School apologizes for ‘evil Jews’ assignment

“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. 

Does the college essay suck the life out of boys?

Does the College Essay Suck the Life Out of Boys? asks Dr. Helen on PJ Media’s Lifestyle.

She’s reading Andrew Ferguson’s Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College. Ferguson describes his son’s struggle to write a politically correct admissions essay.

Many of the colleges ask for an essay about the student’s “inner life”–usually a buzz word for some kind of sappy self-absorbed nonsense where the student “took a risk” of some kind and went on to become a better person or some variation of that theme.

The son, who thought his inner life was his own business, finally wrote about passing a swimming test in camp that others could not.

In the essay, the son wrote that he was “tired but proud; he sympathized with his classmates who hadn’t finished and in his victory, accepted modestly, he learned the timeless value of persistence and determination, expressed with grim earnestness…”

But his father knew the truth: “which was the masculine truth. He didn’t remember the race because it proved the timeless value of persistence. He remembered the victory because it was a victory: he had competed against this classmates, friends and rivals alike, and beaten them soundly and undeniably, and earned the right to a sack dance in the end zone. He knew he couldn’t say this, though, and I knew he was right.”

Colleges don’t want critical thinking, concludes Dr. Helen. They don’t want “passion.” They want wimps — or boys pretending to be wimps.

I bet admissions officers are bored out of their skulls by the humble, persistent, lesson-learning, PC applicant. I got a thank you note from Stanford’s admissions director for writing a funny essay. And he let me in. But who wants to risk it?

Seeking wise, creative students

Colleges admit students with strong analytical skills, but may reject creative, wise and community-minded students who’d also do well, argues psychologist Robert Sternberg.  After trying his ideas as a dean at Tufts, which attracts very well-qualified students, Sternberg became provost at Oklahoma State, which takes 70 to 75 percent of applicants.  The university is testing new essay prompts to identify applicants with hard-to-measure qualities, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Oklahoma State accepts students with a 1090 SAT (without the writing test) or a 3.0 grade point average and top-third-of-the-class ranking. Students with lower grades and scores can get in by doing well on an essay question, which might ask about their goals or special interests.

The university is asking current freshmen to answer questions Sternberg developed. Several will be chosen for next year’s applications.  For example:

“Music spans time and culture. Explain how the lyrics of one of your favorite songs define you or your cultural experience.”

“If you were able to open a local charity of your choice, what type of charity would it be, how would you draw people to your cause, and whom would it benefit?”

“Today’s movies often feature superheroes and the supernatural. If you could have one superpower, what would it be, and how would you use it? Who would be your archenemy, and what would be his or her superpower?”

“Roughly 99 percent” of admitted applicants have qualified on some combination of grades and test scores, Sternberg says. “Who believes, really, that ACTs and high school grades are going to predict who will become the positive active citizens and leaders of tomorrow?”

I do.  The combination of high school grades and test scores predicts who’ll complete a college degree, which predicts active citizenship, such as voting and volunteering.

A good writer can express creativity and devotion to community service — maybe even wisdom — by writing about goals and interests. Just because the question is boring doesn’t mean the answer has to be. A bad writer won’t do any better because he knows a lot about comic superheroes. I suspect few C+ students with mediocre ACT or SAT scores can write a good essay on any topic.

But it’s an experiment. Maybe Oklahoma State will find hidden gems in its applicant pool by tweaking the essay prompts.

SAT asks for essay on reality TV

Asked to write an essay about reality TV on last week’s SAT exam, students are complaining that the prompt — “How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?” — favors TV junkies. From the New York Times:

“This is one of those moments when I wish I actually watched TV,” one test-taker wrote on Saturday on the Web site College Confidential, under the user name “littlepenguin.”

“I ended up talking about Jacob Riis and how any form of media cannot capture reality objectively,” he wrote, invoking the 19th-century social reformer. “I kinda want to cry right now.”

The goal of the essay prompt is to “give students an opportunity to demonstrate their writing skills,” not to show off their knowledge, said Angela Garcia, executive director of the SAT program.

This particular prompt, Ms. Garcia said, was intended to be relevant and to engage students, and had gone through extensive pre-testing with students and teachers. “It’s really about pop culture as a reference point that they would certainly have an opinion on,” she added.

An exam has to “engage” test takers?

The full prompt contained “everything you need to write the essay,” said Peter Kauffmann, vice president of communications for the College Board.

Students read:

Reality television programs, which feature real people engaged in real activities rather than professional actors performing scripted scenes, are increasingly popular.

These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives. Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being misled.

How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?

Do people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment harmful?

The test designers apparently see writing as an isolated skill with no content knowledge required. The student who’s never watched American Idol, The Biggest Loser, Jersey Shore or Kourtney & Kim Take New York can’t cite examples to prove a point or use details to enliven his writing. He has to hope that Jacob Riis doesn’t cost him too many points.

If I faced this prompt — and I’m thankful my test-taking days are over — I’d have very little to say. I don’t think “most people” believe reality shows are authentic and I don’t think it matters. Do people benefit? No. Are they harmed? No.

Veteran barred for essay on killing

An Army veteran’s essay on the thrill of killing in Iraq earned an A from the instructor — and a suspension from campus, until a psychologist says the vet isn’t a threat to his classmates.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  A trustee objects to campus subsidies for left-wing speakers and “evil” theater.