Just months after former President Donald Trump took office in 2017, militant neo-Nazi groups rioted in the streets of Charlottesville, Va., carrying torches and chanting "Jews will not replace us!"

Three days later, someone threw a rock at the Holocaust Memorial in downtown Boston. Bystanders chased and tackled the perpetrator, a 17-year-old from Malden.

Greg Hurley heard the news with horror. At the time, he was a social studies teacher in charge of the history curriculum at Malden High School, where the suspect was enrolled. Because the coursework included lessons about Nazi Germany's mass slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War II, the father of one- and four-year-olds started to reckon with why his efforts hadn't succeeded.

"It was very emotional for me," Hurley said recently. "To be completely honest, I really didn't like the fact that I had to accept responsibility for it. But I could either choose to accept the responsibility or choose to be superficial about it."

Hurley chose to accept responsibility. It helped that the mayor and superintendent in one of the most diverse school districts in the state supported him. Malden High had been using what are widely considered model lessons on the Holocaust from the Brookline nonprofit Facing History & Ourselves. But it hasn't always been enough.

That's clearly the case in Duxbury, a wealthy seaside community where the high school football team was exposed this spring for using anti-Semitic terms like "Auschwitz" to call plays. School officials fired the team's head coach but said through a public relations firm that it's too early to draw conclusions about how the district teaches history.

Harvard political theorist Danielle Allen said that the sooner a district reevaluates how it teaches social studies, the better. History curriculums are often inadequate, she said, or get short shrift compared to science, math and other technical subjects. It's a lost opportunity, she said, to help shape student behavior and teach students how to be an ally to those in need.

"When that's absent, what kinds of thoughtless acts become possible that wouldn't be possible if people had a better understanding of the significance of those acts because they understood history?" Allen said.

Some communities are making time for cutting-edge innovation in social studies. Brittany Burns, a teacher at Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough, has worked for years with Facing History & Ourselves to make the subject a centerpiece of the curriculum. Much of that work has focused on the history of the Holocaust, in addition to using it as a springboard for broader discussions about genocide, white supremacy, race and current events.

Eleventh graders can also take an elective called "Fragility of Democracy." On a recent morning, students in the class discuss the psychology around the promotion of "sacred values" — whether in the form of a fierce loyalty to a hometown sports team or a belief in Aryan supremacy. One student noted how the brain chemistry changes, even becomes more aggressive, when a person feels like their sacred values are threatened.

"Low level, it could be Red Sox-Yankees stuff," Burns said in dialog with students. "But it can also escalate, and it can be surrounded by things like white supremacy."

The classes also look at historical conflicts in Russia, Belarus, Kenya and other places. But the lessons generally reinforce a key theme: History is a series of choices made by people. People like them.

In that way, the class has helped students process the death of George Floyd and the emergence of the QAnon conspiracy theory. It can also help students understand events closer to home.

Last year, two sisters who graduated from the high school criticized the "white silence" of Northborough and neighboring Southborough in an essay published on the news site Level. It came after one of the police officers charged in connection with the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks, a black man killed by police in Atlanta last year, was identified as an Algonguin High School alum.

Burns said a group of her students has since proposed a "Race in America" elective.

"This is a generation of kids that are talking about these issues in ways that I don't think we did five or 10 years ago," Burns said. "They're personalizing and internalizing George Floyd and all these other things. And I really think kids are seeing the bigger picture."

Abby Weiss, senior vice president of Facing History & Ourselves, said the Holocaust offers a foundational way to discuss issues of morality. The period after the Civil War known as Reconstruction is a good example. It's barely touched on in most U.S. history classes, if it's taught at all. But it's central to American history, as well as the lives and stories of many Black students.

"All these moments, and there are many more, that we haven't yet tackled — we really need to think about [them] and lift them up," Weiss said.

Lifting up those moments may be a bigger challenge for adults than young people, educators say. Adults disagree over whether discussing the North Atlantic slave trade or the decimation of Native American culture is necessary or unpatriotic.

Harvard's Allen said that when the National Governors Association wanted to develop common state standards, it agreed on English and science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, parameters. The social studies effort sparked too much disagreement.

"Because we adults are fighting so much over how we narrate U.S. history, we have failed to secure a time for social studies for our children," she said.

After the Malden student threw the rock, politicians, school officials and students in the community 10 miles north of Boston mobilized.

Hurley, the social studies teacher, said students held a memorial with Holocaust survivors at the Boston monument. They wrote poems as well as obituaries for Holocaust victims who never got one. Students continue that tradition today, four years later, publishing the obituaries in the school newspaper, The Blue And Gold.

The district has also made studying genocide part of its core curriculum, deepening its work with Facing History & Ourselves. Classes are about more than memorizing Holocaust facts and figures — something that might prepares students to be on "Jeopardy!" but doesn't prepare them for life, Hurley said. Instead, students look at questions like why and how War War II-era Germany rallied around policies of mass murder.

"When you frame it like that, it's not just about the Holocaust," Hurley said. "At that point, it's about every genocide that's happened and how do we get kids to grapple with and recognize the fact that if you don't step up and speak out early, this is where it can go."

Hurley is now an administrator directing the humanities department for the entire district. He's looking toward how the district will confront inequity, whether in its teaching or its curriculum.

"Sure, we can say we're the most diverse high school in the state, because we are," he said. "But that doesn't matter if it doesn't change the way you're teaching and the way you're working with kids."

It's an ongoing process in Malden — one Duxbury may need to consider.