This spring, the Minnesota legislature is debating a proposed mandate requiring Holocaust and genocide education in middle and high schools across the state. The proposal comes on the heels of work done in 2021 to increase the presence of the Holocaust and genocide in the revised social studies standards. This bill codifies the language in the standards revision. It establishes a task force of educators, experts, and community members that would work closely with the Minnesota Department of Education to implement requirements. The bill is a joint effort between CHGS and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota & the Dakotas.
If passed, Minnesota would join twenty-two other states with similar policies, but with two significant differences. First, unlike most states, our proposed mandate would provide funding for educator training. This would ensure teachers from across the state have equitable access to training and resources regardless of where they live. Second, the language in Minnesota’s proposal is more inclusive than other states, listing Black and Indigenous genocides. Specifically, the language includes “Indigenous dispossession, removal, and genocide.” This legislation would be the first state in the country to include Indigenous genocide.
The Senate has already introduced the bill, having its first hearing on Monday, March 6th in the Education Policy Committee. In addition to written statements from CHGS advisory board members Dr. Sheer Ganor and Dr. Gabriela Spears-Rico, I spoke briefly to the committee about the importance of this bill for Minnesota teachers. I was joined by Luda Anastazievsky of the Ukrainian American Community Center and Kristin Thompson, founder of the Humanus Network and former Education Program Coordinator at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
My statement is below:
When Dr. Stephen Feinstein created our Center in 1997, it was among the first Centers dedicated to studying the Holocaust and genocides in the country. Dr. Feinstein envisioned a research center that could nurture the needs of faculty and students at the University of Minnesota and respond to the growing number of educators across the state looking for resources for their classrooms. Since then, the Center has been at the forefront of preserving the memory of genocide and raising awareness through the development of teaching materials and workshops.
Throughout my near decade with the Center, I’ve had the privilege of working with numerous communities whose legacies are tainted by the legacies of genocide. A paramount concern for all of these communities is the desire to teach Minnesotans about their histories. As one community leader told me, “Genocide is woven into the fabric of Minnesota.”
He’s right. Over the last five decades, tens of thousands of foreign-born people have found a safe home in Minnesota after fleeing their homelands in the wake of violence and even genocide. Since the 1970s, Khmer, Hmong, Somali, Bosniak, and most recently, Ukrainians have found sanctuary in our state. These numbers don’t factor in groups like the Armenians, Jews, or earlier waves of Ukrainians who came to Minnesota in the early twentieth century in the face of persecution and violence in their homelands. It also doesn’t include Minnesota’s Indigenous nations, who have routinely been subjected to genocidal policies in the state since the first treaty in 1805.
Our teachers speak to this need. At one of our workshops, I was asked by an educator, “These students are in my classes. How can I possibly tell them their history?” This question is supported by surveys we’ve done with educators that point to the lack of resources as the primary reason teachers give for not including the Holocaust or other genocides in their curriculum. Nearly every respondent said including these topics was important to them, yet less than half spent time on the Holocaust. That number drops significantly for other genocides.
Members of the committee, we cannot escape the legacies of genocide, but we can better equip teachers to address it in their classrooms. A policy that ensures Holocaust & genocide are incorporated in middle and high school is an important first step, but providing funding that supports the development of new resources is critical.
Note: SF 2442 is currently advancing through Senate committees. It is expected to be introduced in the House soon.
Joe Eggers is the Interim Director of the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies.