A teacher at Albany High School has been put on leave after igniting a brushfire of outrage in upstate New York with quite possibly the worst persuasive writing assignment ever: she asked students to put themselves into a pair of black leather stormtrooper boots and argue why the Jews are evil as if they were trying to convince some incisive Gestapo agent that they were loyal, goose-stepping members of the National Socialist Party.
An “edgy” writing assignment that former students would have used as a friend-making, crazy-high-school anecdote between bong rips in their freshman dorm quickly turned into local controversy this week. The offending teacher, whom Albany school district officials are not naming, was not in class on Friday when the Albany Times Union first reported about the assignment. At a hastily-convened press conference Friday afternoon, Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard assured parents and outraged community members that teacher will most definitely face some punishment, though it wasn’t yet clear if that punishment would come in the form of a letter of reprimand or outright termination.
According to the Times Union, Wyngaard also said that the school district will now begin the hard work of making amends for the teacher’s shitty writing prompt:
She did not say when the district would allow the teacher back in the classroom and suggested it may not happen before the end of the year. The district will also bring in sensitivity trainers from the Anti-Defamation League to work with teachers and students before the end of the school year.
At a news conference on Friday with members of the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Federation of New York, Vanden Wyngaard apologized to the community for the assignment and said diversity is valued deeply in the district. She said she was shocked at the insensitive lesson and the awful leap it asked students to make. "You asked a child to support the notion that the Holocaust was justified, that's my struggle," she said. "It's an illogical leap for a student to make."
That “illogical step” that students were asked to make started with the following prompt (not the overzealous use of the exclamation point, as pioneered by Elaine Benes): “You must argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!" Ick.
As reasonably well-adjusted adults who spend a lot of time on the Internet, we can all probably step back and agree that the teacher in this case was using an inflammatory prompt about Nazis to make a point about persuasive writing. “Do you see, students?” the teacher probably said, ignoring that voice in the back of his or her head insisting that it wasn’t too late to stop talking and just dismiss the class. “Do you see how even the world’s most terrible ideas can be put into motion with the magic of persuasive writing? Joseph Goebbels was the ultimate persuasive writer! Be like Joseph Goebbels and craft an essay that will convince us all that you’re a genocidal maniac.”
However, nothing ever good comes from pretending that you’re a Nazi, and there is literally an infinite number of FAR BETTER persuasive writing prompts, such as, “Convince me that you, a human high school student, are actually a glass of apple cider,” or “Convince me that you’re an acorn that is running for the mayor of Oakton on an anti-squirrel platform. Make me believe that you despise squirrels.” The Nazi prompt isn’t just bigoted writing assignment — it’s also a cheap trick, a way to stir up the volatile psyches of high school students in an effort to engage them in a task that they hate, namely, writing essays.
'Nazi' theme draws leave [Times Union]