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by
Rick Moran

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April 13, 2013 - 3:25 pm

A New York teacher who gave her students a writing assignment to research Nazi propaganda and then write a letter trying to convince an official of the Third Reich “that Jews are evil and the source of our problems” has been placed on leave.

From the Associated Press:

A high school English teacher who had students pretend to be Jew-hating Nazis in a writing assignment has been placed on leave.

The 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.”

District Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard held a news conference Friday to apologize for the assignment.

The Times Union newspaper reported ( http://bit.ly/ZTc4PU ) on Saturday that the teacher was not in class on Friday and had been placed on leave by the school district.

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

For the assignment, the teacher asked students to research Nazi propaganda, then write a letter trying to convince an official of the Third Reich “that Jews are evil and the source of our problems.”

“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!”

Wyngaard said she didn’t think the assignment was malicious but “it displayed a level of insensitivity that we absolutely will not tolerate.”

One of the most enjoyable aspects of reading, writing, and thinking about history for me is how the subject matter has the ability to transport me back in time and set me down as a stranger in a strange land.  Reading about the Revolutionary War? Square your conservative beliefs with being on the side of the rebels. Where would you have stood as a southerner during the Civil War? How about as a northerner? Superficially, there are easy answers. But in order to truly understand the subject, you must know yourself. Writing does that. It makes one “an exact man,” as Francis Bacon noted.

It appears to me that the unnamed teacher approached this assignment in the correct manner. She told students to research Nazi propaganda and argue that propaganda from a particular point of view using accepted styles of argument. The exercise expanded their minds, made them think, took them out of their comfort zone, and forced them to think like an entirely different person.

What kind of person would you have been in Nazi Germany circa 1936? Think about it. A particularly virulent and nauseating form of  anti-Semitism gripped the entire continent of Europe in the period between the wars. It was normal. It was natural to harbor evil thoughts about the Jews. Everyone you knew hated the Jews. Your parents hated the Jews. Your friends and neighbors hated the Jews.

Forget about the “good Germans” who opposed Hitler. There were damn few of them and they were weak-willed and weak-minded. For the most part, the good German people approved of and applauded Hitler’s oppression.

Is it a valuable lesson to force students into that world, that mindset, and have them act out what they would have been thinking by having them write about it? I think it is an extremely valuable exercise. It won’t change anyone’s mind about the Nazis or the Jews. But it will help the students know themselves better. What could possibly be wrong with that?
More on the next page.
Stephen Prothero, writing at CNN’s Belief blog:

When I was an assistant professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta, I used to teach Nazi theology. My students read sermons by Nazi theologians arguing that Jews were evil and were responsible for killing Jesus. They also read a book called “Theologians Under Hitler” by Robert P. Erickson, who tried to explain how and why Christian thinkers could come to believe that exterminating Jews was somehow Christ-like.

I am not a Nazi. I was not teaching Nazi theology as the truth. I was teaching it as propaganda, just like this Albany High School teacher was doing. My purpose was not to make my students sympathetic to Nazism. My purpose was to unsettle them. And to teach them something along the way.

I had two goals when teaching this material.

First, I wanted my students to realize that smart Christians with doctoral degrees supported the Holocaust. Second, I wanted them to grapple with the implications of this fact on their own religious commitments. Do Christians today have any responsibility to know this history and to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again? If so, how can they exercise that responsibility without coming to understand the contours of Nazi thought?

But instead of grappling with these questions, my students almost universally tried to side-step them. The Nazis were not Christians, they told me confidently, because Christians would never kill Jews just for being Jews. Case closed. Time to move on to more comfortable topics.

What I witnessed in Atlanta, and what we are seeing today in Albany, is a failure of imagination. My students were so locked into their current circumstances that they couldn’t imagine things being different in a different place and time.

[...]

But students aren’t the only victims of the failure of imagination we are now witnessing among Albany school officials and Jewish leaders. The teacher is a victim, too. And so are public school teachers across the country who are being told via this fiasco not to be creative as teachers, not to challenge their students to think in new ways.

