April 13th, 2013
02:38 PM ET

My Take: Nothing wrong with Nazi assignment

Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

(CNN) – School officials in Albany, New York, are racing to control the damage after a teacher at Albany High School gave students a persuasive writing assignment that challenged them to defend the proposition that “Jews are evil.”

After studying Nazi propaganda and rhetoric, sophomores in three English classes were instructed to imagine that their teacher was “a member of the government in Nazi Germany” and to prove that that they were “loyal to the Nazis.”

But this unidentified teacher is now caught up in a propaganda swirl of his or her own.

Albany Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, at a Friday press conference at which she was flanked by members of the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Federation of New York, apologized and promised disciplinary action.

One student, Emily Karandy, told The Times Union of Albany that she kept putting off the assignment “because I didn’t want to think about it” and she felt “horrible” when she turned it in.

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New York City Councilman David Greenfield has called for the resignation of the teacher, who has been placed on leave.

"The teacher responsible for coming up with and assigning students with this task must be held accountable for attempting to indoctrinate children with anti-Semitic beliefs," Greenfield said in a statement. "Quite obviously, this teacher lacks the judgment and common sense necessary to have a position of such great responsibility and is clearly not fit to return to the classroom."

"You asked a child to support the notion that the Holocaust was justified, that's my struggle," said Vanden Wyngaard. "It's an illogical leap for a student to make."

I think it’s Greenfield who is lacking in common sense here. And it's the superintendent who is being illogical.

I suppose it is possible that the teacher is a closet Nazi attempting to reconstruct the Third Reich in Albany. But isn’t it more likely that he or she is trying to teach students about the dangers of propaganda and the horrors of the Holocaust?

Consider the student who felt “horrible” about doing this assignment. Is that really a bad thing? How are high school students today supposed to feel about Nazism and the Holocaust?

Apparently, what they are supposed to feel (and think) is nothing, because the lesson high school teachers are going to take away from this fiasco is to avoid this topic at all costs, lest they risk losing their jobs.

When I was an assistant professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta, I used to teach Nazi theology. My students read sermons by Nazi theologians arguing that Jews were evil and were responsible for killing Jesus. They also read a book called “Theologians Under Hitler” by Robert P. Erickson, who tried to explain how and why Christian thinkers could come to believe that exterminating Jews was somehow Christ-like.

I am not a Nazi. I was not teaching Nazi theology as the truth. I was teaching it as propaganda, just like this Albany High School teacher was doing. My purpose was not to make my students sympathetic to Nazism. My purpose was to unsettle them. And to teach them something along the way.

I had two goals when teaching this material.

First, I wanted my students to realize that smart Christians with doctoral degrees supported the Holocaust. Second, I wanted them to grapple with the implications of this fact on their own religious commitments. Do Christians today have any responsibility to know this history and to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again? If so, how can they exercise that responsibility without coming to understand the contours of Nazi thought?

But instead of grappling with these questions, my students almost universally tried to side-step them. The Nazis were not Christians, they told me confidently, because Christians would never kill Jews just for being Jews. Case closed. Time to move on to more comfortable topics.

What I witnessed in Atlanta, and what we are seeing today in Albany, is a failure of imagination. My students were so locked into their current circumstances that they couldn’t imagine things being different in a different place and time.

For them, to believe that Christians could condone the Holocaust was (to quote from the Albany superintendent) an “illogical leap.” But Christians did condone the Holocaust. How can students learn that without digging into the primary materials? And how better to wrestle with those primary materials than by constructing a persuasive essay built upon them?

If I were teaching at Albany High School I might have worded this assignment a little differently. But it's a terrific assignment, and one that should be used at more high schools across the country. To far too many American youth, the Holocaust is an echo of an echo. Assignments like this bring it alive in all its horrors.

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But students aren't the only victims of the failure of imagination we are now witnessing among Albany school officials and Jewish leaders. The teacher is a victim, too. And so are public school teachers across the country who are being told via this fiasco not to be creative as teachers, not to challenge their students to think in new ways.

