Students in Syracuse were given an essay assignment earlier this year which prompted them to stand in the shoes of Nazis and argue for or against killing millions of Jews in gas chambers.
In support of such an assignment is New York Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who believes it helps learn critical thinking.
"I think it's certainly a question where you want students to think on both sides and analyze ... which position a person is taking," the commissioner said. "That idea of being able to identify the perspective an article has or a writer has is a very important skill."
According to Syracuse.com, some of the senior students who were given the assignment complained to faculty who in turn offered an alternative subject. Elia was not aware that the Nazi assignment had been given locally, but said she would back it in the right context nonetheless:
Elia, who taught social studies near Buffalo for several years, said she would judge the appropriateness of the assignment based on the age of the students in the class, the material and background information leading up to the assignment, and how the assignment was presented in the class.
"Those factors would influence the appropriateness or not," she said. "The concept of having students identify a particular position is pretty critical, whether they can analyze a position, and then decide whether to agree or not."
The report goes on to state that prior to writing the essays, the class watched the movie Conspiracy about the Wannsee Conference where the “Final Solution” was devised. Also, the Anti-Defamation League weighed in, asking that the essay prompt never be issued again and stated, “no assignment should ever be given that even hints at there being two sides to the Holocaust.”
Several readers at Syracuse.com felt the same, and in the comments section asked if an assignment like this would’ve ever been okayed if the subject matter was different:
One can only imagine how differently NY Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia might react -- at least publicly -- to defending a return to slavery and random lynchings for African-Americans.
Does that foster "critical thinking" as well, Madame Commissioner?