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Old April 14th, 2013 (6:29 PM).
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ALBANY — High school is full of hypotheticals, like “How does one solve for x?” and “What happens if I skip class?” But this week, students at Albany High School were given an alarming thought puzzle: How do I convince my teacher that I think Jews are evil?
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That question was posed to about 75 students on Monday by an unidentified 10th-grade English teacher as a “persuasive writing” exercise. The students were instructed to imagine that their teacher was a Nazi and to construct an argument that Jews were “the source of our problems” using historical propaganda and, of course, a traditional high school essay structure.

“Your essay must be five paragraphs long, with an introduction, three body paragraphs containing your strongest arguments, and a conclusion,” the assignment read. “You do not have a choice in your position: 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 — first reported by The Times Union of Albany — prompted an embarrassed reaction from school district administrators, who were alerted to it by a concerned parent on Wednesday night.

“Obviously, we have a severe lack of judgment and a horrible level of insensitivity,” said Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, superintendent of Albany’s schools. “That’s not the assignment that any school district, and certainly not mine, is going to tolerate.”

Dr. Vanden Wyngaard, who met with Jewish leaders in Albany and made a public apology on Friday, said the assignment was apparently an attempt to link the English class with a history lesson on the Holocaust. The assignment itself seems to back up that theory, telling students to use “what you’ve learned in history class.” It also suggests using “any experiences you have.”

It echoed another recent, controversial assignment in Manhattan, where an elementary school class was given math problems featuring the whipping and killing of slaves, according to The Associated Press. That assignment was an effort to combine math and social studies lessons.

In Albany, Dr. Vanden Wyngaard said, “No one here believes that malice was the intent.”

The teacher was not in class on Friday and is facing disciplinary action, she said, which could include termination.

Outside the classroom, reaction was mixed. Rabbi David M. Eligberg of Temple Israel, a Conservative synagogue, said he found the lesson incendiary, inappropriate and academically unsound.

“The assignment is flawed in its essence,” Rabbi Eligberg said. “It asks students to take the product for a propaganda machine and treat it as legitimate fodder for a rational argument. And that’s just wrong.”

He also faulted a less controversial part of the homework, which asked students to use one of three classic Greek ideals — ethos, pathos or logos — to support their anti-Semitic argument. (“Choose which argument style will be most effective in making your point. Please remember that your life here in Nazi Germany in the ’30s may depend on it!” the assignment read.)

Rabbi Donald P. Cashman of the B’nai Sholom Reform Congregation, the father of three Albany High graduates, was more forgiving. “Hypothetical situations are often effective teaching tools,” he said, and debating positions one may not believe in can also be valuable.

“We know it’s important for kids to get out of their comfort zones,” Rabbi Cashman said, adding that the assignment seemed to correspond with Holocaust Remembrance Day, known as Yom Hashoah, which was Monday.

The reaction at Albany High, a racially and ethnically diverse school of about 2,000 students, also varied.

Nick Brino, a 10th grader, said he had heard about the assignment from a classmate. “I thought it was wrong,” he said. “But she was flipping out, saying if anyone was going to do it, she wasn’t going to be their friend.”

Ninth-grader Jyasi Nagel, though, said he thought the teacher was not anti-Semitic, but just trying to teach different points of view.

Jyasi’s father, Moses Nagel, who is Jewish, said that he was not in favor of a harsh punishment for the teacher, but that another topic might have provided a more palatable lesson.

“It just seems like there’s a million other examples to use rather than going there,” he said.
Interesting writing assignment eh? Go wild.
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Old April 14th, 2013 (7:03 PM).
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Wow, that's a sick and perverse fantasy that educator must have had.

I can see where the two different viewpoints come in about whether the assignment was appropriate or not, but the last sentence in the article really sums up my viewpoint about the entire situation.

There's a million other ways you can go about linking English and History lessons together. I think it would have been much better if the teacher would have provided a list of controversial topics from WWII and would have asked the students to write about one and pick a side. The students would have been much less restricted. Regardless of whether or not the teacher did this simply to get their students to think “outside of the box” is out of the question. What if someone in the class was Jewish or has a Jewish background? The assignment was insensitive, and to say, “You do not have a choice in your position: you must argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!” is completely ignorant, inappropriate and racist if you ask me.
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Old April 14th, 2013 (7:45 PM).
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    It just sounds like a reason to make kids think of reasons to hate Jews themselves. Kids are impressionable, and they might have done Google research and found some pretty horrible and traumatizing things about WWII or just in general that they should never have seen.

    Like Gyardosamped, the article's last sentence sums up my view pretty well. Of all the things in history, of each and every detail and every single event, why pick that one esp. in this context? It's unsound.

    Especially since anything related to the French Revolution would've made a much more fun essay overall lol

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    Old April 15th, 2013 (8:51 AM).
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    I think the intent here was good, but that the intention got muddled somewhere along the line.

    In 10th grade I think students are old enough to understand that this is a critical thinking assignment, that it's meant to get them to understand how bad ideas can be made to look good depending on how you spin them. I don't want to make too many judgments on the teacher because we don't know what the rest of the teacher's curriculum is like. For all we know the entire week leading up to this assignment could have been preparing the students to tackle this assignment, explaining that they aren't meant to endorse the Nazi arguments, etc.

    I also wonder what the reaction to this would have been if the assignment had been to take the viewpoint of something current like an Islamist terrorist, something current/recent like a member of the KKK, or something very removed historically like a crusader or conquistador since all those groups are easily comparable to the Nazis.
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    Old April 15th, 2013 (9:09 AM).
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    I agree with Scarf that the full curriculum needs to be considered before even beginning to think about the ethics of this one lesson.

    Personally, I would have found the assignment incredibly interesting I always have thoroughly enjoyed studying Hitler's life and Nazi Germany.

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