If this teacher is fired, I will invite him or her to Boston University, where I now teach, to explain what he or she was trying to accomplish in challenging students with this assignment. And I will give the same assignment to my college students. I think it will do them some good.

The most valuable part of any education is learning to think. If I were superintendent of that school district, I’d give that teacher a commendation for original thinking, not suspend her and threaten her job.

Rick Moran is PJ Media's Chicago editor and Blog editor at The American Thinker. He is also host of the"RINO Hour of Power" on Blog Talk Radio. His own blog is Right Wing Nut House.

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Top Rated Comments   
--The Nazis were not Christians, they told me confidently, because Christians would never kill Jews just for being Jews. --

Tha Nazis were not Christians because they wanted to abolish Christianity. That's why they weren't Christians. When you are an anti-Christian you can't be a Christian.

I will grant, though, that exercises such as this can show how false claims about Christianity can move those culturally sympathetic to it to join forces with anti-Christianity. Those that don't know the Bible or accept it as authoritative can certainly be led to astray by false shepherds.

For Pete' sake Moran, it is happening in this country. People who call themselves Christians are saying homosexuality is just a fine thing and openly advocating gay marriage.

And look at all the "Christians" giving their approval to abortion.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm so sick of hearing about these "cutting edge" school room antics.

For cryin' out loud! Can't they spend their time in school teaching the kids what a god damned apostrophe is for?

Why is it they have these field trips to mosques and gay-friendly assemblies and every other absurd left-wing piece of nonsense you can name, but they leave school after 12 years with no damned idea what the difference is between a plural and a possessive?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As an historian myself, I feel compelled to comment on this.

While there is some value to the Von Ranke’s concept of historical immersion, its usefulness has its limitations. Just because we think we understand a period does not mean that we actually do. I cannot tell you how many students imagine the 1960s to have been crawling with hippies, only to be told by many of those who lived through it that they had never met one.

I have seen it time and again. Using like-minded exercises, talented students make stupid, sweeping assumptions that all British-Americans were patriots and that all Southerners were slave-owners. It’s bad history. Even the most impressive of primary source bases cannot account for a national belief – as conservatives, we know better than anyone the fallacy of using the media as a resource.

In regard to Nazi Germany, there is a lot to be said for those teachers who go out of their way to show that the Nazis were not evil but typical. Such a regime could not come to power without popular support. But, once again, as conservatives we know better than anyone that the coming of a totalitarian regime does not necessarily mean it has the support of the entire nation. Remember the rule of human nature is complacency: whether you are a British-American in 1776, a Southerner in 1861, or a German in 1934, it is far safer to not get involved than to choose sides.

I must admit that I am a bit stunned by the professor of Nazi “theology.” I have had students ask if Nazism was a religion; none believe me when I tell them it was a political party. I would argue – quite stringently – that it was a lack of religion that allowed the Nazis to carry out such policies. (Do keep in mind that a great many of those who opposed the Nazi Party – and were executed for acting on their beliefs – were devout Christians.) Though most are loathe to admit it, the Holocaust would likely not have happened if it were not for eugenics, itself a production of Darwinism. While I am sure there were German churches who adopted Darwin into their teachings, fundamentalist belief in creationism and the Jews as the chosen people would not have been reconcilable with Nazi policy – hence the disproportionately large number of Christian opposition to Hitler. With Stephen Prothero, I cannot help but see this as just another ivory-tower attack against Christianity. That fact that you reference him in the positive is appalling.

In the end, I believe this teacher’s motivations were acceptable. However, historical immersion is not the job of an English teacher nor is it appropriate on the high school level (with the exception of an AP class, perhaps). Seeing the sorts of students coming into colleges today, I’d be content to see more actually know that there was a Holocaust.

On a side note, these quotes need some revision:

“Square your conservative beliefs with being on the side of the rebels. Where would you have stood as a southerner during the Civil War?”

