BOE Member who Wrongly Identifies Nazis as "Socialists" Shapes How Colorado Students Learn Holocaust HistoryHistorians in the News
tags: curriculum, teaching history, social studies, Holocaust history
A Republican State Board of Education member who believes socialism poses grave dangers at home and abroad has put his stamp on how Colorado students will learn about the Holocaust.
Over the last year and a half, Steve Durham has pushed for the state’s academic standards to connect the Holocaust and other genocides to socialism. Durham succeeded in omitting the word Nazi from an early version of the standards in favor of the party’s full name, the National Socialist German Workers Party.
Durham agreed to include the word Nazi after Jewish community members lobbied the State Board of Education — so long as the full name with the word socialist remained.
“People don’t know and have a right to know that this party was and is a socialist party,” Durham said at an August State Board meeting. “That is largely lost on the American people and on a number of history teachers as well. I oppose dumbing down the standards.”
Historians say Durham is wrong about the Holocaust and wrong about the roots of genocide. The idea that Nazis were socialists is “a lie,” according to David Ciarlo, a University of Colorado history professor who studies German politics. “It’s completely wrong.”
Still, Durham has exerted outsized influence over the standards related to genocide, which are meant to guide teaching across Colorado. A key section largely authored by Durham overrides recommendations from a committee of teachers and experts. The approved standards drop references to genocide in Rwanda, for example, while adding detailed references to the Communist Party of China.
The standards as written “absolutely suggest to teachers that they should be making a connection” between genocide and socialism, said John Gallup, a history teacher in Jeffco Public Schools who recently returned from Auschwitz as part of a fellowship on teaching genocide and reviewed the standards at Chalkbeat’s request.
Durham’s sway, despite his misleading historical claims about the Holocaust, raises questions about the State Board’s ability to accurately referee conflicts over teaching history as its members tackle a contentious update to the broader social studies standards — and at a moment when those fights are erupting nationwide. And in a state where teachers have limited access to Holocaust-specific curriculum or training programs, some see the attention being paid to socialism as a disturbing distraction.
“It feels very antisemitic, quite frankly,” said Democratic state Rep. Dafna Michaelson-Jenet, co-sponsor of legislation requiring Holocaust education statewide. She sees the latest standards as an effort to score political points rather than teach about the murder of Jews and other minority groups. “You’re erasing the violence that happened by making it something that it wasn’t.”
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