If this teacher is fired, I will invite him or her to Boston University, where I now teach, to explain what he or she was trying to accomplish in challenging students with this assignment. And I will give the same assignment to my college students. I think it will do them some good.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Culture wars • Education • Holocaust • Judaism • New York • Prejudice • United States

soundoff (1,829 Responses)
  1. Alias

    Okay, someone go ahead and call the ADL. I'm going to tell the truth!
    As a group, the jews support each other. This like the way the Mormons socialize with the people they attend church with. Both groups can be thought of as a subculture, and they can do better than average in many ways. If you look at history, the jews were doing better financially than the general population in Germany before WWII. This is not because they were evil, but their cooperation with each other led to success of individuals. This made others jealous. Hitler used that to unite the rest of the population against them. The original plan was to send them all to Madagascar, but that got too expensive. So he sent them to the gas chambers he made for the insane and disabled instead.
    Now, tell me why it is wrong to use this chapter in history to teach kids how Hitler got most of the population to go along with this?

    April 16, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • Chuckles


      Erm.... you're sort of correct. There are a couple of historical reasons why jews have done better as a group on average. In part it's because they were first encouraged to be money lenders and practice usury. It was a sin for everyone else so they let the jews, people already condemned to hell, to practice it. That coupled with the intense devotion jews have towards education, making sure every member is literate and able to read the torah by age 13 has led to jews being forced into a position of power and being forced at a young age to get a better all around education in the days when most kids were only trained in specific skills.

      Your assesment on why hitler targeted the jews is partly correct. Judaism was flourishing in 1920's Germany like never before due to it being on the more open places in Europe and jewish intergration from the liberal sects. Using their education, they were able to get ahead which definitely built up resentment which hitler played off of, coupled with anti-semitism that was inherent in christianity at the time.

      However, your last question completely misses the point of the article. No one wants to stop the education on this subject, and if the assignment had been to discuss what the propaganda that the Nazi's used to turn the citizenry against jews that would have been a good assignment, instead it asked the student to use the nazi's own words in order to bolster hate speech. The paper was designed to give a student a better grade based on how much hate and nazi propaganda he could work into a paper. That's a bad assignment and not a good teaching tool. That's why there's been controversy over this.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  2. Live4Him

    @Akira : Both Nazism and the KKK are shameful, and need to be taught, so misguided morons don't get it into their ignorant heads that this is appropriate.

    What was wrong with Nazism and KKK? How did these movements get started? These are the questions that the hoi polloi never think about. It starts with some charasmatic individual advancing a solution to a recognized problem. This is built upon by appealing to the people's emotions, rather than logic. Once their emotions are under the influence of this charasmatic individual(s), then the radical leaps of faith are possible. For example:

    1) Women are 'weaker than men', therefore they need to be controlled by men.
    2) Blacks are 'stupid' (because they were never given the chance at a education), therefore they are sub-human and should be slaves.
    3) Blacks are 'destroying to our Southern way of life', so we need to drive them out and purify our race.
    4) Jews are the cause of our (i.e. Germany) nation's economic downturn, so lets take back what is ours!
    5) God cannot be seen, so we can ignore God's Word.
    6) Gay couples are treated differently the other couples, so they need to have 'equal rights'!

    Each of these arguments begins with one or more facts, and then switches over to an emotional appeal. As you stated, 'misguided morons' feel this is appropriate because it gives them a feeling of control.

    April 16, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Alias

      you forgot:
      7 I think god exists, so you all have to do what he says

      April 16, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • Reasonably

      Ignorance, fear and jealousy.

      April 16, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • Akira

      Are you kidding me? Have you not read the comments?

      Why don't you tell me what was right about these organizations, mmmkay?

      Instead of reading just this last page of comments, please read *all* of them before cherry picking one out 1,709 to open your conversation with.

      April 16, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • Live4Him

      @Akira : Instead of reading just this last page of comments, please read *all* of them

      Why read all 23 pages? It would be a waste of time.

      @Alias : I think god exists, so you all have to do what he says

      You're missing a beginning fact and the emotional appeal, so it doesn't fit into my postulate.

      April 16, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Giggles

      Ya, TwistIt4Him is at it again.

      April 16, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
    • Greg

      Live4Him's postulate must have healed over years ago.

      April 16, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • Greg

      "Why read all 23 pages?"

      Wine early in the day, Live?

      April 16, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      You are in serious need of some real history lessons. You clearly do not know what you are talking about.

      April 16, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • Akira

      Live, because you would see that it's been asked and answered, that's why.
      And mostly excused by the people who want to put their fingers in their ears and chant "I can't hear you, naaa naaa naaaaaa, has nothing to do with today or Christianity".
      The answers you want to know is the precise reason for this article...did you not read it, either?

