Critical Thinking on the Holocaust
Since students actually know so little, I must explain the differences between Holocaust deniers, Holocaust minimizers, and Hitler rehabilitationists. I must explain propaganda and euphemism and anti-Zionism. I must acquaint them with fascism, eugenics, Romantic struggle and surrender, Einsatzgruppen and Sonderkommandos, the Wannsee Conference, and so on. I must do so informationally and dispassionately, employing locutions such as “the Holocaust believer would say” and “the Holocaust denier would reply,” and “my understanding is.” Such reticence is necessary because it is essential that the students decide the capstone question for themselves.
Students are dubious or indifferent about most things. Because of our digitized world, they are predisposed to think that documents are faked (think of Dan Rather’s manufactured Texas Air National Guard memos), pictures are Photoshopped, memories are unreliable, testimony is coerced, and so on.
The reason for the capstone paper is to prepare students to recognize the methods employed by malicious or unhinged deceivers: 9/11 truthers, religious cultists, UFO abductees, and so on. I want them to learn to test claims with the use of logic and evidence rather than relying on their feelings. I want to erode the intellectual laziness that lets students adopt all-purpose answers they have been offered to the world’s problem, whether it’s “the patriarchy,” capitalism, or the Jews.
This is from David Clemens, “Should Holocaust Deniers Be Heard?”, published by the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. Clemens is a professor at Monterey Peninsula College, the local community college in my community. The whole thing is worth reading.
I don’t know if I could have as much self-control in the face of Holocaust denial as Professor Clemens does, but his is admirable. I would be a lousy poker player (I’ve played once or twice in my life) because my emotions are so clear. But the way I try to get critical thinking in my class is not just to analyze the thoughts of those economists who disagree with me but also to analyze the thoughts and arguments of those economists and students who agree with me on the bottom line but who use lousy arguments to get there. Sloppy Wall Street Journal editorials (and, no, the word “sloppy” is not redundant because many WSJ editorials are very good) are one of my favorites.