On Holocaust Education, the Government Got One Right

Ignore the cynics; the Education Ministry's new program is a well thought out attempt to help children cope with Holocaust Day.

It’s fun and easy to mock the Education Ministry headed by Shai Piron. The dramatic announcements about canceling the psychometric exam, the change in the format of the matriculation exams, the addition and subtraction of educational content and the abridgement of the summer vacation have caused many people to sense confusion, a lack of professionalism and a pursuit of fame and headlines. It’s no surprise that many similarly attacked Piron’s new announcement of an educational program on the subject of the Holocaust, called On the Paths of Memory. The main criticism by cynical opponents of the program was directed at “teaching the Holocaust in kindergarten.”

The Facebook cynics competed among themselves in attempts to humiliate and disgrace the Education Ministry and its program. One parent wrote that his young son doesn’t know his letters yet, and therefore would find it difficult to write “ghetto.” Others expressed themselves in more biting terms.

Funny and clever, but inaccurate and unfair

A perusal of a document detailing the program, which was distributed to journalists by the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, reveals that it is actually balanced, measured, logical and mature. It solves the genuine distress encountered by parents and teachers of young children all over the country: How can one “explain” to children why there’s a siren today? What’s the meaning of the frightening programs on television and the ceremony in which an older sibling participated this morning in school?

Many justifiably fear the result of a combination of the Education Ministry of a right-wing, ultranationalist government and teaching a sensitive subject like the Holocaust to young children. But in this case, the criticism is not justified. First, there is no intention of “teaching the Holocaust” all year long. The subject will be discussed with kindergarten children only on Holocaust Remembrance Day and the days before and after. “Discussion of the subject will take place before and shortly after the siren. Beyond that: the daily routine of the kindergarten will be maintained,” according to the program.

At present, when there is no orderly and uniform program for learning the subject in kindergarten, there are children who return home and tell mom and dad about “the bad man named Hitler who wants to kill all of us.”

I’m not convinced that this situation is preferable. The Education Ministry justifiably wants to help children (and in effect their parents too) to deal with the frightening and complex reality to which they are exposed on Holocaust Remembrance Day — the siren, the special television and radio programs and the Internet content “through which the children absorb bits of information without the cognitive and emotional ability to understand and to derive meaning,” according to the Education Ministry. “The main role of adults and educators on this day is to help the children to organize the information they have absorbed, while preserving their sense of security.”

The fear of many that the kindergarten teacher will “scare” the children with horror stories about Auschwitz and the Warsaw Ghetto uprising is also groundless. The Education Ministry has specifically stated that the role of kindergarten teachers is “to prevent reactions of anxiety that are liable to accompany Holocaust Day.” “The instructions to the kindergarten teachers make it clear that they should avoid ... frightening content based on physical demonstrations, such as simulations and plays, which expose the children to experiences of identification, as well as the display of pictures that are liable to arouse fears,” says the program.

The program is the product of a joint committee of the Education Ministry and Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies. There are serious people there, well known experts, including educators, advisers and psychologists, for whom this is their main preoccupation. So what is actually so bad about it? This time we can put aside the laughter and the mockery and give them a little credit, even if it’s a lot of fun to slaughter sacred cows.