      April 16, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      That list is low even for you. the last two are completely ridiculous. Do you really think that that's the thought process that people go through when it comes to atheism and equal rights? Pathetic.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  3. Reality

    Stevie P's Religion Department's name should be changed to the Mostly Myth Department. Time we skip his commentaries.

    And it is time to change the name of this blog to "What Beliefs?" as in the 21st century most if not all religious beliefs are bogus. Or better yet, disband the blog altogether.

    April 16, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • Live4Him

      @Reality : most if not all religious beliefs are bogus.

      If God is not real, then evolution would appear to be true. If evolution were true, then it would seem reasonable that the standards upheld in Humanist Manifesto are likely. If these were true, then higher evolved humans would seek opportunities to build up / help their fellow humans. Yet, we don't observe this on this forum. So, either lower evolved humans come to this forum or Humanist Manifesto has been falsified. If it is falsified, then it is likely that evolution will also be falsified.

      If God IS real, then it would appear that the Bible could also be true. The Bible describes demons as the enemy of God's followers. Demons are also described as spirits that attempt to destroy God's creation – including those people within His creation. If these demons are real, then we should see people intent on belittling others who have a differing viewpoint – especially when that viewpoint is held by a follower of this God. Likewise, those people who are already heading toward destruction would be encouraged to stay on their current path. Interestly, this is what we find on this forum. We find people unwilling to engage in logical discourse, while they seek to belittle and mock Christians.

      This is something to think about.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      LOL are you really serious with that stupidity? Really? Please tell me you don't think that's some kind of "deep musing" that is actually in any way valid.

      April 16, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
    • Reality


      Joe Smith had his Moroni. (As does M. Romney)

      "Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."

      Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

      Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

      Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented. (As does BO and his family)(As do Biden and Ryan)

      The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

      Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie/horn-blowing thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

      And of course each of these religions have their demons of the demented e.g. Satan, Beelzebub, djinn (jinn) et al.

      April 16, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
  4. Ellery Davies

    CNN Belief Blog contributor, Stepehn Prothero, and I are in "violent agreement". It seems immediately evident that the school teacher who assigned the task of defending the anti-Semitic position of the Third Reich was encouraging students to imagine the insipid growth of hate, the breakdown in personal ethics and compassion, and the capacity for a movement to disrupt or distort the moral fiber of an otherwise intellectual and philosophical community.

    While I would hope that the teacher would also discuss personal connections to the Holocaust, monitor intense emotional reaction, and make allowances for alternate methods of completing the assignment, I fully support the apparent and somewhat gifted approach to instruction.

    Prothero said

    I suppose it is possible that the teacher is a closet Nazi attempting to reconstruct the Third Reich in Albany. But isn’t it more likely that he or she is trying to teach students about the dangers of propaganda and the horrors of the Holocaust?


    Students aren't the only victims of the failure of imagination we are now witnessing among Albany school officials and Jewish leaders. The teacher is a victim, too.

    I agree wholeheartedly. It is possible that the teacher should have cleared this unconventional assignment with the principal, PTA or education committee, but then, it is all too possible that tin-plated potentates who cannot think out of the box might squash an incredible teaching opportunity.

    Like the CNN writer above, I invite this errant teacher to contact me and consider elevating his gifts into a more progressive school system. Because of teachers like him or her, we may actually have a chance to avert a Third Reich in our future.

    Ellery Davies
    Chief Editor, awildduck (d0t) com
    I respond to comments. Use the contact form at my Blog

    April 16, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • Pickle

      I can't wait for them to assign writing a paper about being part of the KKK and dragging blacks behind trucks, or burning their houses down, for all the economic benefit and such. You'll support that too, right?

      April 16, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • Akira

      Inasmuch that the KKK is a Christian organization, perhaps it should.
      A far better qassignment would be to have the positions reversed, and have the white people being lynched and dragged behind pickups, Pickle.

      April 16, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • Pickle

      The KKK did not in any way follow what Jesus said regardless of their 'religion'. Jesus gave the perfect example of someone with the power of God at his disposal, and when faced with roman soldiers about to beat him to near death, blood everywhere, he still went through with it and didn't say anything to stop them, do anything, or ask for help. The KKK has no idea who Jesus is.

