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High School Assigns ‘Why Jews Are Evil’ Essay

Albany High School’s got some explaining to do

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Albany High School(Wikimedia)

The administration at Albany High School–home of the fightin’ Falcons and the shaper of 2,300 young supple minds–is in some hot water (h/t Allison Hoffman) for a teacher’s English assignment, which required three classes to write persuasively about the evil nature of Jews.

“You must argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!”

Students were asked to watch and read Nazi propaganda, then pretend their teacher was a Nazi government official who needed to be convinced of their loyalty. In five paragraphs, they were required to prove that Jews were the source of Germany’s problems.

The initial good news is the one-third of the students immediately refused to do this. The bad news is that the Albany superintendent is not naming the teacher and saying only that it should have been worded differently.

“I would apologize to our families,” Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard said. “I don’t believe there was malice or intent to cause any insensitivities to our families of Jewish faith.”

First of all, send Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard back to high school English because her statement doesn’t make a lick of sense. Second of all, how is there no malice in this exercise? The assignment asked students to draw on historical information as well as personal experiences? There are countless other ways to ask students to think critically and persuasively without asking them to inhabit the mental space of a Nazi.

School apologizes for ‘Nazi’ writing assignment [Times Union]

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Habbgun says:

Obviously this was meant as a sort of “Holocaust study” and not as an anti-semitic act. Should they be in real hot water? Not really. Should we be avoiding things like this in the future. Yes because believing that “stunts” by the education system can be the answer to breakdowns in society as broad as that which happened in that era is a little silly.

Nicholas Cassaro says:

I honestly think this is being overblown. This essay topic did have academic merit. Maybe it would have been more appropriate for college students than high school, but I always prefer teaching methods that force the student to be analytical/creative than just regurgitating the textbook. I don’t think the teacher should be penalized unless there are other incidents that show an anti-Semitic trend with this teacher.

No its not. After reading the assignment I found myself completely disgusted and physically nauseated by the nature of the assignment.

That the goal of the assignment – argue how Jews are evil, is a blatantly bigoted and racist goal, full stop.

There is no issue of context or nuance here. There is no social studies epiphany that one can achieve, no lesson in group-think, or how a population can learn hatred, that is of educational value that you should force an entire class to develop ideas of outright anti-Semitism.

This assignment provides a clear example of the Forest Gump maxim “Stupid is as Stupid does”.

Maybe the next assignment would be to get certain students to wear yellow stars or pink triangles and have the non-labelled students treat them as they would have been in Nazi Germany.

I’m pretty sure if a teacher had done the same exact assignment on why black people deserved to be slaves, there would be an UPROAR. This is absolutely anti semitic and it’s pretty disgusting that any of you think otherwise.

one can be taught and learn critical thinking without using this asinine example. How did the rest of us learn critical thinking? Eric, take your ethnicity and substitute it for “Jews” and then see what you think

…if it was a history class and they’d been discussing the Holocaust I could see why that assignment might have educational value. Was the English teacher trying to help kids improve their writing skills by showing them how an illogical conclusion could be made convincing by the use of emotional techniques, as in propaganda? Still, there are other ways to do this, and the teacher should have had a mind for the students’ futures. What if any of these papers ended up on the Internet? Out of context, it would look like the students’ own beliefs, and that can interfere with job searches and careers. Or the teacher is a bigot who hates Jews and wanted to brainwash the students. That’s possible too.

pkbrandon says:

Whether or not antisemitism was involved (that’s hard to define, much less prove), it is a definite case of ignorance and incompetence on the part of the school administration.

If I was in this class, I would’ve written an essay instead about the evils of Negroes, retards, communists and homosexuals since playing the part of a Nazi, I would find the evils of Jews to be self-evident.

Contrast the apologetic way some people are approaching this story in the comments here and elsewhere with how people feel towards exercises questioning the science of evolution or climate change. Imagine a teacher ordering her students to write a persuasive essay about the merits of intelligent design.

This task could take some time, especially since the Nazis (they really don’t deserve a capital letter but the rules of grammar insist) and the preachers of anti-semitism that preceded them ‘argued’ every angle and covered every base. That is, European Jews were, they claimed, too assimilated and not assimilated enough, too rich and too poor, too lazy and too hard working, too jingoistic and too peace loving, too religious and too atheistic, too capitalist and too socialist, and on and on and on and on. I hope the students aren’t as intellectually (and morally) lazy as the dopes of the Nazi party et al clearly were.

Smith says:

There are so many ways to learn about writing persuasively, even using the content covered in their class. For example, the teacher could have had the students watch the propaganda and then use their own experiences and historical examples to *defend* the Jews to the government and argue that what the Third Reich was doing was wrong.

your last suggestion was actually done with young school children and eye color as a way to show how easily discrimination can occur and is very highly regarded in education circles http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hqp6GnYqIjQ

You really lose value in your point when you choose to use “retards” in your example.

