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Teacher Asks Students to Persuasively Write That “Jews Are Evil”

Teacher Asks Students to Persuasively Write That “Jews Are Evil”

An unnamed teacher at Albany High School in Albany, New York has been placed on an indefinite suspension after asking her students to write a persuasive essay explaining why Jews are evil, using evidence from Nazi propaganda students studied in history class. The exact prompt read: “You must argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!” Unnecessary exclamation point aside, this “edgy” assignment asked students to do the unthinkable — justify a genocide using German brainwashing propaganda of the 1940s.

As a high school English teacher, I have written prompts for and assigned more persuasive essays and speeches than I can count. While I am guilty both of using unnecessary exclamation points to try to convey my excitement for a topic to my students and trying to make prompts unexpected, challenging and something the students can get passionate about, I have always had the foresight to stop well before I ask students to take on the persona of a genocidal portion of the population. Perhaps this is because I am a decent human being, or an empathetic teacher, or maybe it’s just because I know that the purpose of persuasive assignments — or any assignment at all, for that matter — is to make students think rather than to denounce an entire religion or race of people.

It is clear to me that this teacher was trying to create an assignment that was incendiary and interesting, if only for its unexpectedness, and required students to incorporate history and persuasive propaganda as evidence for their persuasive claim. If this was the goal, the assignment met and exceeded expectations. However, the teacher clearly did not stop to think of how offensive and, frankly, downright painful this might be for some students to complete, whether they are of Jewish descent or not. There are also about a million other ways that an assignment can reach all of these goals without being offensive.

The teacher could have asked students to write a persuasive essay arguing that our perception of beauty has changed from 1950 until today using historical propaganda as evidence. Students could look at a selection of political cartoons and discuss the messages of these cartoons and persuade the audience whether or not they are effective. If Nazi Germany had to be the historical period in question, she could have asked students to detail why Nazi propaganda was so effective, and then persuade readers that it was, in fact, horrible to accuse Jews of the things they were accused of. Students could even liken this historical time period to any other in American history — slavery, Jim Crow laws, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the Trail of Tears and any one of many other examples.

Considering these are just ideas that have come off the top of my head, I don’t think it would have been too difficult for this teacher to come up with something equally interesting, more educationally sound and not horribly offensive.

Luckily, the district’s superintendent, Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, agrees:

She did not say when the district would allow the teacher back in the classroom and suggested it may not happen before the end of the year. The district will also bring in sensitivity trainers from the Anti-Defamation League to work with teachers and students before the end of the school year.

At a news conference on Friday with members of the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Federation of New York, Vanden Wyngaard apologized to the community for the assignment and said diversity is valued deeply in the district. She said she was shocked at the insensitive lesson and the awful leap it asked students to make. “You asked a child to support the notion that the Holocaust was justified, that’s my struggle,” she said. “It’s an illogical leap for a student to make.”

On the bright side of this issue, a huge congratulations needs to be given to the third of the students in that class who outright refused to complete the assignment. It’s heartening to know that, where there is oppression, students will stand up for what is right, even if it means sacrificing their grade to do so.

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10:12AM PDT on May 15, 2014

How could the kids in this class possibly find any "solid rationale" in the racism encouraged by the Nazis? I took a WWII course in college where we were shown a video of Nazi propaganda against Jewish people, and that video was seriously one of the dumbest things I have ever seen. They kept putting impoverished Jewish people and their homes in front of the camera, and comparing them to "rats" or "pests," and at one point they were even saying that the Jewish people had facial features that "looked evil" or some stupid shit like that. It was staggeringly nonsensical, all of us in the class were like wtf is this shit, and the assignment we were given was to try to figure out how this type of propaganda could have possibly won anyone over. Not to try to write a defense for it.

6:43AM PDT on May 7, 2013

Thank you Ashley, for Sharing this!

So, now, there will be a Huge Lawsuit against the Teacher and the School. Talk about Intolerance!

