“You must argue that Jews are evil” in a five-paragraph essay, using Nazi propaganda and personal experience “to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!” Hoping to teach persuasive writing, critical reading of propaganda and history, an English teacher at Albany High School (New York) told students to pretend the teacher was a Nazi official who needed to be convinced of their loyalty.
A third of students refused to write the paper. Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard said the assignment should have been worded differently and apologized. “I don’t believe there was malice or intent to cause any insensitivities to our families of Jewish faith,” she said.
Vanden Wyngaard said the exercise reflects the type of writing expected of students under the new Common Core curriculum, the tough new academic standards that require more sophisticated writing. Such assignments attempt to connect English with history and social studies.
I’m quite sure the teacher doesn’t believe Jews are evil. But the assignment was unwise. Plenty of people still think Jews are evil. Anti-Semitic trolls lurk in the comments section of most blogs. It’s current events, not history.
If the teacher had come up with a uncontroversial assignment, would it have taught critical thinking as effectively? asks Ann Althouse.
Why not ask students to write an essay urging Germans to vote for Hitler in 1933? (Advanced students could pretend to be American communists defending the Hitler-Stalin pact.)
Integrating history with other subjects requires forethought. A New York City math teacher raised hackles earlier this year with slavery story problems that seemed to trivialize slave ship deaths and whippings.
Update: The Albany teacher has been placed on leave, reports AP. That’s an over-reaction. Meanwhile, her classes are about to begin reading Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir, Night.