How Holocaust Education Will Change Hearts and Minds in California’s Schools
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By Dr. Anita Friedman, JFCS Executive Director and co-chair of the Governor’s Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education

As we all can see, hate is surging at unprecedented levels throughout our society. Antisemitism is at an all-time high in California, and every week the JFCS Holocaust Center receives calls from local schools seeking guidance on how to handle hateful incidents. Now more than ever, education is critically and urgently needed to combat this frightening trend.

The Case for Fighting Antisemitism and Hate Through Education

Holocaust education was legally required in the California state education code as of 1985. Only now, almost 40 years later, are we finally studying its effectiveness, codifying it into curricula, and systematizing it into every California school. This historic failure to prioritize Holocaust education underscores how urgent and threatening the situation for Jews and other minorities has become.

There is reason to be hopeful, though. Evidence shows that Holocaust education is one of the single most important tools we have in fighting hate and antisemitism.

A recent survey of U.S. college students  found that students who had received Holocaust education:

  • report having greater knowledge about the Holocaust than their peers and understand its value.
  • have more pluralistic attitudes and are more open to differing viewpoints.
  • report a greater willingness to challenge intolerant behavior in others.
  • show higher critical thinking skills and greater sense of social responsibility and civic efficacy if they watched survivor testimony as part of their experience.

Illustration of outcomes of Holocaust Education for students

An Unprecedented Effort in the State of California

The JFCS Holocaust Center is Northern California’s primary resource for education about the Holocaust and genocide. Our deep commitment to education on the Holocaust and other genocides inspires students to be strong advocates against discrimination, hatred, and antisemitism.

What we know is that effective Holocaust education addresses six key questions: who Jews are, what we stand for, what is our long history, where is the Holocaust in that history, what does modern antisemitism look like, and how do we fight it?

With JFCS’ leadership, much progress has been made this past year to expand effective Holocaust and genocide education to more of California schools, and the State deserves much credit for partnering with the Jewish community in this unprecedented effort. California has funded two new major multi-million-dollar Holocaust education initiatives:

  1. The Governor’s Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education, which I co-chair, does research and sets State policy.
  2. The Teachers Collaborative on Holocaust and Genocide Education, created and coordinated by the JFCS Holocaust Center, trains thousands of teachers in all California school districts.
An audience of Teachers at Holocaust Education seminar listening to a Holocaust survivor

Survivor testimony, teacher training, and curricula development are some of the ways that the Teachers Collaborative on Holocaust and Genocide Education, created and coordinated by the JFCS Holocaust Center, is expanding effective Holocaust and genocide education to California Schools.

In 2021, the State of California and the Marin County Office of Education awarded a $1.9 million grant that was distributed by JFCS to 14 major California Holocaust and genocide educational organizations to  implement programs and create curricula. Some of the teachers representing these organizations presented at the JFCS-hosted Holocaust and Genocide Teachers Summer Institute, held at USC in Los Angeles this past June.

In September 2023, the State granted an additional $1.5 million to JFCS to expand the Teachers Collaborative statewide. These funds will be used to train 8,600 public school teachers and to educate 1 million California students by 2027.

The State also granted $2 million to the Governor’s Council to hire 84 education researchers to study how Holocaust education is being conducted in California. This is the largest research project ever conducted in America on this topic. Based on results, the Council will make recommendations to the Governor, the California Department of Education, and the California State Legislature on how to effectively conduct Holocaust and genocide education in the future.

Teacher addressing classroom

With support from the Preisler Shorenstein Institute for Holocaust Education, the JFCS Holocaust Center brings comprehensive education to Bay Area schools; teaching students about Jewish history, identity and culture, patterns of genocide, resistance, and modern antisemitism. 

A Community-Wide Mission

While State’s investments in expanding Holocaust education in California are historic, it should be noted that private donations are vital to funding these efforts as well. For example, Silicon Valley tech leaders gave multiple millions of dollars to build a state-of-the-art statewide platform (currently under construction) for the Teachers Collaborative to share curricula and best practices and to build a major new Holocaust Center (learn how you can help build our community’s Holocaust Center here).

Nothing of this magnitude has ever been done anywhere in the U.S., but like they say, “As California goes, so goes the nation.” Thanks to this momentous effort on behalf of the State, Governor Newsom, many organizations, and our entire community, the implications for Holocaust and genocide education on a national level are profound.

Posted by Admin on November 3, 2023