So you’re asking me to replace the word with “Jews?” .. because i still agree. Sorry.

Not force them to *develop* ideas of outright anti-Semitism. Not write an essay about how Jews *are* evil. To write an essay in character and make arguments that you don’t necessarily agree with and perhaps find abhorrent. In writing the essay I’m sure some students would have to jump through hoops to find reasons and become better writers in the process. Other students would find the assignment surprisingly easy, leading them to discover how easy the slippery slope can be in a time of economic crisis to find a scapegoat. It would have forced the students out of their comfort zone and I do think many of the students would have learned more than just reading about the Holocaust in a textbook. And to be honest I know you’re being sarcastic but I think the assignment you are suggesting in your last paragraph would be constructive as well. To read “6 million Jews died” is tragic, but no human being can honestly picture what 6 million people looks like, how countries with huge Jewish populations had virtually no Jews after the war. I think by actually re-enacting it in class students can get a better impression of what actually went on and get an emotional connection to it.

boulcut says:

A bit of passive aggressive racism eh? “Ooop’s no harm meant, simply should have been worded differently. My bad;)” Cute.

what’s a jew?

When I first saw the headline, I was like “WTF school?!” However, after I read the article, I was like “WTF school?!” Honestly, I get the lesson about how Nazi Germany was a terrible, paranoid place where dissent landed you in a concentration camp, but there are other ways of doing this assignment rather than just having the kids write about why they think Jews are bad.

This is what I wrote on Facebook in response to the link ‘The Tablet’ posted there: “My first reaction was also a knee-jerk one of disbelieving horror. But some of the arguments in favour beneath the original post made me think again. In my opinion, first the school teacher and principal should have advised parents of their intention. Then they should have split the class in two – one group being given the first assignment and the other being told to find material – from Yad Vashem for example – to support the opposite view. The students would then have had the necessary info for a full-scale debate about the nature of evil and its corollary: the Goebbelian dictum that if you make a lie big enough and repeat it often enough, you’re bound to be believed as it has gained common currency. This in great part is why the modern anti-Israel BDS movement has won so much public favour and why, even worse, that the ancient anti-Jewish blood libel is now taking hold again in the west.

looneytoonsindville says:

This is about as low as you get in public school. A libtard English teacher being defended by a libtard administrator who flunked English.

Debora Gordon says:

There IS an uproar. And you’re absolutely right: If it had been justifying American enslavement of African-Americans, or lynching of African-American men, or Rwandan genocide, it would have been equally, totally inappropriate.

Dr. Vanden Wyngaard, the Superintendent, responded immediately, clearly, appropriately, and in concert with Shelly Shapiro, Director of the Holocaust Survivors & Friends Education Center here in Albany. In fact, the press conference was held at that organization’s Education Center, which is in the offices of the Jewish Federation.

I regret I do not live in Albany to teach English that scambag…

Debora Gordon says:

New national Core Curriculum standards require relating English assignments to real life/history.

Debora Gordon says:

I disagree. The ignorance and incompetence was on the part of the teacher. The administration has responded admirably. Read Dr. Vanden Wyngaard’s full statement here: http://www.albanyschools.org/district/communications/suptmessage/2012-13/Supt_message-AHS_assignment_4-13.htm

BTW, her press conference was held at the Holocaust Survivors & Friends Education Center, located in the offices of our local Jewish Federation, and she was joined by Shelly Shapiro, who is both director of that Education Center and on the staff of the Federation to respond to incidents like this. Shelly wrote to the local rabbis (of whom I am one): “We are pleased that we were able to work with the Superintendent to achieve a positive outcome and will continue to help the school district.”

Debora Gordon says:

This was an assignment with highly volatile emotional content. You don’t do that in a classroom (I don’t care what age) without contextualizing beforehand AND providing sufficient and appropriately-facilitated time for processing it afterwards. Those are both necessary best practices for dealing with this crap. To me, the fact that 1/3 of the students refused to complete the assignment is prima facie evidence that there was not sufficient intro to its emotionally volatile content.

Not to mention: What kind of experience does it set up for Jewish students in the class?? For family members of survivors of the Nazis?

Debora Gordon says:

Dr. Zimbardo is amazing — his work was the basis for my Rosh HaShanah sermon a couple of years ago. His focus is on teaching children (and grownups) how to stand up to oppression.

Debora Gordon says:

Fascinating idea! It would have done the thing that was sorely lacking here: Contextualizing the hate speech and giving students an opportunity to process volatile emotional content.

