A New York high school has apologized after students were assigned the task of “explaining why Jews are evil” as part of a persuasive writing class and the teacher responsible has been placed on leave, reports the Albany Times Union.
TheTimes Union broke the story last Friday, reporting that sudents at Albany High School were asked to watch and read Nazi propaganda, and then pretend their English teacher was a fascist official whom they must convince of their loyalty.
Around 75 kids were told to they “must argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich” in five paragraphs.
Participants were urged to use information garnered from their history classes as well as “any experiences you have” to present a damning appraisal of the Jewish people. However, around one-third of the 10th graders involved refused to take part in the assignment, prompting a speedy respsonse from school staff.
“I would apologize to our families,” Albany Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard told a meeting called in response to the incident. “I don’t believe there was malice or intent to cause any insensitivities to our families of Jewish faith.”
The teacher responsible for the controversial class could face further disciplinary action including possible dismissal, reported the Times Union. Vanden Wyngaard did not say when or if the district would allow the teacher back in the classroom, but suggested it may not happen before the end of the year.
The incident has drawn the wrath of faith groups. “The assignment is flawed in its essence,” Rabbi David M. Eligberg of Temple Israel, a Conservative synagogue, told the New York Times. “It asks students to take the product for a propaganda machine and treat it as legitimate fodder for a rational argument. And that’s just wrong.”
Students were advised to incorporate elements of the teachings of Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher who espoused arguing through the persuasive trident of logos (reasoning), pathos (emotional appeal) and ethos (author’s character). However, the Albany lesson appears to have more in common with the sophists, opponents of Aristotle, who believed that they could convince people of any untruth through the use of specious arguments.