26 votes

Principal Who Tried to Stay ‘Politically Neutral’ About Holocaust Is Removed

16 comments

  1. [10]
    dubteedub
    Link
    This last line honestly makes this worse for me. Does the (former) principal not think slavery was an objectively bad thing that should be taught or understood? This whole debacle is just...

    “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee,” Mr. Latson wrote, making a distinction between his personal beliefs about the Holocaust and his role as the leader of a public school. “I do allow information about the Holocaust to be presented and allow students and parents to make decisions about it accordingly. I do the same with information about slavery.”

    This last line honestly makes this worse for me. Does the (former) principal not think slavery was an objectively bad thing that should be taught or understood? This whole debacle is just ridiculous and I fully agree with others in the article that there is no chance of trusting this man in a position of power and education any further.

    For example, 31 percent of Americans, and 41 percent of millennials, believed that two million or fewer Jews had been killed in the Holocaust; in fact, the number is around six million. Forty-one percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, could not say what the death camp Auschwitz was. And 52 percent of Americans wrongly thought Hitler had come to power through force.

    This is just embarrassing. I have to wonder how much of this is due to ignorance or actual racism / anti-semitism.

    19 votes
    1. [6]
      Hypersapien
      Link Parent
      Well, he kind of did if you count the Night of the Long Knives. Not force exercised over the German people but rather internally over the Nazi party.

      And 52 percent of Americans wrongly thought Hitler had come to power through force.

      Well, he kind of did if you count the Night of the Long Knives. Not force exercised over the German people but rather internally over the Nazi party.

      9 votes
      1. [4]
        apoctr
        Link Parent
        Didn't that take place after Hitler had already come to power, though?

        Didn't that take place after Hitler had already come to power, though?

        3 votes
        1. [3]
          Litmus2336
          Link Parent
          Hitler had 33% of the reichstag, and was the largest party, but never had a majority government before emergency powers were declared during the Reichstag Fire Decree

          Hitler had 33% of the reichstag, and was the largest party, but never had a majority government before emergency powers were declared during the Reichstag Fire Decree

          5 votes
          1. [2]
            apoctr
            Link Parent
            Am I missing something or is that unrelated? The Reichstag Fire enabled Hitler to imprison the communist party and control the majority of the Reichstag, yes, but that was before the night of the...

            Am I missing something or is that unrelated?

            The Reichstag Fire enabled Hitler to imprison the communist party and control the majority of the Reichstag, yes, but that was before the night of the long knives (by like a year).

            By the point of the night of the long knives, Hitler was already chancellor although not in total political control, lacking the support of the army. So I suppose Hypersapien was right, it was that night that allowed Hitler to fully take control.

            3 votes
            1. Litmus2336
              Link Parent
              I didn't mean to directly or indirectly discuss the knight of long knives. I was more referring to the questions of whether Hitler was "elected" or not - he was elected to chancellorship in a...

              I didn't mean to directly or indirectly discuss the knight of long knives. I was more referring to the questions of whether Hitler was "elected" or not - he was elected to chancellorship in a minority government and he never received a majority of the votes (which is what I would consider most Americans to require for someone to be "elected"). After that he suspended all political parties other than his own.

              2 votes
      2. teaearlgraycold
        Link Parent
        As I understand it the country was ready for Hitler and had he not been there someone else would have done the same work as him.

        As I understand it the country was ready for Hitler and had he not been there someone else would have done the same work as him.

    2. [3]
      NaraVara
      Link Parent
      The racism is part of what makes people think things like this aren't worth knowing about, which drives the ignorance, which drives the racism. . .

      I have to wonder how much of this is due to ignorance or actual racism / anti-semitism.

      The racism is part of what makes people think things like this aren't worth knowing about, which drives the ignorance, which drives the racism. . .

      7 votes
      1. [2]
        Diet_Coke
        Link Parent
        I would place no small amount of blame in an education system that's been cut to the bone, where memorizing facts for a standardized test is more valuable than considering and contextualizing...

        I would place no small amount of blame in an education system that's been cut to the bone, where memorizing facts for a standardized test is more valuable than considering and contextualizing information.

        5 votes
        1. sublime_aenima
          Link Parent
          It's not just systems that have been cut to the bone though. It's the actual educational system. They gloss over and omit much of history to shape a specific perspective. Even very expensive...

          It's not just systems that have been cut to the bone though. It's the actual educational system. They gloss over and omit much of history to shape a specific perspective. Even very expensive private schools and well funded charter schools pick and choose the version of history they present their students. The people in power are the ones that dictate the curriculum.

