A suggestion by a Texas school administrator that pupils be offered books with “opposing” views on the Holocaust has triggered outrage, with several Democratic politicians slamming the recommendation.
Gina Peddy, executive director of curriculum and instruction at the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, was reportedly recorded last Friday advising teachers during a training session that if the school has books about the Holocaust, then they should also have books with “opposing” perspectives.
“Make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives,” Ms Peddy could be heard saying in an audio recording reported by NBC News.
Ms Peddy made the remarks while trying to explain the controversial Texas House Bill 3979, a law that dictates how Texas teachers talk to their students about current affairs and the country’s history of racism. The bill is largely seen as an attempt to ban discourse around critical race theory, an academic term to describe how race and racism have impacted social structures in the US.
Many GOP leaders have over the past year decried the teaching of critical race theory. The bill, signed into law by governor Greg Abbott in June this year, requires teachers discussing “widely debated and currently controversial" topics to provide “diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective".
“How do you oppose the Holocaust?” one teacher can be heard asking in the audio recording. "Believe me, that’s come up," Ms Peddy responded.
Another wondered if they would have to stop teaching Lois Lowry’s “Number the Stars”, a piece of historical fiction that tells the story of the Holocaust from the victim’s perspective. Amid the commotion, it was unclear if Ms Peddy heard the question.
The Holocaust was the systematic and state-sponsored genocide of Jews by the Nazi regime and its allies. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and estimates by various scholars, nearly six million Jews were killed in Europe at this time.
While Ms Peddy has not issued a statement since the recording emerged, Carroll ISD spokesperson Karen Fitzgerald said that the district was trying to help teachers in compliance of the new state law, as the updated version comes into effect in December.
“Our district recognises that all Texas teachers are in a precarious position with the latest legal requirements,” Ms Fitzgerald told NBC. “Our purpose is to support our teachers in ensuring they have all of the professional development, resources and materials needed. Our district has not and will not mandate books be removed nor will we mandate that classroom libraries be unavailable.”
Following the comments from Ms Peddy, Democratic senator José Menéndez sent a letter to Texas’s education commissioner seeking “immediate action” to “refute hateful and racist rhetoric in” Texas public schools and a “thorough review” of how they are implementing House Bill 3979.
“This is disturbing and a flagrant violation of keeping an open and healthy learning environment in our schools,” he wrote. “When this bill passed legislators warned that racist attacks would occur. It is our job to take every step possible to ensure an open and diverse forum, without subjecting our children to racism and [hateful] rhetoric.”
“There’s a reason white supremacy attacks history,” wrote Ms Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter. “Opposition to teaching bigotry’s history and where it leads – from the slave trade to the Holocaust – is about erasing society’s tools to recognise prejudice and prevent atrocity. Holocaust denial has no place in our society. None.”
Calling the situation “a little out of hand”, Mr Murphy tweeted: “So let me get this straight – the non-existent threat of ‘critical race theory’ has caused Texas to mandate the teaching of Holocaust denial? This seems to be getting A LITTLE out of hand.”
Author Neil Gaiman also expressed his outrage and said: “So if Texas teaches books that oppose the Holocaust… they also need Mein Kampf on their school bookshelves? Or just books that say the Jews deserved it?”