Folks, critical thinking is hard. Often we are asked to put ourselves into impossible situations in order to gain insight into or develop sympathy for a controversial topic. These kinds of thought exercises are necessary because they teach students to challenge fixed beliefs.
But sometimes, an instructor poses a question that requires us to ask them a critical question. Such a question may most adequately be expressed as: “What the hell were you thinking?”
A still unnamed teacher from Albany High School in Albany, New York is facing disciplinary action after they assigned a pro-Nazi, anti-Jew essay.
The high school English teacher told their students to “think like a Nazi” and “describe how Jews are the source of all the world’s problems” in a letter to the Nazi government. Actually, isn’t a government typically the source of the world’s problems?
The students were encouraged to “use pathos, ethos, logos” and other Latin words to convince a member of the SS that “Jews are evil.” They were also asked to hold their pinky against their mouth and demand one million dollars as they handed it in.
The teacher told the students that they could argue the paper from any of the following options: genocidal, anti-semitic, racist, or any combination of the three! Because this time of year, we have to look back at the good “ole” days of the Holocaust.
Before I continue, let me say that this exact scenario is a perfectly acceptable thought-question for students working towards their Master’s in Philosophy – it is probably not a good choice for 16-year-olds.
So, that being said, now I have to ask…What happened in this teachers life to make them suicidal? After all, New York has one of the largest Jewish populations that I know of. Did this person not get invited to a bar mitzvah or something? How did this person get the opportunity to get fired? I am surprised one of the Jewish students didn’t go all “blitzkrieg” on their ass!
Did this English Instructor just walk into class and say, “Okay class, here’s your assignment: write a really xenophobic paper about how the world would be better off if we killed off a large population of the planet. 5 pages, double-spaced, one-hour – GO!”
If this teacher hadn’t been suspended, what would tomorrow’s assignment be? A Pro-Slavery Rant? Or would they have slowed it down and discussed why lime Jell-O is the most awesome flavor ever?
But I guess we should cut this person some slack, right? I mean after all, it’s almost impossible to find any decent critical thinking topics…other than maybe pro/anti: gun arguments, abortion debates, marriage equality, sex equality, which one of the My Little Ponies is the cutest from the prospective of a Brony. Of course, those topics aren’t as interesting as writing about the decimation of an entire people.
Why not use a fictitious people? James Cameron created an amazing movie about the destruction of the Native American people caused by European Expansion that earned billions of dollars. He just made the Natives tall, slender, and blue – voila, now it is a sci-fi story!
But no, let’s disparage an entire race to their face! It’s no wonder half the students kicked their desks over in protest and refused to do the assignment. Was that the point then? Was this teacher recreating Stanley Milgram’s experiments on authority? (You know the ones: guy tells you to keep electrocuting a stranger and the stranger dies.) Was this all a science project for an English teacher who secretly dreamed they were a trained psychologist? Obviously, this teacher redefined the National Institutes of Health’s one research stipulation that says “no experiment can be conducted if it could cause harm to its participants.” Or did the instructor not realize that some of their students may have been Jewish? And that those students may have felt anxiety and distress about being asked to define themselves as evil? Are his students evil? Is Albany High School secretly training Super-Villains or fodder for Voldemort’s Army? Is the guy just a dick?
Superintendent of Schools, Marguerite Wyngaard, said that “while the assignment may not have been malicious in nature, it does show a level of insensitivity that we will not tolerate.” Insensitive? Parking in the Handicapped spot because its raining and you don’t want to walk is insensitive. Hitting on the widow at her husbands funeral is insensitive. Telling someone with a thyroid condition to exercise harder is insensitive. Referring to Native Americans as Indians is insensitive. Cheering Gargamel on as he attempts to cook the Smurfs is insensitive. On a scale of 1 to 10 on the insensitivity scale, this is clearly a 47.
This isn’t the first time a teacher has gotten in trouble for poor judgment. Last year, I broke the story of a teacher from Trinidad Center City School using Singapore Math. For those that cannot remember, Singapore Math uses word problems like: Billy the Slave needs a beating. If you beat your slave, Billy, 14 times a day for four days, three times an hour the next day, and 8 times a minute the following Wednesday…will your other slaves screw up like Billy did?
In a world where most of our students have no clue what the President can actually do…in a world where many Americans do not understand how a person can be born as a U.S. citizen…in a world where students keep using semi-colons as a comma…Don’t you think, just maybe, there are other more important lessons our young people need to learn?