8:04PM PDT on Apr 22, 2013

Terrible. And far more terrible is the fact that the Armenian genocide has still not been acknowledge in the history books to this day. Anyone who knows anything KNOWS that this was the model used by Hitler himself, saying, "No one remembered the Armenians...who will remember the Jews?" Well, turns out PLENTY. However, the Holocaust could've been avoided if the government wasn't essentially Turkey's bitch. Wouldn't it be nice if those 3+million raped/tortured/killed/exiled were validated- HONORED somehow- instead of only being known for the Kardashians? As a descendant of these forgotten, it is despicable....TEACH REALITY, PEOPLE, AND IF YOU CAN'T DO IT ETHICALLY DON'T DO IT AT ALL.

8:38AM PDT on Apr 22, 2013

Yeah, Israel can really be compared to a fascist regime, maybe on Opposites Day... Inexplicably, there are a lot of Jews in these USA now who have supported and still do support the modern Nazi BHO. Why, no one can say. But it is not smart.

3:18AM PDT on Apr 22, 2013

They should also teach in schools about the genocide and apartheid going on RIGHT NOW in Palestine for a regime as Nazi as the original one so called Israel. And for those who may call me antisemitic let me say that true Jew people do not support that "state". So let´s no be fooled about propaganda.

11:08PM PDT on Apr 21, 2013

noted

2:23PM PDT on Apr 21, 2013

I agree with what Ira H. writes: "... The lesson the teacher (I assume) was trying to convey showed how to vilify a group with the use of lies and mass media. It was a powerful lesson and used as an historical method to create awareness not in itself a bad thing. However, Antisemitism is on the rise and does not need to be fed in schools...."

I think the teacher was trying to do a good thing, but went about it the wrong way. It would have been safer to have asked the students to do the opposite, i.e. use the historical documents to prove the Jews were NOT evil. Especially today when religion is getting scapegoated more and more, it's dangerous for a teacher to assign the topic she did.

Not only in the Middle East and Africa, where Christians are being massacred for their faith, but also in the Western world, Christians and other religions are being attacked in so many ways. It feels like one horrible movement to eliminate God from the world. I can imagine some people really wanting teachers to make assignments that various religions are evil.

10:26PM PDT on Apr 20, 2013

This insensitive excuse for a human being should not get his/her job back and it the incident should go down on record should he/she attempt to teach elsewhere.

12:08AM PDT on Apr 19, 2013

This was an extremely poor judgement on the teacher's part, so poor that I'm left actually wondering if he is suitable to be a teacher. There are many, varied and powerful ways to teach the same lessons he was trying to, I'm sure every commentator could come up with their own, so I shall leave that for you to do yourself.

So, Mr Unnamed Teacher. How about an assignment to get the class to isolate, bully, and assault a child with obesity, or a child with a physical disability...or the poorest child in the class, would that have been insensitive, even wrong-headed?

You are meant to be in charge, for a few hours each day, of at least some of the development of our children minds - in truth, you cannot even be left in charge of the development of your own.

5:56PM PDT on Apr 18, 2013

The person who lives in Germany and who thinks that the teacher should have given the Jews in a title of her exercise, I suggest that she tries substituting GERMANS for the Jews.

How does it feel to read a title: Germans are evil or Americans are evil?

Considering that most Germans went along with Hitler in exterminating Jews and DID know what was happening in the concentration camps but after WWII pretended that nobody was supporting Hitler and nobody knew what was happening, perhaps that would not be such a bad idea to have such an exercise ;-)?!

How about "Polish are evil" (since many of them went along with extermination of their neighbors and after some Jews survived and returned their Polish neighbors committed another massacre not to have to return properties back to the Jews...

This teacher has a very poor judgement when choosing JEWS as a group to illustrate bigotry which led to the extermination of 6 millions of Jews... Any other group may have been more appropriate except Jews, because it actually DID happen to Jews in such a horrendous way...However, I still think that having a some invented name of a group would be sufficient to illustrate the point about bigotry. Perhaps TEACHERS ARE EVIL ;-)?!

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