Debora Gordon says:

Not fair. Muslims and Jews in the Capital District, at least on the leadership level, have very good relationships.
— Rabbi Debora S. Gordon, Congregation Berith Sholom, Troy

pkbrandon says:

After much media attention and commentary, she made the appropriate statements. Her initial comments were less impressive.
And, she is responsible for the actions of her staff.

pkbrandon says:

The point is that Phil Zimbardo did NOT start by giving one group a label that already had negative connotations.
I think that he would agree (I am also a professional psychologist) that the existing contexts of words gives them impact on an individual’s future behavior.
Whether the teacher intended it or not, the effect of her assignment was to make at least some of the students more likely to talk negatively about Jews in the future.

pkbrandon says:

They don’t require any specific relationships, however.
The question here is not the intended purpose; it’s the way in which it was implemented that shows poor judgement.

Rich Ross says:

Debora, based on everything you’ve written concerning this incident, I can say with full confidence and certainty that you’re either incredibly naive at best or more than a little clueless at worst.

someone who isnt an idiot says:

its obviously a test on the students to make them discover how they see people differently, by making them write this they think whats different about the etc, you guys are taking this way to seriously

Elke Summer says:

wow, this beats the fact that my TDSB school planner shows every freakin’ capital of the world, except for ISRAEL’s. Hmmm. I guess a lefty was editing that day.

I’m suspicious that we’re all jumping to conclusions. The assignment was to make an argument to the Nazi leader to convince the leader of their loyalty by blaming problems on Jews. We are supposed to be teaching our students to be critical thinkers. On the surface, the assignment is an abomination. I believe that’s what the teacher intended. If handled correctly, this could be an important lesson in the power of propaganda, and why people do not oppose powerful evil. My father taught me an important lesson that he brought home from his wartime experience, including a year in Germany just after the war ended. He came home convinced that Germans are no different than Americans. Most just want to live their lives, make a reasonable living, and be left alone. But given what was going on in their country, they acquiesced. He was convinced that under the right circumstances, the same thing can happen in America. This lesson could have been a step in teaching that. You can look at American history: the genocide against native Americans, the Japanese internment, the treatment of African Americans, the paranoia about Muslims, and see many ways that the U.S. could go down a similar path. To our credit, our diversity is also our strength and has prevented us from going to far in many instances. Regarding the Albany teacher, I don’t think we have the full story and don’t think we should be so quick to jump to conclusions.

I am Jewish, not that it’s relevant because anyone is entitled to an opinion on this topic. The assignment asked them to use rationale from German government PROPAGANDA. Was the teacher going to talk to the kids afterwards about how nonsensical their writing was? We don’t know. This assignment wouldn’t make the children hate Jews anymore than me looking through the eyes of a red coat would make me sympathize with King George.

Natan79 says:

So would it be OK for you if the teacher assigned students to justify slavery of blacks and rape of women?

Natan79 says:

Yeah right, drag the Left – Right into this. Israel was governed for 30 years by the left, who fought bravely its wars. But whaddya know?

Natan79 says:

It can work that way or it can work as indoctrination. How about an assignment that African Americans should be slaves? Would you agree with that? Or is your open-mindedness regarding abuse reserved for Jews alone?

Natan79 says:

Anyone who uses words like Libtard or Repugs is an imbecile. You are demented.

Natan79 says:

Would you agree with that for saying African Americans should be segregated or kept as slaves? Why choosing just the Jews for these lofty educational goals?

Or even better, why not having women like yourself be the essay subjects? Have half the class argue that rape is god coz the bitches like it and want it bad. How do you like that?

Natan79 says:

Well put. Instead, he or she chose a way that could indoctrinate them.

Natan79 says:

I agree, good thought experiment.

Natan79 says:

Exactly.

Natan79 says:

Of course you agree. You don’t have the guts to ask an African-American if he agrees with an assignment saying he should be a slave.

Natan79 says:

Why not a slavery study? Assignment: Prove that blacks should be slaves in the US. Let’s see how that goes. Argue then that the kids will be less biased after writing such things.

And why stop at that? In physics, let’s ask them to show not why astrology is good.

Robert Eller says:

Anyone who understands the teaching of critical reasoning, and how people are educated to think critically, should understand why this is an excellent assignment structure.

Exactly when did people decide that we could learn nothing from our enemies? I was not informed that this age-old wisdom was debunked and retired.

The only ‘splainin’ needed should be coming from this article’s author, others who have exploded this “story” for their own purposes, and anyone who believes (I quite deliberately did not write “anyone who thinks”) that this teacher, these students, this school, engaged in anything but a highly useful educational exercise.

It is very clear that the purpose of the exercise is to understand the minds of bigots, and the mechanisms of propaganda. I cannot think of many more useful lessons for young and emerging adults to grasp in the United States.

When I was in high school in the mid/late 1960s in Elizabeth, New Jersey, we had a history teacher, Mr. Wate, or Mr. Wade (I can’t recall exactly), who was famous among his students (past, present and future) for his stock lesson on “propaganda” which he gave annually for many years. He would rhetorically ask his students, what is a stereotype? And then give the examples every know by heart: “The wily Oriental; the razor-slinging Negro; the greedy Jew.” The teacher was Jewish, many of the students in my own class were Jewish, and the school at that time was 30% Black. I cannot remember one student, one parent, or anyone else, ever misunderstanding the purpose of our teacher’s lesson, or complaining about this well-known lesson.

