By Bob Katzen

Governor Charlie Baker signed into law a bill requiring public schools to educate middle and high school students on the history of genocide. The measure also establishes a Genocide Education Trust Fund to help fund the teaching. The funds would come from the Legislature, private and public gifts and grants and revenue from fines imposed for hate crimes.

Supporters cited a 2020 survey, commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which gauged Holocaust knowledge and found that 63 percent of Millennials and the Generation Z population, did not know six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. The survey also found that nearly half were unfamiliar with Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz.

“Education is key to combating hatred and can help prevent bigotry and hatred from becoming systemic by shining a light on the problem and equipping students with the knowledge, skills and confidence to intervene,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Jeff Roy (D-Franklin). “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. And it also teaches that silence and indifference to the suffering of others or to the infringement of civil rights in any society, can— however unintentionally—perpetuate these problems.”

“South African freedom fighter and statesman Nelson Mandela said that ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,’ and ensuring that Massachusetts students know the honest and unvarnished history of genocide around the world will help change our world for the better and inoculate against future injustices and atrocities,” said Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), the Senate chair of the Committee on Education. “This important legislation will ensure that more students understand the history of genocide so that it never happens again.”

“While racial, ethnic, national, and religious violence has existed throughout the past and continues in the present, recent events suggest our collective knowledge of some of history’s worst atrocities is waning,” said the House chair of the Committee on Education Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley). “It is our responsibility to take steps to ensure we do not forget the past so that we can continue to build a better future while still respecting the ability of individual school districts to shape the curricula of their students.”

Gov. Baker’s press office did not respond to requests from Beacon Hill Roll Call for the governor to comment on the bill.

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