Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunday Confession: Wrath At A Fellow Teacher Edition

Bless me readers, for this morning I have committed the sin of wrath. I read these paragraphs:
A high school English teacher in New York state 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".
I had a moment of charity when I thought that this is a rookie teacher, but "[t]he district has not named the teacher, who was described as a veteran."

It was at that point that I uttered "how can anyone be so stupid and still breathe?" I may also have used a few words that are not safe for work, but I did not take the Lord's name in vain.

The goals of the assignment could have been met with a dozens of  prompts that do not smack of antisemitism.
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 the30s) may depend on it!"
Perhaps, the teacher should have read this recent New York Times article and learned that Nazis along with many regular citizens did not need much convincing:
Dr. Dean, a co-researcher, said the findings left no doubt in his mind that many German citizens, despite the frequent claims of ignorance after the war, must have known about the widespread existence of the Nazi camps at the time.

“You literally could not go anywhere in Germany without running into forced labor camps, P.O.W. camps, concentration camps,” he said. “They were everywhere.”
Although Hitler's Willing Executioners has been criticized as hyperbolic, the book makes the point more forcefully.

A bit of research and a little common sense would have prevented this whole situation.

3 comments:

Troy said...

The point of the exercise was to force one to defend/articulate a position outside what doesn't come naturally/get in the head of the other side.

In this case, if the audience is those already disposed to hate Jews, the arguments of persuasion will play on those biases. If one is not so disposed, the most effective arguments are different.

I think this is a good exercise and in the end will expose anti-Jewish bias in these students.

Kal Lis said...

I'm not feeling well today, so I can't give a full response.

I agree that exploring biases and trying to get students to deal with them is important. At same time, there are other ways to get there that would not anger the Jewish community in the area.

A well worded assignment could have them evaluate the use of logos, pathos and ethos in holocaust denial sites and gotten much of the same examination of bias

Troy Jones said...

Personally, I would welcome people trying to rationalize an anti-Catholic bias. Putting a bias on paper often exposes its folly.