Keep in mind that in the mid 1960′s, WWII had only been over for 20 years. Many if not most of the fathers of the students had fought in that war. Both parents of my junior high school prom date had concentration camp tatoos on their forearms.

Most of my peers would find the reaction here incomprehensible at best.

looneytoonsindville says:

What’s the matter, Natan79? You have nothing intelligent to say so you throw spears at innocent citizens? Did you even read the story you are commenting on? Probably not. Your reply to my post has all the hallmarks of a true libtard.

Habbgun says:

Nice try. The Anti-Defamation league did similar things and this used to be a standard thing in the schools. See this http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083316/ .

Yesterday’s brave teaching method is tomorrow’s stupidity. Yes its dumb but its not antisemitic, its not meant to hurt anyone and nobody should lose their job over it. I myself do not like having the Holocaust used as a teachable moment for race relations but there were plenty of Jews and others who did.

It seems you did not grow up in America so you are not familiar with how the Holocaust was unfortunately taught and how it was co-opted. Israelis were taught to fight back, Americans were taught to “dialogue”.

Ben: I am also Jewish and I have the same thoughts. I fear that our fears are making us jump to conclusions.

It’s not the most tasteful way of teaching how to understand and deal with anti-semitism. Politically correct it isn’t. Yet I have read an english novel, ‘Kalooki Nights’ by the acclaimed writer Howard Jacobsen, where the characterisation of the antisemites and the Jewish protagonists is tackled in a literary way which shows wisdom and humour as well as the inevitable shock and disgust. It’s a (the) most difficult subject to bring up and Jacobson does it in the most sublime and humane way. Few could do so as he does. I would imagine the teacher’s intention was to challenge the students to demonstrate how to use language in a way they would not be able to do within their normal routines and social zones. Perhaps there is a wider picture to see and it is hidden behind a screen of disgrace thrown up by the shock value of the assignment. Indignation is fine, so long as it is well targeted. One side of this story is told, the other side needs to be known before the indignation is righteous.

Natan: It would depend on the context and the lesson plan. If you watched the recent movie version of Lincoln, there were all kinds of arguments for slavery and against the Black vote, and there were arguments against women voting. Does that mean that the script writers personally held those positions? It is very important to understand the reasoning of an abhorrent mind set in order to oppose it, and to recognize existing points of view when they occur on our own society and in modern day.

If the teacher truly believes that Jews were the source of problems in Germany, or if your hypothetical teacher really thinks that slavery could be justified, then we have a different issue. But I don’t believe that is the case.

I am Christian, and I can assure you that my mind just stops in utter disbelief at this sort of thing. How can people think of such an “essay” and masquerade it as an attempt encouraging critical thinking. I am truly horrified and appalled.

Natan79 says:

How do you know about the teacher? She doesn’t need to be actively anti-Semitic. Lazy is enough, if you give the kids Nazi propaganda.

And you still weren’t swayed onto asking students to write racist essays against US blacks. You’re much more careful there.

Let’s ask kids to write an essay about how Bill Nechamen’s family should be killed. Would you like that? Would you be satisfied with explanations of “context”? Would you be fine if one of those those kids was a slow learner and took the propaganda at heart? Who’s to say none of the students WOULDN’T start believing your family should be killed? Have you never seen educational failure? If you haven’t, I envy you and I also think you don’t live on this planet. In this case, educational failure means some kid could be indoctrinated enough to come and kill your own family.

In the Albany case, the educational failures would kill Jews.

Natan79 says:

Yes, I read the story. You are a bastard who stereotypes 50% of the population. Your repeated use of libtard confirms I was not wrong.

tulane75 says:

This assignment was malicious! The teacher sought “persuasive” arguments for a premise that isn’t true. In this regard, it was no different than asking for persuasive arguments to support the theory that the earth is flat or that 2 + 2 = 5 or, as another reader wrote, why slavery was legitimate. I don’t care if the teacher loses his/her job, but he/she should be identified and this assignment should be reported for what it was. Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard is flat out wrong for defending (not malicious) the assignment even it is appropriate to apologize.

There needs to be a companion assignment to write an essay about why Jews are good using the literature of the day using solid rationale. Direct the essay to a member of the resistance who needs to be convinced that you are NOT a member of the Reich and NOT a Nazi. Remember, they need to be convinced you are not there to spy for the Nazis and you are against the “final solution”. What will you do to stop the Holocaust? —- Now THAT will teach children to think. If you can see one perspective, can you see the other? Once you can see both, then you can make a choice about your own behavior.

looneytoonsindville says:

What is it about my posts that makes you think I was born out of wedlock? Lets see, so far I am an imbecile, demented, and born out of wedlock. Do you have any other illegitimate names you would enjoy calling me? For somebody who proclaims himself to be a defender of Israel, I am amazed that the IDF would trust you with a gun. You have a very bad attitude.