          3 votes
  2. mftrhu
    Link
    There is no neutrality. Or, at the very least, refusing to state that the Holocaust was factual is not how you would go about being "politically neutral" about it. Leaving aside the fact that Nazi...

    A high school principal in Florida has been removed from his position over his refusal to state that the Holocaust was a factual historical event, saying that he had to stay “politically neutral” about the World War II-era genocide of six million Jews.

    There is no neutrality. Or, at the very least, refusing to state that the Holocaust was factual is not how you would go about being "politically neutral" about it.

    Leaving aside the fact that Nazi Germany killed almost twenty million people in their camps - "six millions" is starting to leave a bad taste in my mouth, as if people are trying to downplay what happened - the Holocaust is very well-documented. It's probably the most well-documented mass killing event in history, mostly because people keep on trying to argue that it did not happen*.

    “Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened,” the principal, William Latson of Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton, Fla., wrote in an email exchange with an unidentified parent in April 2018. He said that the school offered an assembly and courses on the Holocaust, but that they were optional and could not be “forced upon” all students.

    The politically neutral stance, here, would be to provide all the relevant facts to the students. Their belief, or lack thereof, is irrelevant, like it would be irrelevant re: Flat Earth, evolution/creationism, and LGBT people.

    A mass killing happened - a genocide, even. Almost twenty million people have been claimed to have been slaughtered by the Nazis (outside the fighting, that is), dying of multiple different causes: gas chambers, summary execution, medical experiments, starvation, plain old brutality. There is a large body of research to support this position.

    Some people claim that this mass slaughter did not happen, or that it has been overplayed. They made their arguments - "they were not extermination camps because they had pools", "they were not gas chambers, but delousing chambers", "they couldn't have disposed of the bodies fast enough". They presented their evidence, when they thought they had evidence to present. It was found to be faulty. They set out to prove their point, and they failed.

    Do we have a precise figure of how many people died? Can we account for every body? No. Do we need more research on the Holocaust? Maybe so. But extraordinary evidence would be needed to overthrow the current consensus - "millions of people died, and the Nazis are to blame for it" - and "Idk man, I don't think those crematoriums would be enough" is not sufficient. It might account for a couple of thousands of people, but that's not what people are arguing against.

    All of this is a fact: the claims are a fact. The research on them is a fact. The counterclaims are a fact. The research on them is a fact. The Nuremberg trials are a fact. The conclusions the experts drew are a fact.

    You might not agree with them. You might think the Holocaust did not happen.

    But you can't hide behind "it's not factual". At the very least, how people responded to the Holocaust shaped our history - and this would not change, even if we were to discover that all the people we thought dead were actually whisked away to Atlantis by bloody fairies.

    Mr. Latson, who did not respond to a request for comment on Monday, also apologized in a statement to The Palm Beach Post. “I regret that the verbiage that I used when responding to an email message from a parent, one year ago, did not accurately reflect my professional and personal commitment to educating all students about the atrocities of the Holocaust,” he said.

    But by Monday, school officials had decided that Mr. Latson had become a “major distraction.” “It is, therefore, in the best interest of students and the larger school community to reassign Mr. Latson to a District position,” the district said.

    Too little, too late, both by Latson and the school officials - especially the school officials.


    * I downloaded the contents of an open directory recently. It contained a lot of text files from the 1980-2000 time period: RFCs, zines, archives of Usenet threads. One thing that struck me is how there was a Holocaust folder in there, whose README reads "The files in this directory are primarily motivated as counters to a group (possibly one person under several aliases) engaged in Holocaust denial". Those files are from 1992, and older than me, and yet hardly anything changed since. People still use the Leuchter report, despite it having been found faulty more than two decades ago, and it's depressing.

    11 votes
  3. Ephemere
    Link
    Obviously the person in question's motivations are highly suspect, but even if they weren't it just goes to show that it's impossible to 'not make a choice' on any contentious issue. Being...

    Obviously the person in question's motivations are highly suspect, but even if they weren't it just goes to show that it's impossible to 'not make a choice' on any contentious issue. Being "neutral" is anything but, as it suggests that the existence of an extremely well documented and important piece of history is something on which reasonable people can disbelieve. It's denial cloaked in the guise of agnostic inquiry.

    15 votes
  4. aphoenix
    Link
    The trouble is that he can't actually verify any of the history that is written down and taught because at some level all of history is just someone's accounting of what happened. He makes the...

    “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee,” Mr. Latson wrote, making a distinction between his personal beliefs about the Holocaust and his role as the leader of a public school.

    The trouble is that he can't actually verify any of the history that is written down and taught because at some level all of history is just someone's accounting of what happened. He makes the choices to take these facts about the Holocaust and question them, but not, say, Washington crossing the Delaware, which has less supporting evidence than the Holocaust.

