When I think of a “super theme class,” I think of the time in fourth grade that my school had a “State Fair,” for which each student picked a U.S. state to design a booth for, and the younger students came to the class for activities and snacks relevant to each state. What I don’t think of is a Nazi propaganda-themed history lesson.
According to JTA and a Portuguese-language Brazilian newspaper, the Santa Emilia School in Recife, Brazil, a private Catholic school, has faced criticism in recent weeks because of an immersive, experiential lesson plan for a third-grade unit on totalitarianism. This included decorating the classroom with swastika banners and candles, and the teacher wearing a swastika-emblazoned Nazi armband.
In attempting to make such a topic accessible and appealing to elementary school children, it appears that the school—even if inadvertently—trivialized a genocide of unthinkable proportions.
The school subsequently celebrated their unconventional pedagogical approach on social media, writing on Facebook (in a post that has since been deleted): “Third-grade students have experienced a super theme class, almost a super production. The theme of the class prepared by Professor Luiz Fernando addressed the origins of totalitarian states, their characteristics, concepts and forms. Did they enjoy it? Of course.” According to the Brazilian newspaper, the post was criticized by those wondering how the horror of Nazi ideology could possibly be impressed upon students who were also being exposed to effective propaganda symbols.
The school then issued a statement in which they clarified that their intentions were not to promote Nazism to any extent. In Brazil, the use of Nazi propaganda symbols to spread fascism is illegal under federal legislation.
A Brazilian Jewish Federation has stepped in to provide better Holocaust education to the school. In order to teach Jewish history, anti-Semitic history, and the Holocaust, it will be organizing a trip to the restored Kahal Zur Israel, which, founded in 1637, was the first synagogue in the New World.
Miranda Cooper is an editorial intern at Tablet. Follow her on Twitter here.