NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Leslie Lawner, a former Roswell Middle School teacher, has spent the last two decades teaching about the Holocaust. She’s now spending her retirement educating teachers on how to teach about the Holocaust and other acts of genocide. That’s why she’s pushing for House Bill 111 or better known as the “Holocaust Education Act” bill in this legislative session.
Introduced by Albuquerque Representative Pameyla Herndon, it would require all New Mexico schools to teach about genocide, including the Holocaust, for students in 7th through 12th grade. For the schools that already teach it, it would make the course more in-depth but also age appropriate. “It’s not about terrorizing them in a day or two so that they know this was a terrible thing. It’s about having them understand how it happened,” Lawner said.
Although the Holocaust is mentioned in the social studies standards, Lawner says there’s no guarantee that classes will get to it or spend much time on it. She says the teachings need to be more consistent and believes it’s especially important today, as we’re seeing a rise in anti-Semitism. “When they see Holocaust denial, disinformation on the internet, or their friends tell them something, that they can fight it, that they know this isn’t true,” Lawner said.
And Representative Herndon agrees. “As I looked through a number of books that were being adopted by the largest school district in the state – and that would be Albuquerque Public Schools – I didn’t see that as being at the forefront of a major piece of discussion,” she said. “If that’s the largest school district, what are the other school districts looking at or not looking at?”
This specific proposal has never been considered before in the state. Representative Herndon says it’s important to make sure students never forget the painful lessons of the past. “It’s always good to tell the backstory and not just what resulted in very horrific incidences,” Herndon says.
The New Mexico Public Education Department says while they support Holocaust education, they also support leaving certain curriculum decisions up to the local school leaders.