    He is obviously antisemitic and he shouldn't be in the education industry.

    14 votes
  5. kfwyre
    (edited )
    Link
    Two thoughts: First, for anyone interested in in-depth reads about Holocaust denialism, check out Deborah Lipstadt. She has several books on the topic, including History on Trial: My Day in Court...

    Two thoughts:

    First, for anyone interested in in-depth reads about Holocaust denialism, check out Deborah Lipstadt. She has several books on the topic, including History on Trial: My Day in Court With a Holocaust Denier (also called Denial: Holocaust History on Trial to tie in with a recent movie adaptation). In this, one of the people she called a Holocaust denier in a previous book sued her for libel. The book focuses on the ensuing court case which, by nature of the allegations, ends up putting the details of the Holocaust itself on trial. It's a very harrowing yet gratifying read, and you get to see the intellectual slipperiness of the denier, using nearly every excuse in the playbook to walk back his words. I think it has a lot of resonance today, given that the tactics he uses to try to finagle some truth from his lies are ones we so commonly see today with people who make disingenous arguments and falsified facts about a whole range of topics.

    Second, teachers and principals are heavily pressured to remain "politically neutral." Of course we all know there's no such thing, but regardless of the ideology, it's a bad look for adults in education to take strong political stances, particularly on hot button issues, and especially ones that are divisive within the community they're a part of.

    Just one parent can cause a big fuss. I worked with a teacher who, in 2016, made a comment to her class that she felt that Trump had mistreated women. This is not a terribly controversial statement given that he has directly admitted as much, and she went no further with her comment, understanding that taking a hardline stance on a political candidate in front of a room full of students could be awful optics. It didn't matter. The parents of one of her students contacted the principal and asked for the teacher to be reprimanded and for their student to be removed from her classroom under the claims of indoctrination. Another teacher I knew got into hot water for having a Trump bumper sticker on their car that they parked at the school.

    Talking about any candidate or hot button political topic is risky because many states have regulations about what teachers can and cannot say. And even outside of regulation, there's the understanding that we, as teachers, exist within yet must appear to be outside of the culture wars of society.

    It's a tough position to be in, because students frequently ask us things like "Who are you going to vote for?" or "Do you believe in God?" or "Do you think abortion is wrong?" and you know that your response will be heard by a room full of divided beliefs and likely their even more divided parents. Taking a side can feel wrong since we'd rather students come to their own conclusions and because we don't want to stir an already heated pot, but remaining neutral or ambiguous can also feel wrong, especially if the topic is one we have strong beliefs on.

    Furthermore, the line between personal belief and instruction can get blurry, especially because we frequently use real-life situations to convey academic concepts. If I teach about interest rates using my own home mortgage, that's considered great and fine! Better than teaching about it in the abstract! But if I publicly mention that my husband and I live together in that same house, I can be accused of teaching "the gay agenda" despite that simply being a personal detail about me that I shared with the class. Part of teaching, unfortunately, is knowing how to play to the middle or avoiding being pinned down as a simple matter of self-preservation

    With regards to the article, I don't have enough information to know what this principal believes, and even my "politically neutral" teacher persona would have a hard time letting Holocaust denial go unchecked, but if I had to wager, his noncommital writing style feels like the acts of self-preservation we do all the time. It takes only one concerned parent to start a storm and end a career (as was the case here), and the loudest and most persistent parents often have the most extreme views (e.g. Holocaust denial), so he very well may have felt that "neutrality" was his best course forward and the one that opened him up to the least liability. I feel like this whole issue might say less about that individual principal and more about where the Oveton window is given that abstention from acknowledging the Holocaust could conceivably be seen as "neutral."

    I say all of this not to defend Holocaust denial in the slightest (it's abhorrent), but to contextualize the likely pressures faced by the principal.

    9 votes
  6. [2]
    vegai
    Link
    It seems to me that it shouldn't be just jews who should be offended, but everyone who appreciates truth. But at least the buffoon got removed.

    It seems to me that it shouldn't be just jews who should be offended, but everyone who appreciates truth. But at least the buffoon got removed.

    7 votes
    1. CharlieConway
      Link Parent
      Agreed. Holocaust deniers should not be handled with kid gloves as this Principal is wont to do. The Holocaust is established historical fact. I'm disappointed that he's just being shuffled around...

      Agreed. Holocaust deniers should not be handled with kid gloves as this Principal is wont to do. The Holocaust is established historical fact. I'm disappointed that he's just being shuffled around to another position in the district though, hopefully it won't be a classroom position, because this man's judgement and motivations are suspect.

      7 votes