State lawmakers mandate Holocaust, genocide education

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story indicated that high school students would be receiving new assignments on the Holocaust and other genocides. Ridgefield High School teaches the Holocaust and other genocides in its world history curriculum, and regularly schedules speakers at the school to share with students their real-life experiences and perspective of having lived through these atrocities.  

A state bill signed into law Thursday, May 10, requires local school boards to include “Holocaust and genocide education and awareness as part of the social studies curriculum for the school district,” beginning July 1, 2018.

The bill, which was introduced by state Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26), comes after several swastikas and other racist graffiti were discovered throughout Ridgefield over the last two years.

Boucher (R-26), who represents Ridgefield, called supporting the bill “one of the proudest efforts” she has been a part of in the state’s General Assembly.

“When Rabbi Philip Lazowski came up to the Senate to tell me the good news, he was so full of emotion. We wrapped our arms around one another with tears in our eyes thinking about those victims of the most horrific chapter in human history. In my heart, I would like to think that all those victims of the Holocaust are looking down with hope for the many generations to come who will learn about these atrocities and will stand against the persecution of all people,” Boucher said.

‘No-brainer’

First Selectman Rudy Marconi called the bill a “common-sense, no-brainer” measure, and said he was pleased it was passed.

“I think plenty has been said about the Holocaust. and the need for all of us to remember that the genocide that took place was a scar on humanity, and one that we can never forget,” he said Monday, May 14.

“I would look at this as an opportunity for teachers to be sure to include the Holocaust in their teachings about World War II. … Some days you wonder based on the news whether we did learn anything. And that’s why education is so important — that the mistakes of our world are so important to learn from, and if we don’t teach, then there’s no learning.”

Survey

The bill, officially titled “An Act Concerning the Inclusion of Holocaust and Genocide Education and Awareness in the Social Studies Curriculum,” comes after a recent survey that found that younger Americans, in particular millennials, lack a basic understanding of the Nazis’ systematic murder of millions of Jews, Romani, and other ethnic groups.

Lawmakers were reportedly also alarmed by statistics suggesting two-thirds of millennials do not know what Auschwitz was, based on a survey conducted by New York-based Schoen Consulting earlier this year.

Local school boards may use existing private or public materials and personnel to create the new curriculum, the bill states.

It also allows boards to accept gifts and donations toward genocide education.

The signing came three days after the House of Representatives voted unanimously in favor of passing the bill. It was previously approved by the Senate on April 24.

Swastikas

Since November 2016, Ridgefield police have investigated eight instances of swastika graffiti and other forms of hate speech.

The anti-Semitic imagery has been found in Ballard Park, etched into tables and doors at Ridgefield High School, and drawn in marker on the doors and entrance signs of the Aldrich Museum and Masonic Lodge — both on Main Street.

Boucher said she hopes the legislation is a model for other states to follow.

“Rabbi Lazowski and I now hope this great achievement in Connecticut can serve as a model for other states and spread throughout our country,” she said. “I truly believe that education is the key to ending anti-Semitism and racism.”

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