides of the political aisle. 

The first section of the bill states it should be known as the Gizella Abramson Holocaust Education Act, in homage to Holocaust survivor and former teacher Gizella Gross Abramson.

After surviving a concentration camp during World War II, Abramson immigrated to the U.S., residing in Brooklyn before relocating to Raleigh in 1970. From 1973 until her death in 2011, she toured the state, speaking to students about her experiences during World War II. Abramson was also a charter member of the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust, an organization now chaired by her son, Michael Abramson.

“She was essentially the Elie Wiesel of North Carolina,” Michael Abramson said about his mother, referring to renowned Jewish author and activist.

The second section of the bill states students should have the “fundamental understanding of geography, history, and political systems necessary to make informed choices on issues that affect individuals, communities, states, and nations.”

Sharon Halperin, the director of the Center for Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education of North Carolina and daughter of two Holocaust survivors, agreed that teaching accurate information about the Holocaust can teach relevant lessons to current students.

“The ultimate responsibility of our teachers however, is not only to provide historical context but also to make the Holocaust relevant so our students can ask what they can do now to challenge bigotry and hatred,” Halperin said via email.

The bill also states the State Board of Education will work with the N.C. Council on the Holocaust and the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching to integrate Holocaust and genocide education into English and social studies courses, as well as develop a curriculum for a Holocaust studies elective that may be offered in middle and high schools.

While Abramson said this is a great first step, he also wants to make sure Holocaust education is taught correctly without political bias or misinformation.

“We feel the first step in North Carolina is to get the legislation passed. Then we’re going to try to find money to actually set up specific teacher workshops on how the teachers teach the Holocaust,” Abramson said. 

This is why the bill also includes a provision that ensures that professional development and curriculum content will be provided by the N.C. Council on the Holocaust and the NCCAT to make sure teachers understand how to effectively teach the sensitive subject.

Both Abramson and Halperin expect the bill to receive bipartisan support, and Abramson is hopeful the bill could be passed as early as June and be implemented for the 2019-20 school year. 

“If I can gather people to say, look, what you teach — tolerance and compassion and pluralism and a Democratic society, American democracy — you’re teaching the values and the history and the lessons of the Holocaust,” Abramson said. 


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