NY school district: “We’re sorry for teaching Jews are evil”

School has certainly changed since my day:

An upstate New York school district is reportedly apologizing — and mulling possible disciplinary action — for a high school writing assignment that asked students to “argue Jews are evil” while making a persuasive argument blaming them for the problems of Nazi Germany.

The Albany Times Union reports that some students at Albany High School were asked to research Nazi propaganda before assuming their English teacher was a Nazi government official who had to be convinced of their loyalty. In five paragraphs, they were required to prove that Jews were the source of Germany’s problems, the newspaper reports.

“You must argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich,” the assignment reportedly read. A third of the students refused.

Wow. I’ll be charitable and assume a stunning lack of sensitivity and plain good sense on the instructor’s part. There are, after all, good uses for exercises that ask the student to explore and defend the other side or other points of view. But when you’re talking about one of the most monstrous atrocities in the history of humanity –the Holocaust– the only point of discussing the attitudes that lead to it is to criticize them and show their utter evil, not to learn how to be an apologist for them.

Yeah, I’d say this teacher deserves at least a suspension, if not termination, but someone should pointedly ask that school district why they don’t supervise their employees’ lesson plans more closely.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

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2 Responses to NY school district: “We’re sorry for teaching Jews are evil”

  1. James Gordon says:

    I think it’s a real tragedy that a writing assignment like this would be seen as a bad thing. Clearly the teacher is not a Nazi, and isn’t trying to make students be Nazis. He is trying to teach how ordinary people can be affected by propaganda. The bellicose case around Hitler being a “special event” or “special evil” that makes the Nazi atrocities somehow different from those of Stalin, Pohl Pot, or even draws an arbitrary line between them and the lesser civilian atrocities of say, Sir Arthur Travers Harris, or even US forces launching airstrikes on civilians today. While comforting to us that line does not exist, unless we can make a mathematical count of “how many dead innocents” it takes to make a genocide. The “special case” of the Nazis made it difficult for Americans to feel any impulse to intercede in Rwanda, which President Bill Clinton lamented as the “greatest failing” of his Presidency. This teacher wants to show the slippery slope of propaganda. By pretending that there’s something wrong with talking about Nazis we facilitate thinking that makes it easy for people in the modern era to do EXACTLY what the Germans of Hitler’s time did. Ignore common sense in the interest of being “good citizens” and “not making waves.” Some of the same interests that trumpet Hitler’s “special evil” instead of seeing him merely as a symptom of generic human evil justify as defensible or unpreventable similar atrocities such as the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

    To pretend this assignment had anything to do with Hitler is to put our fingers in our ears and hum. It was about the way in which the values we deplore in Hitler can creep into our own thinking and do, on a daily basis. That’s a valuable lesson. Making Hitler not an example of human weakness but some special demonic entity has been a boon to tyrants, butchers, and those who shrug off the necessity of “collateral damage” throughout the latter half of the 20th century. We cannot AFFORD to treat Hitler differently.

  2. chunt31854 says:

    I agree with James. Without understanding how Hitler came to power and maintained that power, it does little good to study 20th century politics. Without understanding how the Jews were demonized and set apart from civilized society, there is a severely diminished capacity to understand the attempts to demonize certain groups today.

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