Oct 18, 2022 - News

How GOP politics are swaying Holocaust history lessons in Colorado

A Holocaust artifact on display at the Jewish Museum in London. Photo: Laurène Becquart/AFP via Getty Images

The views of one Republican Colorado school board member are shaping how kids across the state learn about the Holocaust, our education reporting partners at Chalkbeat write.

Why it matters: The possibility for an individual to single-handedly sway the state's education system raises questions about the Colorado State Board of Education's ability to fairly manage members' conflicting political ideologies over teaching history.

What's happening: Over the last year and a half, Board Member Steve Durham — who represents Colorado Springs — has made changes to certain social studies standards that appear to suggest genocide and socialism are linked.

  • Durham had the word "Nazi" removed and replaced with the party's full name (the National Socialist German Workers Party) in an early draft of academic standards related to the Holocaust and other genocides, which are meant to guide teaching statewide.
  • Following backlash, Durham agreed to call the group the Nazi Socialist German Workers Party. Meanwhile, he made other changes to the now-approved standards, including omitting references to genocide in countries such as Rwanda, while adding detailed information about the Communist Party of China.

The other side: Historians, Holocaust education advocates and fellow state board members argue that Durham's beliefs are unfounded and offensive.

  • The idea that Nazis were socialists is "a lie," David Ciarlo, a University of Colorado history professor who studies German politics, told Chalkbeat.
  • "It feels very antisemitic, quite frankly," said Democratic state Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, who helped pass a bill in 2020 requiring Holocaust and genocide education statewide.

The big picture: The history of the Holocaust has devolved into yet another divisive topic when it comes to what students in Colorado and nationwide learn in their social studies classes.

Go deeper with our partners at Chalkbeat

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