School apologizes over pro-Nazi essay assignment

Eric Pfeiffer

It’s safe to say that “thinking like a Nazi” is not the most sound advice when it comes to assignments in high school, or in any academic institution for that matter.

And as such, a high-school in New York has formally apologized for assigning students homework that tasked them with writing a hypothetical essay on how they were sympathetic to Adolf Hitler’s former regime and that “Jews are evil and the source of our problems.”

The Albany Times Union reports that 10th-grade students at Albany High School were given the assignment as part of a critical thinking exercise where they are challenged to make an “abhorrent argument.”

"You must argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!" say the assignment instructions for the five-paragraph essay.

Approximately one-third of the students refused to take part in the exercise. The English teacher who assigned the project has not been identified, and the school district has declined to say whether the instructor will face any disciplinary action.

Contrarian thinking is at the root of strong debate skills, but the assignment arguably pushed students out acceptable logical boundaries. And it’s not the only such recent case of questionable homework. In February, another New York school tasked students with formulating a math equation using the whippings given to an African-American slave as the variable.

And in March 2012, a Washington, D.C., teacher was fired after assigning violent math problems to students.

Beyond making the abhorrent argument, students were encouraged to watch and read Nazi party propaganda materials. They were told to imagine their instructor as a Nazi government official who was demanding proof of their loyalty.

"I would apologize to our families," Albany Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard told the paper. "I don't believe there was malice or intent to cause any insensitivities to our families of Jewish faith."

Vanden attributed the assignment style to a new Common Core curriculum enacted by the state, which requires more sophisticated writing standards.