      As for the 6 milliion Jews killed, that's real, that dragging behind a truck real. It's death, real death. I want to see them assign a paper about how good it is to drag blacks behind trucks, so I can be convinced it's "good" to kill 6 million jews in much the same manner... real death.

      April 16, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • Greg

      This exercise of this article has your mind in a pickle, Pickle? Try something more your speed. Jack and Jill for instance.

      April 16, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • Akira

      I agree, Pickle, but one must face the reality that these things DID happen, and never talking about them isn't the way to ensure it doesn't happen again.
      Obviously, teaching the Bible isn't enough, or they would not have hgappened in the first place.

      April 16, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      I love it when christians deny other christians because they aren't the right kind of christian.

      This was more an assignment to be able to present a solid argumnet, not to debate the actual topic, ut to learn to be able to argue on any topic.

      The KKK is a christian organisation, they believe in the same god as you, and feel they are justified because of their belief...same as Hitler.

      I had a similar assignment when I was in high school, and I got the vast majority of my information from my German grandmother who was in Germany and watched Hitlers rise to power, and the taking over of Germany by the Nazi party.
      She was able to give insight to me from both sides (rather all sides as there were more than two).

      In our discussions, I learned a great deal about how and why everything transpired, from one who lived there at the time. I got to know a part of my grandmother that even my mother had never heard. It was because of the open discussion that I gained a better understanding of the people I come from and more importantly a valued member of my family.

      Though there were many very contoversial things in my final paper, I received an A, but gained more knowledge and understanding than I evr thought when I first started. My assignment was when I was in the 9th grade, and only the worst students were not able to grasp and wrangle with the information that was discussed.

      Try doing the assignment...you will learn more than you can imagine, if you choose the right sources of information.

      April 16, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
    • Pickle

      Hardly a peep if it's the Holocaust, or Jesus... step on his name, lie about him, say it never happened, no miracles, it's all OK for some reason. But the minute you assign a paper saying just one black is having his house burned down, or he's being drug behind a truck, and everyone gets upset.

      Assign the KKK paper, I dare you.

      April 16, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      It is likely that if Hitler actually was an atheist ( he was christian), the holocaust would never have happened.
      Instead he took his version of his belief and felt justifed by his god to kill jews, atheists, muslims, mentally and chronic/terminally ill people. Just shows how twisted the religious mind can get.

      How many muslims deny the fact that Osama was muslim i wonder.

      April 16, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • Greg

      How about if it's five apples and a pear, Pickle? Dimwit. Run along and play now.

      April 16, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • Akira

      I think Hitler would have done what Hitler did, regardless.
      Hitler was a madman.

      Pickle, if you are in a teaching position, assign it. Otherwise, I don't know what point you're trying to drive home.
      Both Nazism and the KKK are shameful, and need to be taught, so misguided morons don't get it into their ignorant heads that this is appropriate.

      April 16, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • Saraswati


      I disagree. You really have to twist yourself in knots to take a belief system which hails a Jew (and his mother) as heroes and make that kind of race based anti-Jewish argument out of it. What we saw in Germany was no different than what we saw in the anti-Chinese slaughter in Malaysia or the anti-Asian movement in Uganda – people rebelling against and trying eliminate to a minority they felt got more than its share. We've seen it before and we'll see it again...largely due to people's refusal to accept the real causes of these issues.

      April 16, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Possibly, but after studying him, I think a lot of his motivation was based on his belief in god, and what god wanted him to do.

      He was a megalomaniac and insane in a( or many) way(s), but also a military and economic genius. I wonder if he would have gone so far if his belief in god wasn't his motivation. After reading his own words, in his book, his speeches, I think he may have found a different motivation, but I am convinced the outcome would be vastly different.

      April 16, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • Chuckles


      Honestly, I have chills just thinking of Hitler actually not believing in god. Obviously this is only personal opinion, but Akira is right, Hitler was a meglomaniac madman. One of the only things that really stopped him was his pride and his belief that what he was doing was exactly the right thing and that god had his back.

      Who knows, maybe without god he would not committed the atrocities he did. Then again the world also saw a man like Stalin who was ruthless in promoting Communism and killed upwards of 20 million russians and he didn't need god to do it.

