Students in some Albany High School English classes were asked to participate in the unthinkable this week as part of a persuasive writing assignment. The objective? Prove why Jews are evil and convince the teacher of their loyalty to the Third Reich in five paragraphs or less.
“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 reports 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.
“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.
Students were asked to draw on elements of the great philosopher Aristotle, and frame their arguments as either: “Logos” (persuasion by reasoning), “Pathos” (persuasion by emotional appeal) or “Ethos” (persuasion by the author’s character).
Nonetheless, a reported one-third of the Albany students refused to complete the assignment.
Whether school faculty chose this particular subject matter for the writing assignment, or if the subject matter came directly from Common Core remains unclear (it could have been the justification and not a direct lesson), but the amount of controversial lessons administered under curriculum system is indeed mounting.