Sen Sara Feigenholtz explains in a guest commentary for The Daily Line why she’s introducing a bill to strengthen Illinois education requirements for teaching about the Holocaust and slavery

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that anti-Semitism, bigotry and racism are alive and well in this nation. Education about their history — and the dangers they pose — needs to be improved in our state. That’s why we developed SB 3828.

Last month, the results of a commissioned U.S. Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness report were released, providing us with some eye-opening facts on Generation Z and Millennials and their knowledge about the Holocaust. http://www.claimscon.org/millennial-study.

The 50-state survey found that millennials and Gen Z youth have learned mainly about the Holocaust online through social media, opening the door to misinformation, Holocaust deniers, and other historical distortions.

Youth were generally unfamiliar with Auschwitz, the most memorialized concentration camp, and could not identify or name any of the seventy concentration camps or countless ghettos that dotted Eastern Europe during WWII.

And despite Illinois being the first U.S. state to mandate Holocaust education, the report illustrated that our Illinois statistics were equally dismal.

In 2005, Illinois expanded its Holocaust education mandate by adding Genocide studies and other historical atrocities. See 105 ILCS 5/27-20.3.

Why do young Illinoisans who should have had Holocaust education know so little about it? Let’s dig a little deeper.

According to the survey, 44 percent of Illinois students did not know what Auschwitz was.

59 percent did not know 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust.

32 percent believed that fewer than 2 million Jewish people were killed.

57 percent have seen Nazi Symbols in their community or on social media.

53 percent saw Holocaust denial or distortion on social media.

A chilling 8 percent believing that it was Jewish people who CAUSED the Holocaust.

One positive statistic: 80 percent of respondents surveyed believe it is vital to continue to teach about the Holocaust, in part so it does not happen again.

Despite the best of stakeholders’ intentions, the laws requiring Illinois students to learn about the Holocaust, genocides, African-American history, the history of slavery, LGBT history, and women’s history do not provide a mechanism for surveying how students are taught these topics in school. Currently there is no state requirement regarding collection of data or dissemination of curriculum which can be used on these topics. Teachers across Illinois are eager to teach these lessons, but we need to give them tools and direction.

In early 2020 we developed SB 3828, which adds the following:

“The State Board of Education shall submit a report to the General Assembly containing quantifiable data concerning how school districts are teaching diversity and social sciences subject matter, including, but not limited to, the Holocaust and genocides, African American history, slavery, women’s history, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) history. Following the issuance of the report to the General Assembly, the State Board shall make curriculum concerning diversity and social sciences subject matter available for review on the Internet website of the State Board.” We plan on working hard to pass this bill in next year’s General Assembly session.

From Slavery to Treblinka to Stonewall, we must commit to age-appropriate, comprehensive curriculum on these subjects so students can fully grasp the insidious nature of modern racism, antisemitism, and homophobia. Passing SB 3828 is the first step.

Taking inventory and developing a better roadmap on teaching these crucial pieces of history is Illinois committing to doing better.

It has never been more critical.

Sen. Sara Feighenholtz represents Chicago’s Lakeview, Lincoln Park and North Center neighborhoods in the Illinois General Assembly.

Sean Tenner is president of KNI Communications and serves as the Democratic Committeeperson for Chicago’s 46th Ward.

Jacqueline Carroll is the community engagement chair for the Simon Weisenthal Center