Public Schools

Public Schools And Fringe Beliefs: A Bad Mix

  Public Schools And Fringe Beliefs: A Bad Mix

When we let believers in fringe or untrue realities dictate the collective educational system, people get hurt. That’s what one principal in Boca Raton, Fla. has learned the hard way.

William Latson, principal of Spanish River High School, was recently quoted as saying that the Holocaust – the systematic extermination of millions of Jews, Roma, Slavs, the disabled, gay people and others by the Nazi regime – was not necessarily fact. Although he has since been removed from his position by education officials in Palm Beach County, it is worth taking a look at how the principal bent to the will of a few doubters and why this is a bigger issue than simply this principal and Holocaust education.

The emails between the principal and a concerned mother, obtained by the Palm Beach Post, showed indifference toward the truth and the education of the school’s students. Latson wrote, “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee.”

Furthermore, he wrote, “Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.”

In this way, he incorrectly asserted that as a public official he is prohibited from taking a stand one way or the other on something factual.

But that’s where Latson gets it wrong – and his views, if adopted, could result in the miseducation of students attending public schools. There is no legitimate debate over whether the Holocaust occurred, as there is no legitimate debate over the reality of evolution. Public officials, especially those overseeing public education, have a duty to defend fact and put the education of children ahead of politically, ideologically motivated agendas.

The email exchange proved extremely frustrating and worrying for the mother since Latson refused to commit the school to educating about the Holocaust outside of a “variety of ways.” This was due to, in his words, not wanting Holocaust education – aka, factual, historical information – to be “forced upon individuals.”

It goes without saying that our public schools must be a safe place where every child feels welcomed and included. The actions of this principal are not an isolated event. All too often, kids’ education is put secondary to discredited beliefs, whether that is teaching a version of creationism or promoting bogus “Christian nation” views in social studies classes. These teachings are antithetical to the separation of the government and religion because they allow for slipping religious doctrine into public school curricula.

It is true that sensitive subjects, like the Holocaust, must be handled delicately and with the discretion of individual communities, particularly when it comes to exposing children to such horrors. However, it is not right nor appropriate for a public official, in this case, the principal of a public school, to put the illogical opinions of some people over the welfare of the school’s students and their education. Objectivity is paramount; rather than deferring to some sort of “both sides” debate about facts, a growing problem exposed and highlighted by the president of the United States, public schools must reaffirm commitment to truth and genuine, historical knowledge. Decisions such as Latson’s – as well as other ideologically-motivated revisionism such as the promotion of allegedly “objective” Bible classes that are really Sunday School lessons in disguise – must be seen for what they are: schemes to impose political agendas or fundamentalist views on schoolchildren.

That’s why AU is proud to oppose any measures designed to indoctrinate children in public schools with religious dogma or unscientific, ahistorical beliefs that are harmful to their education. One way we do this is by working to protect the religious neutrality of public education. Please join us.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

Act Now