      April 16, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
    • Alias

      If Hitler believed in god or not is a pointless debate. If he used religion to unite his followres, or if he used hate to unite them against others is a better question.
      Now, back to the article: If this was done correctly it could have opened a lot of minds to what can wrong in a society.
      This is why we study history.

      April 16, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Intersesting point.
      At the same time as Hitler was doing his thing, the Ja panese had invaded china with a great deal of needless slaughter. The Ja panese basically wanted to enslave or kill all of China. so who knows.

      Anyway...too depressing on a day like today to postulate...thanks for the input though.

      April 16, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • Science

      Rc My mother in law is a survior of the A bomb...................History !

      April 16, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • lol??

      Why post your desires here? You don't see the dyed-in the-wool bully socies actin' tuff?? They'll malign Christ all day long to support Hitler and his tactics. Once those dogs taste blood its all over for the sheep.

      April 16, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  5. 8conor8

    I thought that this was a well written-article with an interesting focus. Teaching about complex and delicate ideas, periods or events of our world's history can be a minefield...but to challenge students and make them think and grapple with these complex issues...to create empathetic and critically thoughtful individuals that do not run away from difficult issues is necessary. I would have worded this assignment differently, but in no means do I think that this teacher was preaching hate or antisemitism at all...with out getting children to think of these issues and events how do we in turn talk, grow and evolve?

    April 16, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • lol??

      evolve? snap snap fingers, from mary poppins, all better now. hurt go by by.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • Akira

      Obviously, lol?? is a Holocaust denier.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:34 am |
    • lol??

      akira, you are a kook. Didn't learn anything from your Hitler socie pal?? Apparently not. ! out of 3 americultian woemen have slaughtered children in their own ovens. So much for inheritance, which BTW, is a huge Biblical theme.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • Akira

      *I'm* a kook? Haven't you learned what socialist is, yet? Hint: just because it was in the official title, socialism had nothing to do with the Nazi platform.
      This isn't about abortion, and I understand your passionate opinion on the subject, while completely ignoring those who have already been born, such as your denial of the Holocaust.
      If you cannot stay focused on the topic at hand, buy a diary.
      You are inexorable in your ignorance.

      April 16, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • lol??

      educated akira? What I see from you and the other dogs is rationalization. It serves your antichrist agenda.

      April 16, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
  6. lol??

    It's amazing. The tactics that socies use to deflect the horror of one of their own going bad, is steeped in denial. Yup, Hitler was a good socie that got corrupted by Christianity. TSK TSK Too bad Mary Poppins wasn't around to snap her fingers.

    "Mat 7:20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."

    April 16, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • The real Tom

      Blah, blah, fvcking blah.

      April 16, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • Greg

      I am all for helping the mentally challenged experience life to its fullest, but there are some posting here who would be best relegated to internet sites "with rubber walls". (lol??)

      April 16, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • Akira

      Obviously, lol?? is too uneducated to know that its own party wants to do away with the EPA, established in 1969 under Nixon, so its own party can pollute at will for the almighty dollar.
      Of course, there's no verse about that in the Bible, which is apparently the only book it ever read.

      April 16, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
  7. lol??

    ."........................Anne Frank who wrote, "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart................." Very woeman antichrist and unTrue.. The humanoids are dirtball dustballs that need a savior. Socies feel gud about NOT needing a savior. Party on..

    April 16, 2013 at 9:45 am |
    • The real Tom

      Lay off the bottle. Your liver will thank you if you haven't already destroyed it.

      April 16, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • lol??

      "Mar 10:18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? [there is] none good but one, [that is], God."

      April 16, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • Science

      lol?? you are in denial like austin..............or else you can't read that well ?

      April 16, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • lol??

      Science, YOU better start reading the writing on the well. See the pollution? Now run off and do something about your nuclear waste. Speakin' of power, check the integrity of some of the dams in this land, too. Some nuke plants are downstream.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • Akira

      Did you just call Anne Frank the anti-christ? Or am I reading your post incorrectly?
      It's so hard to decipher gibberish.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • Akira

      Well, the clear answer to that, lol??, would to get rid of the EPA, RIGHT??

      April 16, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • lol??

      Akira, have you ever heard what Jesus said to the first so-called pope?

      "Mar 8:33 But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men."

      April 16, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • Akira

      What does that have to do with the garbage you wrote above?
      Oh, that's right. Nothing.

      Looks like you hid from education.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:37 am |
    • lol??

