Lessons In Bad Teaching
A teacher in Albany is under fire for asking students to write from the perspective of a Nazi:
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?
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.)
Yea, bad idea.