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English assignment using Nazi propaganda embarrasses Albany, N.Y.

April 12, 2013|By Michael Muskal
  • Albany High School in November. Albany's schools superintendent apologized for the wording of the Nazi assignment.
Albany High School in November. Albany's schools superintendent… (Lori Van Buren / Albany Times…)

An upstate New York school district has become the latest to learn that some educational approaches create special sensitivity problems, as in this case in which a high school teacher asked students to make a written argument good enough to “convince me you are loyal to the Nazis" by exhibiting a belief "that Jews are evil."

The assignment, sent to some students in English classes at the Albany High School called on the children to research Nazi propaganda and then assume the teacher was a German official who needed to be convinced of their loyalty.

“You must argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!” according to the assignment posted on the newspaper website of the    Albany Times Union, which first wrote about the assignment.

About a third of the students refused to do the work.

School officials were obviously embarrassed by the assignment, which came just after the Jewish celebration of Passover, the holiday that commemorates the Biblical flight of Hebrew slaves from Egypt.

The exercise was intended to challenge students to formulate a persuasive argument and was given to three classes, Albany Supt. Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard told the newspaper. 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.”

The teacher has not been named.

The Albany incident is a slightly different twist on educators using personal and historic events to try make education more palatable.

In January, a Manhattan public school tried to mix slavery with mathematics with similarly embarrassing results.

One of the questions that led to community ire and sensitivity training for teachers was: “One slave got whipped five times a day. How many times did he get whipped in a month (31 days)? Another slave got whipped nine times a day. How many times did he get whipped in a month? How many times did the two slaves get whipped together in one month?”


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