The Confederacy was not in rebellion (which implies an attempt to overthrow the US government) but attempting to achieve political independence. Since the CSA operated on a platform of extremely limited government a la Thomas Jefferson, it would be more difficult to square one’s conservative beliefs with the surprisingly top-heavy Lincoln administration.

“Forget about the “good Germans” who opposed Hitler. There were damn few of them and they were weak-willed and weak-minded.”

Poor choice of words. That “damn few” were resolute enough to spread pamphlets, give speeches, conspire against the German government, and pay with their lives in the most excruciating of ways. There may not have been many, but they were certainly not weak-willed or weak-minded.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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"The writing assignment was done before a planned class reading of the memoir “Night,” by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel."

Folks, this is not likely to be on the reading list of a holocaust-denial class. I can see how the principal might have called the teacher in to talk about public image or grade level (The reading and possibly the assignment seem challenging for sophomore (grade 9).) Instead, I see a kid who didn't want to think and instead figured out a way that she didn't have to.

The parents and society deserve the children they are going to get.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In psychology there is a phenomenon called "priming" (it has some controversial aspects). I think it's fairly clear that the teacher was emotionally "priming" the students prior to reading "Night". So as they read "Night", they're doing what? Well, of course, "thinking like a nazi" -- hence, muting, muffling, dampening the emotional impact of the Holocaust. (And, if the teacher *is* a pro-nazi propagandist, this is exactly what I would expect).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I can see where it would have been a valuable thought exercise. I might have used it somewhat differently in an advanced class of students. If we were studying a book about Nazis and the Holocaust, I might have asked my students how an author might approach writing a Nazi character, particularly one who believes in the ideas of the final solution.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The assignment was not age-appropriate and an error in judgment. It was no doubt designed for a reason, possibly to create one point of view and then have that point of view whipsawed into Elie Wiesel's book, possibly creating a sense of shame similar to what Germans felt post-WWII. Just not for 10th graders. I also don't like that she assigned students to "research Nazi propaganda." That's lazy. There should have been some source material and contextualized presentation. Overall, not as well thought out a lesson plan as it should have been.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I like this as a thought-exercise but given the reality of the Holocaust there need to be some clear boundaries so that this doesn't simply devolve into a course in anti-Semitism. Many of the propaganda techniques used by the Nazis are being used today by the Obama administration, and the parallels between National Socialism and Obama's brand of socialism are striking, so that would be a better launching pad into this particular exercise. Assign the students to, using the lessons and techniques of the Third Reich, identify and vilify a group of Americans today for a similar purpose. The options are plentiful for the students: Tea Party, pro-lifers, bible-thumpers, gun owners, successful business people, conservatives, etc. The point of the exercise ought not to recreate the circumstances of Nazi Germany but illustrate how that can happen here, and how some of it already is.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Today's big government do-gooders have a hard time realizing the nazis saw themselves as doing good, not evil.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
First, being "suspended" in circumstances like this isn't bad duty; you get to stay home and get paid. I had a boss for awhile that I really didn't like and used to routinely tell her that I'd done something really, really bad and she should suspend me while she figured out what it was and what to do about it, but she never bit. Since Loudermill v. Cleveland Board in 1986 in which the USSC held that a public employee holding permanent status, meaning they'd passed their probation or with a teacher achieved tenure, had a property right to their job, public employees cannot be disciplined without "Due Process." The court set the minima for the process due as a confrontation with the charges, an explanation of the evidence supporting the charges, an opportunity for the employee to provide obviating or mitigating facts and circumstances, and due consideration of the employees evidence and arguments before a final decision regarding discipline is made. Many employer policies and union contracts impose a far, far greater burden, e.g., the Administrative Investigation provisions in many cop contracts. The employee cannot have their pay or their record diminished until whatever process is due has been provided, thus, there are lots of public employees on a paid vacation, often for very long times.

