By Charles D. Pulman
The recent incident in the Carroll Independent School District over the Holocaust (reported in last week’s TJP) is a good teaching moment on the reporting of current events and reactions.
It has been recently reported that an administrator in the Carroll School District told her teachers that if they chose to teach the Holocaust, then they had to teach other perspectives.
Many in the mainstream media and other organizations immediately issued condemnations of the administrator and the ISD.
If all one knew was what the mainstream media initially reported, the reaction to the report would have been understandable. Initial reports, however, were misleading and incomplete.
For example, it was not everywhere reported that the superintendent of the ISD quickly issued an apology Oct. 14 and confirmed that they are working through implementation of HB 3979, a new Texas law; that there are not two sides to the Holocaust; and that the law does not require an opposing viewpoint on historical facts. The TJP reported this apology but not all media did so. A very relevant fact.
The second teachable moment is, I have found from my own research (but this was not reported adequately) that there is a lot of information that needs to be known to try to gather a better understanding of the reason for the administrator’s statement. Understanding facts behind her statement is important.
First, the question should be asked why the administrator was even bringing up the Holocaust. The reason, I believe, is that a 2019 Texas law, SB 1828, requires schools to observe a Holocaust Remembrance Week (as reported last week by the TJP) designated by the governor. In addition, the law requires schools to actually teach information about the history of and lessons learned from the Holocaust as well as requiring learning projects and use of materials. These are all good things that we want. This is the start of understanding the background to the Carroll incident.
The administrator, knowing that the Holocaust must be taught, clearly was responding to another very recent Texas law adopted earlier this year by the Texas Legislature, that law being HB 3979.
HB 3979 added a new provision in Section 28.002 of the Education Code that reads as follows:
“(h-2) (2) Teachers who choose to discuss current events or widely debated and currently controversial issues of public policy or social affairs shall, to the best of their ability, strive to explore such issues from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.”
So, an issue that the teacher decides to be discussed in a classroom falls under this new law if (a) the issue is a current event or (b) the issue is both widely debated and is a currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.
Clearly, the Holocaust does not fall under the requirements of the new law as it is not a current event and is not a matter of public policy or social issue but a historical event not covered by the new law. The superintendent acknowledged this conclusion after having been made aware of this matter by citizens of Texas. I applaud the Carroll ISD and believe this is the way our system of democracy and input into our schools and curriculum should work. Frankly, I am glad this issue came up at the Carroll ISD since now other school districts will have this clarity when complying with the Texas law requiring teaching of the Holocaust.
The law is clear as to what is required to invoke the law. How the law and its requirements are applied to real-time specific topics is a matter of consideration and analysis to be applied on a case-by-case basis. Like any new law, it takes time to understand and work with the new law. Of course, this understanding requires that one actually reads the law. The same understanding applies to one who lashes out at someone who was trying to apply the law as understood by that person. Before striking out in the “cancel culture” mode of today, one must investigate the issue and apply the Jewish value of “rochmones.”
In the Carroll ISD incident, we all got a lesson on the existence of the new law and its proper application. I have read articles of some organizations and individuals calling for the repeal of this new law. With this I disagree. I can think of several issues of current debate in our country that, if taught in our classrooms — which is another whole topic of what is appropriate to teach to our children and when — would fall under this new law. I would think we all want to ensure our children are getting a well-informed education.
One such area I have in mind and that is close to us is antisemitism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am personally aware of incidents where teachers have chosen to teach this conflict but offer only the Palestinian narrative or are heavily weighted to the Palestinian narrative. This new law would require that the teacher also offer the Israeli perspective and do so without bias. The new law ensures that we have an effective means to keep the education system fair and balanced.
So what do we learn from the Carroll ISD incident? I offer the following: Stay calm and don’t jump to hasty conclusions; refrain from condemning others until we are confident we have received all relevant information; do our own research; and don’t rely on only one source for information.
Dallas attorney Charles D. Pulman is founder and president of Why Israel Matters, Inc.