A new law requiring Massachusetts Public Schools to educate students on genocide that was signed by Gov. Charlie Baker earlier this month has deep relevance to Westford.
Bill S.2557, which was drafted by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means following the review of several other bills (Bill S.327 and Bill S.2581), was signed into law by the governor on December 2, after unanimous approval by the Senate on November 24.
The new law states that “every school district shall include in its curriculum a unit of instruction on genocide,” which includes lessons regarding “the Nazi atrocities of 1933 to 1945 known as the Holocaust, and other genocides including, but not limited to, the Armenian Genocide, the Famine-Genocide in Ukraine known as Holodomor, the Pontian Greek Genocide, and more recent atrocities in Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Sudan.”
The signing of Bill S.2557 by the governor has been met with much approval, with many historians, scholars, genocide resource centers and affected communities having longed for such legislation or a while, especially since 19 other states already have similar laws in place.
In a poll done by Schoen Cooperman Research in March of 2020 on Massachusetts students’ knowledge of the Holocaust and other genocides showed that 7% have not heard about the Holocaust and 10% were somewhat unsure.
Furthermore, 70% of the students polled think teaching about the Holocaust and other genocides should be mandatory in school. and 57% of the students polled stated that lessons about the Holocaust and other genocides that they have learned in school are “mostly historically accurate, but could be better.”
WHY IS THIS NEW LAW RELEVANT TO WESTFORD?
This law is particularly relevant to Westford for a number of reasons. One reason is that when the land that currently comprises the town of Westford was first settled by the English in 1635, it had already been inhabited by the Pennacook people for thousands of years prior. The Penacook as a people and culture are now extinct due to many years of subjugation, wars and disease brought upon them by the English settlers.
Another reason is that Westford Academy’s mascot, “The Gray Ghost”, was the subject of a recent controversy due to its connotations with Confederate officer Colonel John Mosby, who was known as “the Gray Ghost.” Millions of African-Americans were enslaved during the time of the Confederacy, where many often endured torture and in some cases death.
The third reason is that Westford and the surrounding communities such as Chelmsford and Lowell are home to a large Cambodian-American community. Many Cambodian-Americans lost family members, relatives, ancestors, and other loved ones during the Cambodian Genocide of the late 1970s; which was perpetrated by the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge communist government against members of the Cambodian population who were deemed “undesirable”. Nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population perished in this genocide.
The new law states that the studying of genocides through history will “reaffirm the commitment of free peoples from all nations to never again permit the occurrence of another genocide and a recognition that crimes of genocide continue to be perpetrated across the globe as they have been in the past, and to deter indifference to crimes against humanity and human suffering wherever they may occur.”
Supporters of this law are hoping that spreading such knowledge to students at a young age will help inform them of these past atrocities, and therefore ensure that such crimes will hopefully be prevented and never repeated in the future.
Students at Westford Public Schools, along with schools all across the state, will be learning about these genocides as part of the curriculum in their history classes, starting next year.