I think this is a valuable assignment…my teachers in high school occasionally pretended to fill the roles of all sorts of historical figures, including awful dictators like Hitler, and I think that educationally this can be important. If there were a school play, and one of the high school’s teachers played Hitler, I don’t believe that would cause an uproar, nor should it. I believe the wording was particularly provocative….but so were Nazis in Germany. Trying to teach an incredibly upsetting story without being upsetting people is a little difficult.

One of the most important skills for people to have is to argue opinions they themselves do not hold — even opinions they find morally repugnant. Much of the reason we have so much polarization is because people assume that anyone whose opinion differs from their own is either stupid or evil. I’m not saying that Nazism is an opinion akin to any political issue today…but the skill that this essay teaches is an important one precisely BECAUSE nobody in their right mind believes the Nazis were right. Students will craft the most sophisticated argument FOR nazism they can think of and they will realize that it STILL is way morally wrong.

looneytoonsindville says:

Sex workers, genital mutilation not suitable for children: TDSB

The day after a Toronto parent voiced concern that his six-year-old son’s student planner referred to sex workers, female genital mutilation and Palestinian solidarity among other heavy topics, the Toronto District School Board says the content is not age appropriate and should not have been distributed to students at the Grade 1-5 school.

Please don’t denigrate the left, Elke. If you care to study politics you will find that many of the finest minds of the left persuasion were Jewish thinkers. You don’t have to agree with them but they are deserving of some respect. For examples: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_left

Natan: You obviously know very little about education and learning. You’re also assuming a lot. All I’m saying is that we are jumping to conclusions without knowing all the facts.

Debora Gordon says:

Of course she is. That’s why the teacher is on leave and facing disciplinary action. No supervisor can pre-emptively prevent those they supervise from doing whatever they’re going to do. This is Dr. Vanden Wyngaard’s first year in Albany. Do you really think she could have predicted this teacher’s assignment? She supervises how many schools??

She is discharging her responsibility by making sure that staff and students get lots of diversity training, thereby lessening the probability that this will happen in the future.

Debora Gordon says:

Exactly. That’s the problem. Not to mention dumping volatile emotional content into a classroom without adequate preparation. And why am I so sure that there wasn’t adequate preparation? Many students found this troubling and one of the 3 classes refused to do the assignment entirely, for which I say, Yasher Koach to those students!

Debora Gordon says:

But the problem here is that it was NOT a history class. This was NOT an exercise to understand the minds of bigots, it was an exercise to practice persuasive writing and to choose the best techniques based on what they’d learned earlier in the year about persuasive writing. If you haven’t seen the actual assignment, look here: http://www.timesunion.com/default/article/School-apology-Think-like-a-Nazi-task-vs-Jews-4429697.php#photo-4461372

Debora Gordon says:

Here’s some help with the facts: Look at the actual assignment.

http://www.timesunion.com/default/article/School-apology-Think-like-a-Nazi-task-vs-Jews-4429697.php#photo-4461372

This was an ENGLISH class, not a history class. It was not a lesson on the power of propaganda or anything like that. It was simply an assignment to write a persuasive essay, based on what the students had learned already about persuasive essays; “persuade me that you’re a loyal Nazi” was the way the assignment was dressed up to make it interesting. And it was a colossally bad choice. It was volatile emotional content dropped into a classroom with little or no preparation and contextualization. Why do I say that? Because one entire class refused to complete the assignment and many other students felt awful even as they did it. If it had been handled well, it wouldn’t be an issue *to the students*; but it was.

http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Nazi-theme-draws-leave-4431448.php#ixzz2QTn0mVzk

Debora Gordon says:

I’m sorry, it was neither of those things. Read the original assignment, which you can find a scan of here:

http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/School-apology-Think-like-a-Nazi-task-vs-Jews-4428669.php?cmpid=twitter#photo-4458888

This was an ENGLISH class, not a history class. It was not a lesson on the power of propaganda or anything like that. It was not meant to challenge them to think critically about what they were writing. Nor was it meant to indoctrinate.

