You probably won’t see that creative writing assignment in a high school English class, but some students in an Albany, N.Y. High School English class were asked to “argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!”
The question I have is this. Where did the assignment come from? We do know that Common Core sets standards, but does not necessarily provide every single assignment to teachers, but does strongly suggest assignments that – as an example – connects English with history and social studies. From TimesUnion.com, in a story from April, 12, 2013. (Some may consider this old news.)
Students in some Albany High School English classes were asked this week as part of a persuasive writing assignment to make an abhorrent argument: “You must argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!”
Students were asked to watch and read Nazi propaganda, then pretend their teacher was a Nazi government official who needed to be convinced of their loyalty. In five paragraphs, they were required to prove that Jews were the source of Germany’s problems.
Again, I’m wondering where the teacher got the idea? Did she come up with the assignment on her own? The teacher was quickly placed on leave after the media got the story.
How is this connected with Common Core? The superintendent connected the dots.
The exercise was intended to challenge students to formulate a persuasive argument and was given to three classes, Albany Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard said. She said the assignment should have been worded differently.
“I would apologize to our families,” she said. “I don’t believe there was malice or intent to cause any insensitivities to our families of Jewish faith.”
One-third of the students refused to complete the assignment, she said.
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.
Assignments that connect English with history and social studies is nothing new, and not exclusive to Common Core. But it still begs the question, where did this assignment come from? Certainly, reading about and understanding history – including details about Nazi Germany in the 1930’s – is an important subject. But to create an assignment that encourages students to enthusiastically promote a racist position in writing is just wrong. Many students were so uncomfortable they refused to complete the assignment. Some did it because they were afraid not doing so would adversely effect their grade. Here is the text of the assignment.
For the following assignment, you need to pretend that I am a member of the government in Nazi Germany, and you are being challenged to convince me that you are loyal to the Nazis by writing an essay convincing me that Jews are evil and the source of our problems. After viewing the videos (if they work) and reading the packet of propaganda, combine that knowledge with what you’ve learned in history class and through any experiences you have to complete this task.
Since this is a persuasive piece, you need to choose from the types of rhetorical arguments we covered in quarter 1, in writing your commentaries about religious freedom, freedom of religious expression, etc. Review in your notebooks the definitions for LOGOS, ETHOS, AND PATHOS. 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!
Your essay must be 5 paragraphs long, with an introduction, 3 body paragraphs containing your strongest arguments, and a conclusion. 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! …