State officials recently announced that the requirements for Holocaust education in Maryland’s middle and high schools will be enhanced and expanded.

The announcement by Dr. Karen B. Salmon, state superintendent of schools, came days before the one-year anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that left 11 worshippers dead.

Among the plans are to teach about the roots of anti-Semitism in middle school social studies classes and deepen instruction about the Holocaust in high school as part of history courses. The changes would also include requiring Holocaust instruction within the state’s new fourth- and fifth-grade social studies framework.

In addition, the plans call on local school systems to devote funding for professional development of teachers centered on Holocaust instruction.

“We strongly believe there is a need to enhance Holocaust education in our state, so that all children learn about this horrific event and ensure it never happens again,” Salmon said in a statement. “We see the changes that we are making as a substantive improvement over the current objectives and frameworks.”

Earlier this fall, the Baltimore Jewish Council, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, and members of the General Assembly called on Salmon and the Maryland State Board of Education to more clearly define state requirements for Holocaust education.

Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (provided photo)
Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-11th): “Teaching about the Holocaust is vitally important for its historical significance in and of itself, but its universal lessons about the dangers of prejudice and racism will help ensure that genocide and other atrocities will never happen again.” (Provided photo)

Fifty-nine delegates and 20 state senators signed letters organized by Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-11th), Del. Dana M. Stein (D-11th) and Del. Michele Guyton (D-42B), as well as Sen. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-19th).

“As legislators, we have an obligation to speak up if we believe that critical areas are not being adequately and consistently taught in our public schools,” said Stein. “We reached the conclusion that Holocaust education qualifies and changes needed to be made. We appreciate that the state superintendent has listened to our concerns and is willing to make the necessary changes.”

In a statement, Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said, “For years, we have been concerned that the state curriculum guidelines on Holocaust instruction are too vague and create too much potential for variations in the quality and quantity of what is taught among our state’s 24 jurisdictions. With this announcement, our state educators are making an emphatic statement about our collective obligation to teach all children about the Holocaust in a consistent and detailed way.”

Hettleman noted that the most recent national statistics regarding knowledge of the Holocaust among young people “are very troubling. Teaching about the Holocaust is vitally important for its historical significance in and of itself, but its universal lessons about the dangers of prejudice and racism will help ensure that genocide and other atrocities will never happen again.”

Jmore staff members contributed to this report.

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