It was simply an assignment to write a persuasive essay, based on what the students had learned already about persuasive essays; “persuade me that you’re a loyal Nazi” was the way the assignment was dressed up to make it interesting. And it was a colossally bad choice. It was volatile emotional content dropped into a classroom with little or no preparation and contextualization. Why do I say that? Because one entire class refused to complete the assignment and many other students felt awful even as they did it. If it had been handled well, it wouldn’t have been an issue *to the students*; but it was.

http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Nazi-theme-draws-leave-4431448.php#ixzz2QTn0mVzk

Debora Gordon says:

I’m sorry, this was not a Holocaust study. It was not meant to have them examine propaganda; neither was it meant to indoctrinate them. It was simply an assignment to write a persuasive essay, based on what the students had learned already about persuasive essays; “persuade me that you’re a loyal Nazi” was the way the assignment was dressed up to make it interesting. See the original assignment scanned in here:

http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/School-apology-Think-like-a-Nazi-task-vs-Jews-4428669.php?cmpid=twitter#photo-4458888

This assignment was, as Habbgun said, dumb (or as I would say, a colossal error in judgment) but not antisemitic. I agree it was not meant to hurt anyone — which doesn’t mean that no one was hurt, of course. It was volatile emotional content dropped into a classroom with little or no preparation and contextualization. Why do I say that? Because one entire class refused to complete the assignment and many other students felt awful even as they did it. If it had been handled well, it wouldn’t have been an issue *to the students*; but it was. See here:

http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Nazi-theme-draws-leave-4431448.php#ixzz2QTn0mVzk

Debora Gordon says:

Natan79, I don’t like it at all. Thank you for (ouch) putting it that way.

I’ve been tossing around a harder idea: that each student choose the rhetoric of a group that hates him/her personally and try to write the essay through their eyes. I, being Jewish and lesbian and a woman and an American and white, have quite a few possible sources for hate of me personally. My children, having gay parents and being Jewish and American and 3 of them black and 1 white, and 3 male and 1 female, have an equally broad range of choices.

In a class that was focussing on the nature of the propaganda of evil, this would have been a very different experience. Unfortunately this was an English class and the focus was on persuasive writing.

Debora Gordon says:

Yes?

Today’s schools work hard to have their disciplines work together in order to, for example, make English more meaningful. Both of my daughters went through Schenectady’s International Baccalaureate program, in which topics curriculum in different classes related to each other. I know that Albany has an IB program, but I don’t know whether this was an IB class. I stand by my earlier writing that this may have been a very effective way of teaching history, teaching about propaganda, and using pursuasave writing as the mechanism. I still have a strong feeling that we do not know the whole story.

Debora Gordon says:

It wasn’t an attempt to teach how to understand and deal with antisemitism. That’s part of the problem. It was an English assignment to work on crafting a persuasive argument. Read the original assignment here:

http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/School-apology-Think-like-a-Nazi-task-vs-Jews-4428669.php?cmpid=twitter#photo-4458888

Yechiel Gordon says:

And, of course, there are all the Americans who were convinced by the Bush Administration’s propaganda campaign that Donald Rumsfeld’s erstwhile friend Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and that former CIA-trainee Osama bin Laden was allied with Hussein. Many still believe that US client Israel is a democracy, and that, contrary to the documentary record, it has been the Palestinians who have obstructed peace for the last few decades.

Natan79 says:

Your evaluation is nonsense. I am a research scientist and I have a PhD in the hard sciences. If someone asked me to prove that a perpetuum mobile is possible, that astrology is better than astronomy, that the Earth is round or that 2 + 2 = 5, I would consider both the person and the assignment rubbish. It would be also be very poor education.

Natan79 says:

Do you mean learning English is done best if you learn to write lies?

Natan79 says:

I only have a bad attitude towards men like you who negatively stereotype 50 % of the population. That makes you a bigot and a bad person, and I certainly do not apologize for insulting you for this reason.

And why would Israel not trust me? I don’t aim at persecuting 50% of people. You do.

Natan79 says:

I understand very well the purpose of the class. And I fundamentally disagree with it. I think people should learn how to write clearly things that are true, not to lie persuasively.

The true purpose of intellectual life is to find and communicate things are true, of which some will hopefully make lives better – by bringing knowledge, wisdom, freedom and compassion to others and to ourselves.

That is why the objective of the class is wrong. It aims to teach people how to lie well – fittingly, for a horrible cause, which also makes it evil.

Maybe you can tell this to the Albany people, who you seem to be acquainted with.

looneytoonsindville says:

It is unclear what 50% of the population you are talking about. In the off chance that the population that you refer to is “liberals”, the last time I checked that described about 24% of the population of the United States. Although I have been to Israel twice and have good friends there, I am unaware of the blend of liberals & conservatives in that beautiful country. But at least you added “bigot” to the ever increasing list of names you have called me, which aligns nicely with the other names you have attached to me. The reason Israel should not trust you is your penchant to jump to conclusions with no evidence to back them up and your proclivity to err. The IDF, when on active duty, is always armed. Only people who are mentally competent should be allowed to handle firearms.

Jeffrey Shuster says:

This is clear evidence that antisemitism has become acceptable, the way it was acceptable in polite society just a few years ago. Between the anti-Israel movements and antisemitism on university campuses, how long will it be until Jews are subtily barred from employment and social clubs. It has only been forty years since those barriers disappeared.