      Akira sayz,
      "Well, the clear answer to that, lol??, would to get rid of the EPA, RIGHT??

      The EPA agents must have took the Obama Oath to receive their guns. Public servants protectin' the masters.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • The real Tom

      Ignore the idiot. It doesn't post anything but gibberish.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • Akira


      Obviously, lol?? is too uneducated to know that its own party wants to do away with the EPA, established in 1969 under Nixon, so its own party can pollute at will for the almighty dollar.
      Of course, there’s no verse about that in the Bible, which is apparently the only book it ever read.

      April 16, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      I agree with Tom
      lol?? is a ridiculous troll...do not feed the trolls

      April 16, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Also agreed. lol is a rather dim-witted troll. I'm not sure the motivation, but not really worth my time to figure it out.

      April 16, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  8. WASP

    more than just jews died during the holocaust, they are just the main ones we are taught about in school.

    April 16, 2013 at 9:38 am |
    • 8conor8

      Maybe at your school...I've learned and taught about all of those that were subject to this systematic culling. I would argue though that the Jewish people were by in large the main focus and the main group targeted...this was genocide. As such that should be the main focus.

      April 16, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • Saraswati

      The jews made up about 70% of those killed. And the Nazis provided the most content for their defense of dislike of this group so it would make the most sense for this kind of assignment (which I have previously argued should have been handled somewhat differently in a 10th grade class).

      April 16, 2013 at 11:02 am |
  9. GenYer

    I am totally offended. Why is it wrong to try and teach students to have their own opinions and their own thought process? Why is it that teachers are only allowed to say "because it just is what it is, no explanations, just do as I say?" That is not teaching, that is dictating. How sad and ignorant.

    April 16, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • 8conor8

      Welcome to education in a litigious society...to try to cover anything challenging, complex or disputed becomes a dangerous position for a teacher, especially when their job and livelihood can be put in jeopardy (unions aren't perfect...but they do provide a little bit of protection in situations such as this). Hence...the dumbing of America

      April 16, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • The real Tom

      8, I agree. Your posts are spot on.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:02 am |
  10. Meir Weiss

    Reblogged this on Meir Weiss' Blog.

    April 16, 2013 at 9:31 am |
  11. rs1201

    There's nothing to learn of any redeeming value from what the nazis did...nothing. Why on earth would we want our children to think as nazis did and to justify in their minds the crimes of the Holocaust.
    Misguided is the best word I can use to describe this teacher...who really should examine his own prejudices.

    April 16, 2013 at 9:28 am |
    • The real Tom

      There are many lessons to be learned from the rise of the Nazis to power. That you'd like to brush all of it under the rug is a big part of the problem. Do you now realize that the same sorts of genocides are occurring today?

      Honestly, I really have to wonder where some of you went to school.

      April 16, 2013 at 9:31 am |
    • Mcbobby

      What we can learn from them is: what not to do and think in order for that to never happen again.

      April 16, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • derp

      "who really should examine his own prejudices"

      Did you actually bother to read the whole article before making such a stupid comment.

      The teacher gave the assignment as a prelude to a class reading of "Night".

      You don't see any value in examining how the Nazi's used religion to justify one of the most horrible acts in human history.

      Maybe you didn't hear, but yesterday some ideological jerk blew up the Boston Marathon. Most likely because of his religious beliefs.

      Some of you people are too stupid for words.

      No, of course their is no value in examining why people would do that.

      April 16, 2013 at 9:34 am |
    • 8conor8

      “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”
      Karl Marx

      Meaning that without knowing the how and why something happens...it will happen over and over again...and if education could have stopped it from reoccurring...well, why didn't/wouldn't you?

      Learn about the Panic of 1819 here in the US and you will see many of the same ideas and approaches that lead to the current financial woes that we are experiencing....banks, no oversight, speculation and greed....but the banks are already hoping that you've forgotten all that so they can get rid of the oversight and continue to act with flagrant impunity....History, even dark and uncomfortable, is important.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • Saraswati

      rs, I agree it wasn't a well constructed assignment. I disagree, however, that there is no point in understanding the bad ideas of the past. How else are we to prepare agaist the inevitable return of similar ideas?

      April 16, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • The real Tom

      I don't think there's enough information to know whether the assignment was constructed well or not. The school system has gagged the teacher from speaking about it and we'll probably never know what his/her intent was regarding a follow-up lesson or anything else that might shed light on the issue.

