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Published On: Mon, Apr 15th, 2013

New York teacher who assigned the ‘Jews are evil,’ Nazi writing assignment placed on leave, Common Core links surfacing

A high school English teacher who had students pretend to be Jew-hating Nazis for a writing assignment has been placed on leave and critics are connecting the theme of the task to Common Core standards.

The unidentified teacher at Albany High School caused a storm of criticism after having students practice the art of persuasive writing by penning a letter to a fictitious Nazi government official arguing that “Jews are evil.”

School writing assignment Nazi Jews  cropped“You must argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!” read the description on the assignment, which the school superintendent said reflects the kind of sophisticated writing expected of students under the new Common Core standards and was meant to hone students’ persuasive argument abilities.

The TimesUnion details that students were asked to digest Nazi propaganda material, then imagine that their teacher was an SS officer who needed to be persuaded of their loyalty by arguing that Jews are the root of all the world’s ills.

The writing assignment was done before a planned class reading of the memoir “Night,” by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

“Review in your notebooks the definitions for logos, ethos, and pathos,” the teacher’s assignment said. “Choose which argument style will be most effective in making your point. Please remember, your life (here in Nazi Germany in the 30’s) may depend on it!”

“I would apologize to our families,” Albany Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard said. “I don’t believe there was malice or intent to cause any insensitivities to our families of Jewish faith.”

The TimesUnion explains more of the reasoning behind the offensive assignment:

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.

She said she understood the academic intent of the assignment — to make an argument based only on limited information at hand. Still, she acknowledged that it was worded in a very offensive manner. She did not identify the English teacher or discuss whether the educator faced any discipline.

A reported one-third of the Albany students refused to complete the assignment.

The teacher was not in class at Albany High School on Friday and Wyngaard said the district will take some form of disciplinary action.

She said it was too early to say exactly what that would be, but it could range from a letter of reprimand to termination. 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.

 School writing assignment Nazi Jews

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- Roxanne "Butter" Bracco began with the Dispatch as Pittsburgh Correspondent, but will be providing reports and insights from Washington DC, Maryland and the surrounding region. Contact Roxie aka "Butter" at [email protected] ATTN: Roxie or Butter Bracco

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  1. Gareth Andrews says:

    The reality is that evil people make evil decisions everyday, and they support their actions using “logic” to their superiors and their community.

    Of course, Nazi officers would have convinced themselves that Jewish people are evil.

    Being able to do this exercise could provide a very valuable lesson in understanding how persuasion works, how truth is manipulated, and so on.

    It’s an exercise that may have been too sophisticated for the target audience, but its value as an exercise in understanding anthropological evolution is probably sound…in the context of other similar exercises.

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