Genocide Education Act – 2021

Let me begin by thanking the Speaker. As a former teacher, you know the importance of education and your leadership in bringing the genocide education act to the floor will give students throughout the Commonwealth an opportunity to receive a greater understanding of these horrors of history, and learn more about the human condition.

I thank the gentleman from Boston for your commitment to and recognition of the importance of teaching students about genocide and the impact they have on society.

I thank the gentlelady from Wellesley for taking all of the testimony, and with your deep understanding of education, crafting a bill that not only prescribes the teaching of genocide, but provides the funding mechanism to make it happen in our schools. Your diligence, attention, and leadership on this issue will have a lasting impact on our students.

Massachusetts has always been at the forefront of human rights issues, and today, with the passage of this bill, we can do it again. We can arm our students with the knowledge they will need to recognize the warning signs and feel empowered to prevent genocides in the future. We can lift up the experiences of those who suffered in too many genocides, using their stories as a lesson to future generations about the consequences of unchecked hatred and intolerance.

We understand that it’s not enough to say ‘Never Again’. Instead, it is necessary to commit to educating the next generation by giving them the resources they need to recognize and stand up to injustice before it takes root.

I first filed a genocide education bill in 2013 which called for the inclusion of genocide education in the Massachusetts history and social sciences curriculum frameworks. It was done with the help of a Medway constituent who wanted to shine a light on the Ukrainian Holodomor and other monstrous acts throughout history.

We were successful in having the curriculum frameworks changed, and the Global Education Advisory Council’s recommendation led to the inclusion of that genocide education in the History/Social Science Framework which was issued in 2018.

However, since 2018, we have seen a rising tide of hatred and bigotry. We have witnessed racist and anti-Semitic incidents across America, including in our own K-12 schools. And we saw that it was not enough to simply include genocide in the voluntary frameworks. No, we need a strong legislative solution, taking heed of the fact that national, ethnic, racial, or religious hatred can overtake any nation or society, leading to calamitous consequences.

With the help of the gentlelady from Wellesley, we filed another bill to ensure that genocide education would be taught in all our schools, not just well-resourced ones. And we were joined in this effort by the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Armenian National League of Eastern Massachusetts, Facing History and Ourselves, the Committee for Holodomor Genocide Awareness, the Genocide Education Project, and over 60 coalition members.

We gathered over 100 co-sponsors for this legislation.

We understood that making genocide education a mandatory topic for teaching in our schools is a reaffirmation of the commitment of free peoples from all nations to never again permit the occurrence of another genocide, and to deter indifference to crimes against humanity and human suffering wherever they occur.

Education is key to combating this hatred. Knowledge of those dark days — for which there are no words to fully capture their utter depravity, cruelty and horror — is a crucial element for the prevention of genocide in the future. Indeed, it has been said that no problem in the world poses the question on what it means to be human quite like genocide, because genocide is not simply about killing people, but about destroying humanity.

Genocide is profoundly ambiguous. From an ethical standpoint, murdering millions of people is obviously wrong; but if that is self-evident, why do so many people do it? Studying the core features of genocide – the driving dynamics, the politics, the economics, the ideology and psychology – is profoundly important for an understanding of the human condition.

The goal of this legislation is to teach that genocide is not just somebody else’s story. It is not simply history, but a warning. By including genocide in the curriculum students will have the opportunity to explore how stereotypes, prejudice, and religious and ethnic hatred can escalate to atrocity. It can also deter indifference to crimes against humanity and human suffering wherever they may occur.

Unfortunately, memory of prior atrocities is fading. Indeed, a recent survey demonstrated that 22% of American millennial’s have never heard of the Holocaust or unsure whether they have heard of it. 66% of youth 18 to 34 didn’t recognize the word “Auschwitz.” Only 35% of all Americans know about the Armenian Genocide. In Massachusetts, 35 percent of young adults surveyed didn’t know what Auschwitz was, and half didn’t know that 6 million Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust.

We hope, in the long run, that we will have a generation of adults that will have been exposed to this type of education so it will improve humanity. In the short term, we hope that it heightens awareness of the impact of some of the troubling events that we’ve seen here in Massachusetts.

We can prevent problems from becoming systemic if we equip everyone with the knowledge, the skills, and the confidence to intervene — and genocide education is one of the ingredients to do that.

For all of these reasons, we hope that you will support this legislation and provide Massachusetts public school students the opportunity to take in these lessons, deepen their understanding, and improve the human condition.