Think like a slave owner… argue black slaves don’t deserve human rights

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, 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! …

6 replies
  1. Plainvillian
    Plainvillian says:

    Maybe the teacher is attending law school on the side and wanted some writings? to plagiarizer for a class?? You know, like Joe Biden or any committed Democrat.

  2. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    I don’t know why the persuasive argument couldn’t be to argue why Jews, Gypsies, Leaders of religion, handicapped and all others that were persecuted under any regime deserved freedom. The regime could be under Stalin, ?Desmond TuTu, Idi Amin, any regime that fascinated them. As Steve suggests slavery. Letting the kids CHOOSE their subject matter will allow them to get passionate and therefore more persuasive.

  3. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    Ok, Steve, I love this post. I have read for a Reader’s Aloud program for 5 years. I read to the 5th grade, and I choose the books I read from the school library. I chose? true story of a young Mormon boy who stood up to the Nazis. He was executed at ?age 17, and the only part which is fictionalized is his time in prison, obviously no one would know that. I was told not to continue reading this book because it would upset children. I am incensed, censorship is a crime to me. Simon Wiesenthal, must be spinning in his grave. ?Ok rant over.?

  4. bien-pensant
    bien-pensant says:

    The Stupid is strong in this one.
    Around children, this one must not be allowed.
    Wow! This is monumentally bad judgement. To even contemplate thinking like a mass murderer or even the most benign slave owner is unthinkable to me. Their is no rationale to condone or even countenance amoral behavior. Jefferson tried justify his owning slaves and beating them. He only produced arguments that indicted his own greed and revealed him as a course and venal person.

  5. DuffTerrall
    DuffTerrall says:

    I’ve actually done what you say in the headline, though. (Personally, not an assignment. I’m no teacher.) It’s honestly a decent way of getting kiddies to start expanding their thinking a bit to realize that, to most people, their position makes sense to them, and of better understanding both how propaganda like this works. Now as an adult I actually try and take the time to figure out how another side could possibly believe the crazy position they are taking, and it’s helped my immensely when arguing my own points.
    This one’s a bit weird, and perhaps it’s better for a sociology class than an English writing class, but I don’t think it’s as completely heinous as it seems at first glance.

  6. lpalshaw
    lpalshaw says:

    I do not have a problem with the assignment, as long as the facts given are accurate. It was tied to subjects and content that was given in earlier classes. Hopefully those earlier classes provided the context for the assignment and was designed to get the kids to use those lessons to express that learning in written form. One of the biggest problems with today’s education is graduating high schoolers can not string more than three words together coherently.? Just look at the number of freshman college students that have to take remedial English and math in college.?

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