Friday, April 12, 2013

Who thought this was okay?????

היום אחד שבעה עשר יום שהם שני שבועות ושלשה ימים בעמר
Today is seventeen days, which is two weeks and three days of the omer
תפארת שבתפארת
A day of compassion in a week of compassion

The news has brought me some new ways to teach about the Holocaust, as I wrote about last week in my post about the "Jew in a Box" in an exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Berlin. And then there are the posts that show you how and what not to teach, as I read in this article in Tablet magazine about a high school teacher whose students had to write an essay based on Nazi propaganda called, "Why Jews are Evil."

Although some could argue the point--and I'm sure will--I can see using a variation of that assignment in a class about the Holocaust to impress upon the students how much effect propaganda can have on a large propaganda. Especially when the people in power are extremely skilled in the use of propaganda and how to spread it, as the Nazi leadership certainly was. As I set the stage for the economic, political, and sociological factors that were in play during Hitler's rise to total power, my students need to see how pervasive propaganda can be. This exercise is something that could have taken place in a German classroom in the 1930s. And it would help convince those kids, as well as there families, that Jews were indeed evil and the cause of all their problems.

But that lesson would have to be carefully planned, executed, and given the correct context. The lesson that was done in the Albany, New York, classroom was far from that. According to an article in the Albany Times Union newspaper, the school superintendent said she understood the academic intent of the assignment — to make an argument based only on limited information at hand. She was quoted as saying "I don't believe there was malice or intent to cause any insensitivities to our families of Jewish faith." Her problem with the assignment was that it was worded in an offensive manner.

How can someone in education not see that giving this assignment could give students the impression that the information was based in truth. It can give students reasons to believe that Jews are evil--after all, they learned this in school. How could this teacher, any teacher, think this is okay?

One third of the students refused to do the assignment--what about the other two thirds. What did they learn?

In class this week, my students said they didn't believe this sort of propaganda could have the same effect today. Maybe I'll share this story with them and see what they think. It will give me another reason to give them as to why it is important to learn about this, to be aware of the damage the propaganda, once released into the world, can do. Even more than eighty years later.

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