LANSING, Michigan — The Holocaust during World War II and the 1915 to 1920 massacre of Armenians must be taught in Michigan public schools under a law signed by Governor Rick Snyder on Tuesday.
The new law recommends a combined six hours of genocide lessons be taught at some point between grades 8-12, and requires Snyder to make appointments to a 15-member genocide education panel.
The law says instruction doesn’t need to be limited to the Armenian massacre and the Holocaust, but those were the only two mass killings formally acknowledged in the law.
Snyder released a letter explaining his signature Tuesday, noting that not all governments and nations accept the definition of genocide as put forth by the United Nations.
“Teaching the students of Michigan about genocide is important because we should remember and learn about these terrible events in our past while continuing to work toward creating a more tolerant society,” Snyder said in the statement.
“There are, unfortunately, other instances, of atrocities that would be beneficial for students to learn about regardless of whether they meet a certain definition. When and how to teach students about these events would be best left to the educational experts trained to do so.”
He said the decisions about how to teach that history should be made in each community, and added that his signature shouldn’t be viewed as an indication that “elected state officials are the best guiding voice on what specific material should be taught in the classroom.”
Historians estimate that as many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks in an event widely viewed by historians as genocide, the term also used by Snyder and now Michigan statute. But Turkey disputes the death toll and denies that the deaths constitute genocide.
An estimated 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust during World War II.
“There are, unfortunately, other instances, of atrocities that would be beneficial for students to learn about regardless of whether they meet a certain definition. When and how to teach students about these events would be best left to the educational experts trained to do so,” Snyder said in a letter accompanying his signature.
The Armenian Community Center in Dearborn, Michigan, estimates about 50,000 Armenians live in Michigan, although the US Census Bureau’s 2014 estimates show 7,879 Armenians lived in the state.
Michigan did not previously require Holocaust or genocide education, Michigan Department of Education spokesman Bill DiSessa said. But he says there’s no question that high schoolers in the state learn about the Holocaust.