The Clare Spark Blog

April 14, 2013

Pretend you are a Nazi

From Julius Streicher's Der Sturmer

From Julius Streicher’s Der Sturmer

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/13/nyregion/albany-teacher-gives-pro-nazi-writing-assignment.html?smid=fb-share

http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/School-apologizes-for-Nazi-writing-assignment-4428669.php

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/04/13/my-take-nothing-wrong-with-nazi-assignment/

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2013/04/14/albany_teacher_who_assigned_nazi_essay_put_on_leave.html

http://metro.co.uk/2013/04/14/nazi-letter-teacher-placed-on-leave-as-new-york-pupils-say-it-didnt-make-sense-3615363/

Immediately above, I have compiled some of the stories about an assignment that asked three sophomore classes in English at Albany High School to pretend that the student was persuading a Nazi who had power over him or her,  that s/he acquiesced in the core principle of Nazi propaganda: that Jews are evil. Subsequent to this assignment, students were to read Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night. (On Wiesel’s memoir, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_(book). On Wiesel’s generally conservative politics, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elie_Wiesel.)  According to one report, the “pretend you are a Nazi”assignment was a response to the Common Core curriculum mandated by the federal government that English students be able to write about problems usually taught in history classes. (I have written previously on the Common Core curriculum, noting its critics and adherents: https://clarespark.com/2013/01/05/american-fascism-and-the-future-of-english-and-american-literature/.

The teacher’s name is not given, but has been put on leave, and there is talk of potential termination.

I find this incident very disturbing, as this unnamed teacher is being harshly disciplined before all the facts are in. And  no group holds the moral high ground in this scandal.

We do know (or should know) that antisemitism took a new turn in the 19th century, and that in addition to the usual accusation of deicide, Jews were now held responsible for all the revolutions and other dislocations of modernity. It is dubious that the Albany high school classes in any subject whatsoever taught a single word about antisemitism, though some European countries (Sweden for instance) have dealt with the mechanics of the Holocaust, and I would hope that they include the politics of those countries that participated in the extermination of European Jewry, and that such courses explored the mass appeal of Hitler. I would also hope that teaching about antisemitism is not diluted by inclusion on the general subject of “diversity” (On my blogs on antisemitism, see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/29/index-to-blogs-on-antisemitism/, but especially this one: https://clarespark.com/2009/07/29/the-centrality-of-the-holocaust-to-nazi-war-aims/. The illustration for this blog was taken from a Suffolk England “diversity” program that misspelled Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer.)

From the press reports listed above, I have seen no evidence that the anonymous teacher adequately prepared her or his students for the performance of such an obviously provocative assignment. It appears that liberal Jewish organizations are quick to condemn the assignment. One might ask, however, what have they ever done to insist on the accurate teaching of European history after the French Revolution, with special attention to Jew-hatred and finger-pointing? Or have these same organizations cowered in their own little corners, hoping not to “make trouble” but simultaneously adding to the international silence over a history that should have been uncovered and thoroughly publicized long ago?

Finally, to those who find the assignment, no matter how carefully prepared, distasteful and even verboten, may I suggest that it is impossible to do history at all without projecting oneself into the brains and hearts of even the most horrifying characters in our specie’s usually rotten history. Every artist understands this, so why is the goody-goody general public so inadequately prepared, emotionally and intellectually, to understand their opposition? It appears that our adulation of the military is missing the key ingredient of victory: know thy enemy.

[A note on the illustration from Streicher’s pornographic rag: out of the ten ugly Jews depicted on Streicher’s poster, five are wearing the caps of the working class. Recall that anticommunism was the chief appeal of the Nazi Party, and that Bolsheviks were held by Hitler to be lying Jews who were mere fronts for finance capital. Hitler presented himself as the true protector of the German working class/the Volk, while (he claimed) Jews were their worst exploiters and enemies, the anti-race par excellence. It not enough to say that Nazis viewed the Jews as evil, as did this surely well-meaning, but undereducated, high school English teacher.]

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