A pair of high school students who take classes at SUNY Oswego via a specialized program are upset at an assignment their “Principles of Literary Representation” class received: Defend Hitler’s Final Solution.
CiTi/BOCES New Vision program teacher Michael DeNobile handed out a “Top Secret memorandum” to the class “addressed to senior Nazi party members.” It asked students “to put themselves in the shoes of Adolf Hitler’s top aides,” according to a report at Syracuse.com.
Students Archer Shurtliff and Jordan April, who ended up on opposite sides of the, er, “debate” wondered: Does DeNobile really want students to argue in favor of “the Nazis’ justification for genocide?”
Although the lesson does tell students it is “not for you to be sympathetic to the Nazi point of view,” and is just “an exercise on expanding your point of view,” Shurtliff and April allege it created a rather intolerant atmosphere.
One student did a Nazi salute in class, they say, and another said he wished he’d been assigned the pro-Holocaust side “because Heil Hitler, duh.”
The students brought their concerns over the assignment to DeNobile, administrators in the New Vision program and educators at their home schools.
The classroom assignment took them on a mission: To make sure no other student would be asked to argue in favor of killing Jews again.
They carefully documented each meeting and conversation with their teachers. They researched other cases, including one in which a teacher was disciplined.
They came up with dozens of alternate assignments and materials that didn’t force kids to argue on behalf of mass killings. They contacted the Anti-Defamation League, which advocates for Jews.
Within a few days, an alternative assignment was offered. Jordan wrote about America’s AIDS crisis and response. Archer wrote about the internment of Japanese-Americans and compensation paid to survivors.
The students said they weren’t satisfied with the administration’s response.
They are calling for an apology, for the program to retract the assignment completely, and agree to never give it again.
Despite the alternative assignment offered, many chose to stick with the original.
Archer and Jordan say DeNobile and administrators defended the assignment, claiming they were told “the essay was a lesson in having to do things you don’t like, and in seeing the other side of an argument.”
But Shurtliff shoots down this rationalization rather easily: “It’s settled opinion. You can’t say that Jews deserve to die. It should be a settled thing.”
Um, yeah. ‘Ya think?
In a letter to New Vision officials, Anti-Defamation League Education Director Beth Martinez wrote
There is no assignment that could ever be given to students that even hints at their [sic] being “two sides” to the “Final Solution”/Holocaust that would be pedagogically or morally sound, and we are very disturbed that students are reportedly being asked to be a part of this.
Indeed, the assignment says the objective is for students to go “outside [their] comfort zone” and to train their brains “to logistically find the evidence necessary to prove a point.”
High schoolers — vouching for the annihilation of an entire people is … merely going “outside their comfort zone”? Lovely.
When was the last time an attorney defended a client’s mass murder on the premise that the victims deserved it? In such cases, don’t lawyers usually base a defense on some sort of extenuating circumstances — like mental illness?
Should students attempt to argue that an entire country’s population was (literally) insane … ?