CygnusA81 says:

Man, this teacher is stupid. If she replaced Jew with Zionist, then the Left would be screaming ‘truth to power’ and freedom of speech. Blah, blah, blah.

Having seen the assignment (thanks for the link, Debora) I can only say that it is a very discomforting task. It is one thing to coach the young in crafting erudite and persuasive arguments against anti-semitism and racism by stretching boundaries and studying different perspectives. However, this doesn’t seem the best way. I try to be broad-minded, honestly, having seen it, I don’t like it. I can see why it has upset a lot of people. I showed it to two Christians who I work with and they were disgusted by it. Another thought on the matter, I am assuming that the teacher is Jewish and intended to push the limits of decency to challenge and strengthen the pupils. If this is not, in fact, the case then I should say it crosses the border totally into the field of antisemitism.

Being a research scientist does not make you an expert on social – science learning. And if you were to look closely at what I’ve written, I’m not stating for a fact that the teacher was using this assignment as an important lesson about propaganda and how people make decisions. I’m only suggesting that that may be the case, that the news coverage in all likelihood has not presented the entire story, and that many people are rushing to conclusions. If my own kids had been in that class, we would have had quite a lively discussion about it. But without knowing the context of the assignment, I don’t think we should be rushing to conclusions about it.

herbcaen says:

It might be a special high school curriculum by Haaretz, a leading purveyor of anti-semitism

Robert Eller says:

I read the actual assignment before I posted my comments, Debora. Even if this is not a history class (and why is that a problem?), the assignment does compel students to consider the historical context of the assignment.

Now, please explain how exploring how propagandists manipulate the tendencies of human minds towards bigotry by re-enacting the means those propagandists does NOT help those engaged in this exercise to under how that manipulation takes place?

Further, would you say that a prosecuting attorney, recreating in court the motive and means to commit a crime, is advocating for that crime to be committed again?

This is not a mistake this is what is moving beneath the surface. You have recently started feeling the scourge of Islam a common enemy. Enjoy it. What happened in Bboston will be common all over America. let it be clear Jews are not Muslims, enjoy them.

My eternal hope is for the end of anti-semitism in my Lifetime. I too am Jewish and my grandson has started preparing for his bar mitzvah in a small community in California where there is definately anti-seminism.
I an apalled that any school district would even allow this assignment.. I have always lived in integrated communities and yet I have felt the sting of anti-semitism. We cannot allow things like this to occur. I hope the teacher is adequately embarrassed and I hope all her free-lance ideas are monitored closely.
It is hard to fight the hate you cannot see, Many people do not think I am Jewish because “I don”t look it.” and my name does not suggest it. I am proud of my heritage and do not shy away. I have a Hebrew Text wedding ring, as does my husband. My grandson has a star of David necklace that he likes to wear.
I am not evil. I am a very giving person and I am proud of my Heritage. I was not raised with Hate but I see how it can happen. My family lost many in the holocaust and anti-semitism made it difficult for my parents to ever feel safe in America in an integrated community. Sad but true.

I’m really sorry that you have been discriminated because of your Jewish heritage, but could you please give us examples of the type of the anti-Semitic experience you have endured in the small community in which you live in. I too live in a small town.

Debora Gordon says:

No. I don’t mean that.

Language can be used for both fiction and fact. One can learn how to use language by writing either one. A persuasive essay based on outdated “science” about whether Mars is or ever was inhabited by sentient builders would be a vehicle for teaching students how to use language. A persuasive essay about how Alice in Wonderland was a victim of circumstances and not responsible for her destructive behavior would be another vehicle. Those are clearly fiction but they’re not emotionally charged.

This essay assignment was problematic because of its content, not because it was fiction. As you pointed out, not just neutral “fiction,” but outright, damaging lies that led to the death of millions and continue to harm Jews today.

Debora Gordon says:

The Talmud specifies (somewhere, sorry, I heard this in rabbinical school and I don’t have the citation) that part of a student’s evaluation before being ordained as a rabbi was to prove in a variety of ways, using a variety of arguments, that a lizard is kosher. The fact is that only is a lizard not kosher, it is the rabbinic epitome of “trefe.”

So clearly Jewish tradition already understood, 1500 years ago, that it’s possible to argue plausibly for a lie/fiction/falsehood *and* that there is some value in having the mental agility to do so.

Debora Gordon says:

I agree with you completely.

SuzieJoeBob says:

My high school had a “pilot” of sorts to merge Literature & History class together for a few essays; the same essay was used in both classes. The English teachers checked for proper grammar, spelling, transitions, and overall persuasiveness; the History teachers checked to make sure that the students had used correct information. Would that be a problem to you too???