A general rule is that you don't suspend an employee in the pendancy of an investigation unless there is some likelihood of a repeat or continuing offense or some danger to the workplace. I think the suspension is an over-reaction in this case. Somebody complained and the administration freaked, an all too common ocurrance, and suspended the teacher. Nothing more than at most a nastygram in her file will happen to the teacher and the taxpayers are out all the costs of the investigation and any hearings plus a substitute while she's suspended. I know that as an employer representative, I'd hate like Hell to have to defend doing anything at all to her beyond perhaps telling her to change the assignment. I'd bet a dollar to a doughnut that you wouldn't find any objective policy against doing what she did and as Justice Scalia held in Eastern Coal, you must have an objective policy that has business utility, not just some sense of societal disapproval. That case was about off-duty drug use, but the same logic holds.

My only problem with what she did is that unless that was a VERY advanced high school class, few of them could write a decent English sentence, probably only the one or two most exceptional ones could write a decent paragraph, and probably none of them can spell without a spellchecker. The lesson seems more appropriate for an upper division college writing class.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
" The employee cannot have their pay or their record diminished until whatever process is due has been provided, thus, there are lots of public employees on a paid vacation, often for very long times."

Yes! I well remember a John Stossel piece on teachers in New York City sitting in "rubber rooms" for YEARS at a time - at full pay - while going through an enormously complex process by which they got umpteen second chances, councilling and whatnot, even for situations that would be slamdunk dismissals in most places. For instance, one high school teacher had sent emails soliciting sex from one of his students from his own email account but it took years to go through the entire process of dismissal. Even then, I'm not sure that individual was finally dismissed; the process might still have been shuddering its way to a conclusion when the show aired.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
That NYC situation is simply the result of feckless, union-owned administration. So, if you're not good for the case, take it to arbitration anyway and see if you can win it. If you can't, the teacher goes back to work with only minimal backpay. If you win it and the union takes it to court, and this is the big feature of tenure laws, and wins it, it is on the board or the city and you get an appropriation to pay for it. The citizens that are paying attention will hate you for pi**ing away their money like that but it is a better alternative that unending paid vacations.

I dunno', I worked under one of the most employee friendly, union friendly bargaining laws in the Country and I'm damned if I can think of an employee who was off on suspension w/o pay for more than a couple of weeks, most were no more than a day or two, and most of the time we didn't do it at all.

Most of the horror stories aren't about collective bargaining rights or powers, they're about politics and the sort of feckless SOBs who wind up running governments. When the Stossel story comes out the chickensh*t SOB says, "but the union rules won't let me do it," but the reality is that the fact that s/he is a chickensh*t SOB won't let him/her do it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Well, this was picked out, but there is more loose thinking -

"Everyone you knew hated the Jews. Your parents hated the Jews. Your friends and neighbors hated the Jews."

Mr. Moran, check out Anne Applebaum's Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe. It's generally about the commies and what they did, but it will provide "valuable" insight into the above statement as to how widespread hatred was.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Or perhaps: You are a young journalist. You have heard about and investigated an abortion clinic in a major American city whose practices can only be described as monstrously evil. Based on your investigation, you are to send a formal note to your editor arguing that the clinic’s crimes are negligible and should not under any circumstances be reported on, since doing so would only serve to undermine the cause of “reproductive rights,” a moral cornerstone of liberal thought in our time. In your formal note, be sure to remind your editor of the meaning of logos, ethos and pathos.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It seems a lot of people have difficulty understanding the concept of playing the Devil's advocate and it is a shame that the teacher didn't seem to be able to make the students understand the usefulness of it.

While the assignment may have been a legitamate technique to get kids to explore how propaganda works one still has to wonder if the teacher was using the assignment in the way it is being viewed-an attempt to make kids sympathetic to the Nazis. We've seen far too many examples of teachers trying to indoctrinate kids into socialism so it is a real concern.

There is so little information about the assignment-lack of explanation of it's purpose, I can't blame anyone for rejecting it in this case. It would have been better if the assignment has included a second part to it in which the students had to write a rebuttle in which they had to show how propaganda preys on social attitudes, ingorance and fear.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think that the intent was to demonize White Europeans, and to re-inforce stigmatization of any White European solidarity.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
How about an assignment for all the children to pretend they are Muslim for a week, regardless of their religions beliefs about such pretense?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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