Survey of U.S. College students shows holocaust education is effective in building empathy, tolerance and open mindedness

A new national survey shows that Holocaust education in high school reflects gains not only in historical knowledge but also manifests in cultivating more empathetic, tolerant, and engaged students. The results also indicate that exposure to Holocaust survivor testimony is strongly associated with numerous positive outcomes in early adulthood including higher critical thinking skills and a greater sense of social responsibility.

The survey of 1,500 college students enrolled in four-year colleges and universities between the ages of 18 to 24 looked at differences between those who had received Holocaust education courses or curricula in high school and those who did not. The survey was administered by Lucid Collaborative LLC and YouGov and was released today by Echoes & Reflections, a partnership program of ADL (the Anti-Defamation League), USC Shoah Foundation, and Yad Vashem, which provides Holocaust educational programs and resources for middle and high school teachers.

Among the survey’s key findings:      

  • Eight out of 10 college students report having received at least some Holocaust education during high school. The majority received one month or less of Holocaust education. More than 55 percent reported watching either in-person or video survivor testimony.
  • Students with Holocaust education reported greater knowledge about the Holocaust than their peers who did not receive Holocaust education; 78 percent of students with Holocaust education reported “knowing a lot or a moderate amount about the Holocaust” compared to 58 percent of students with no Holocaust education.
  • Students with Holocaust education have more pluralistic attitudes and are more open to differing viewpoints, which includes being more comfortable with people of a different race or sexual orientation more generally. They are also significantly more likely to report willingness to challenge incorrect or biased information (28% more likely), challenge intolerant behavior in others (12% more likely), and stand up to negative stereotyping (20% more likely).
  • When presented with a bullying scenario, students with Holocaust education reported being more likely to offer help and were 50 percent less likely to do nothing.
  • Students exposed to Holocaust education demonstrate higher critical thinking skills and a greater sense of social responsibility and civic efficacy if survivor testimony was part of their experience.
“This survey only confirms what we have heard anecdotally from teachers and parents for years, that Holocaust education is effective not just as an important history lesson, but also in equipping students with the tools to identify bias and confront it when necessary,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO.

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Yossie Hollander, who founded Echoes & Reflections with the three organizations in 2005, agrees. “Now more than ever, this survey proves that incorporating Holocaust education into every school’s curriculum is a critical component of preparing our future generation to stand up to hate, and prevent history from repeating itself.” 

Students also indicated that their Holocaust education (with survivor testimony and without) had helped them: make connections between the Holocaust and modern day events (48% for those exposed to survivor testimony compared to 31% for those who had no testimony); understand the importance of speaking up against any stereotyping (65% for those who had exposure, compared to 45% who did not); and understand how the Holocaust happened (71% who had exposure, compared to 50% for those who had no exposure).

“The study provides strong evidence of the positive impact of Holocaust education on student attitudes regarding diversity and tolerance in the face of hate. These attributes are sustained over time as students transition into young adulthood,” said Claudia Ramirez Wiedeman, PhD, USC Shoah Foundation Director of Education and Evaluation. “It is also promising to see that the effects of Holocaust education are amplified by the use of survivor testimony in the classroom.”

Source: ADL