A good deal of lip service is often paid to “teachable moments” — and yet too often they come and go and little changes.
Kids with no sense of history — and an adult who should have known better — are caught using the name of a Nazi concentration camp where 1.1 million human beings were murdered as a football play call. But after a few days or weeks, the public shaming will subside and life will move on.
What will members of the Duxbury High football team take away from this moment? But more important, what of next year’s team? What of their classmates? What of the thousands of their peers in other schools going through life blissfully unaware of the horrors of Auschwitz, the nature of the Holocaust, and the genocides that preceded and followed it?
“We need this to be more than just a ‘teachable moment,’ ” Senate President Karen Spilka said on Twitter. “We need sustained, increased education — among administrators, educators, coaches, officials, referees, and students — so that this never happens again.”
Spilka pointed to a bill filed by Senate Ways and Means chair Michael Rodrigues to promote “the teaching of human rights issues in all public schools and school districts, with particular attention to the study of the inhumanity of genocide.”
To that end, the bill would set up a permanent Genocide Education Trust Fund that could receive both state money and private donations to fund programs in middle and high schools that could prioritize underserved communities and those communities that have “experienced an incident motivated by racial, ethnic, or religious bias.”
It gives local districts considerable leeway in when to introduce the topic, but mandates, “All students shall have received instruction on genocide by the time they have graduated from high school.”
That’s something that most European nations have been doing for decades. Holocaust education is mandatory in Germany in history and civics classes, but also finds its way into literature and arts classes. Nearly all German schoolchildren will visit a concentration camp site before they graduate.
Auschwitz, located in a part of Poland occupied by the Nazis during the war, is visited by more than two million people a year. Many of those visitors are school groups with their teachers. Some of them will weep at the sight of the piles of shoes taken from its victims. Some will shudder as they enter a gas chamber. And, yes, some will take selfies, to the horror of their teachers. But they are unlikely to forget the day.
Among American millennials, however, a 2018 poll found that two-thirds could not identify Auschwitz.
It’s not that schools in Massachusetts don’t have access to programs actively engaged in teaching the Holocaust, genocide, and human rights. Facing History and Ourselves, born right here in Brookline, has been actively engaging educators and students since 1976. Its programs — now wide-ranging to include programs on civility, anti-bullying, and human rights abuses around the globe — are being used in hundreds of public and private schools in the state.
There was a time, of course, when Holocaust survivors visited classrooms and pulled up their sleeves to show the numbers tattooed on their arms — their lifelong proof of having lived through the horror and deprivation of Auschwitz. They told their stories — tales of loss and yet of resilience. And their young audiences listened in shocked silence.
Today survivors are a dwindling number, many too old or frail for classroom visits. After all, Auschwitz was liberated in 1945. But some of their stories are preserved on video to make sure the cycle of learning from history remains unbroken.
“A past not examined fully and honestly will remain a burden for the future,” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance notes in its materials.
The Rodrigues bill, signed on to by at least 25 of his colleagues to date, will help assure that today’s students learn from the past. It won’t erase prejudice. It won’t end hatred or intolerance. But it might help cure the ignorance that is too often at their root.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.