Lily Becker says:

I cannot help thinking that the teacher herself is expressing something of her own albeit unconscious hatred of Jews through this provocative assignment. I do not buy the argument that students will learn good skills of argument. What they will learn is that Jews are to be used, as objects, are open to disdain and inhumanity, and this attitude will cling to their psyches. So the teacher will gain what she set out to do, ultimately, to cast Jews as less than human. I say sack the teacher, she does not deserve to be in a position of trust, and one that that moulds young minds.

Anthony Rebello says:

The responses were better reading than the article itself. Maybe these thinking processes were what the teacher was trying to elicit. Well maybe?

Anthony Rebello says:

@ Debora, your ‘I don’t care what…..” is what the Nazis built their reasoning on. If the assignment had highly emotional content, why respond to it with equally charged reasoning?

Anthony, I think you hit the nail on the head. The media reports do not give the context for the assignment. Many of the people commenting do not appear to care about the context. I do not believe the teacher is anti-Semitic. I believe he/she may have used discussion of a horrible German government policy to teach kids not only about antisemitism, but about the link between propaganda, bigotry and persecution. At least, this is what I hope happened. Far too many people read an incomplete media account and assume the worst.

To me the fact that 1/3 of the students refused the assignment is proof that they are teenagers. Teenagers are all connected electronically. A couple may have been offended and the rest took that as an excuse not to do an assignment. As for Jewish students, if this was structured as I hope it was, it would have taught them how easy it is for a society to turn against any group. For me, as a Jew who always wondered what happened in Europe, it would have taught me about scapegoating and, hopefully, would have taught me that while Jews were victims, people everywhere and throughout history have looked at groups to blame. I hope the assignment was structured to use one of history’s most extreme examples of intolerance and hatred to make us look at other examples intolerance and hatred.

I am quite certain that there was context before hand and I’m quite certain that there would have been facilitated time for processing afterwards. That’s how education works. But, and this is a key but, the media did not see fit to explore or provide the context.

There would have been context to the assignment. The media did not seek nor report on the context. Done properly, the assignment would have been an exercise on how easy it has been historically to turn against the “other.” What happened in Germany, under the right conditions, could happen here. Perhaps not against Jews, but against some group. Muslims, for instance. Or blacks. Or Hispanics. Or, going back earlier, Japanese or Chinese, or the Irish. Or the original Americans.

I was very pleased to find this site.

kele says:

why dont we write about why blacks are evil or hispanics. or how about gays better yet the Irish there pretty evil people i would say. What the hell is wrong with this school. What is wrong with this country we are going to hell in a hand bag.

Kele: You utterly miss the point. The assignment was not to argue why Jews were evil, at least not in context. The assignment was to review Nazi propaganda and prove to a (powerful) government official that you are a loyal German by arguing that Jews were responsible for Germany’s problems. You may not catch the difference but this was a study about propaganda, how it works, and its influences. The students would have learned about the power of government propaganda. They could have learned and discussed the use of propaganda in our time and in our own society. Yes, it could have been turned around to blacks, or hispanics, or the Irish but the Nazi propaganda was much more insidious and encompassing and easier to study than the simple “Irish need not apply” signs of the American past. I don’t believe the teacher was teaching -Antisemitism. On the contrary, I believe the teacher was teaching about how propaganda was used to spread Antisemitism by putting the students in the place of an average German. If done correctly, such an assignment would then lead to discussions about propaganda and bigotry not only in Nazi Germany but in modern societies, including in the United States.

I have two daughters who both went through a rigorous International Baccalaureate high school curriculum at Schenectady High School. They told me that this would have been similar to assignments that they had. No, they did not have the same assignment, but they had a number of assignments that forced them well out of their comfort zones, forced them to read and critically critique things they didn’t believe and to even argue positions that they didn’t believe.

You cannot truly argue against reprehensible positions unless you have an understanding of where those positions came from.

Newspapers are in business to sell papers. The story as presented was very dramatic and caused an immediate response. The larger story was not presented. It was probably not nearly as dramatic. I do not know the teacher, but I really wish the teacher could have been given an opportunity to publicly explain the assignment, including its context in the course. I would hope that the teacher would have also had the students read some speeches by Jim Crow era politicians supporting segregation, and perhaps even been forced to put themselves in a position of running for office in a region where those views predominated.

alrosenberg2009 says:

They do this to white people all the time. Just ask Nkosi Thandiwe.

Silly teacher, didn’t they know these “outside the box” assignments are frowned upon? Just give them their practice worksheets so they can prepare for their basic skills standardized tests.

Natan, we can look back at slavery today and question how it came to be and why it lasted so long. From our perspective today it is impossible to defend and comprehend. However, with your prompt, we might have an understanding on why it was accepted then and why it was condoned for so long. Not a “right or wrong” essay, one that tries to help us understand how things came to be, why? I have no problem with this assignment because the root of it is to teach us today how and why Germany went down the path it did.

Marcel M. Pfister says:

A stupid and inappropriate assignment. This is what they teach kids in US classrooms? Flabbergasting.

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