      And the lesson teachers will take away from this is to stop being challenging and creative or lose your job.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • Saraswati

      @Tom, I'd say that unless the intention was to cause controversy and get national media attention, it wasn't constructed well.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • The real Tom

      And I would say that we don't know precisely how the assignment was worded, what exactly the teacher said to the class, or much else. All we have is the word of the students and the school system.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • Chuckles


      The bare bones facts is the teacher asked the students to write an essay defending the third reich using the propaganda generated during that time.

      Even if it's worded differently, the message is clear that to get an A on the assignment you have to write purposefully misleading things about jews and other ethnic groups. That's a badly constructed assignment.

      Now should this be national news with the ADL condemning it? Not really, the assignment was a bad one and the teacher should be called on it, but in my personal opinion the ADL should have sent a rep and talked with the teacher on what the assignment was supposed to teach and then propose a better assignment like holding a debate or disucssion in class, or even just having a lecture focusing purely on nazi propaganda.

      April 16, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
    • The real Tom

      I have not seen the wording of the assignment. Have you? I don't think we've heard the full story. You can pass judgment on the teacher if you want, but I prefer to wait to hear what he actually said to the class and what the purpose of the assignment was.

      April 16, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • Chuckles


      Fine, when push comes to shove we do not have the entire story to make a completely informed decision. Here are the facts as we know them.

      The teacher gave an assignment centering around Nazi propaganda during WWII.

      One or more students felt uncomfortable doing the assignment.

      When the assignment was discovered by the administration, the teacher was placed on leave, the ADL condemned it and students thought the assignment was in poor taste.

      I think regardless of the intent, the teacher failed at getting that across. If it was a misunderstanding, this might not have made national news.

      We don't know the full story but I would bet good money that the assignment was highly inappropriate and maybe the school administration and the ADL overreacted but at the end of the day, the teacher was still in the wrong for creating this assignment.

      April 16, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Then go ahead and bet your good money, Chuckles. Obviously, you have an axe to grind.

      If it makes you feel better, go right ahead.

      April 16, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
  12. Jennifer

    The assignment is an interesting take on the point of views of society, but I feel the teacher execute it wrong. That assignment would have best been presented in a philosophy class for college students, not high school students who are still at a critical stage in academic development.

    April 16, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • myweightinwords

      So we shouldn't bother teaching high school students to think. Save that for college?


      April 16, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • Saraswati

      I don't know if Jennifer necessarily meant something that extreme, though she would have to speak to that. School kind as young as 11 are taught how to take multiple sides on an issue, but there is caution taken regarding specific topics and the structure of the assignment.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  13. Mcbobby

    It's getting that you can't even say the word "Jew" without being assaulted, shamed and given books to read in order to be educated. Heck, this comment is probably anti-semitic.

    Anyway, gotta go, I think I hear the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Federation of wherever knocking at my door...

    April 16, 2013 at 9:20 am |
  14. Taxatty57

    There is a difference between giving such an assignment to college students and high school students. Although the real assignment as the teacher indicates should not be why Nazi propoganda is correct,(an idiotic belief limited only to knuckle walkers) but why the overwhelming majority of Christians either did nothing or actually cooperated in the face of evil. It was not only Jews, but Roma, Slavs, gays, communists, free masons and others that the Nazis killed and the Christians (with some very meaningful exceptions) did nothing-that is the issue to be written about.Why do good men and women sit silently in the face of eveil?

    April 16, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • derp

      "why the overwhelming majority of Christians either did nothing or actually cooperated in the face of evil"

      Hitler appealed to their christian beliefs. He murdered the jews in the name of christ. That is what religion does. It allows people to do terrible things, and justify it because of the so called "faith".

      April 16, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • Mary

      Never forget that Hitler was elected democratically. He had the backing of the people, and the people were almost all Christians.

      April 16, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
  15. ParktonBill

    "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." – George Santayana

    April 16, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • rs1201

      That's true...but then read about it and know everything that there is to know about the subject. Above all...guard yourself from thinking as they did...that's a precipice that no one wants to go down!

      April 16, 2013 at 9:30 am |
    • The real Tom

      Reading about it is not understanding how it happened. Reading a textbook will not make the impact that a writing assignment will.

      April 16, 2013 at 9:33 am |
  16. seffer

    Anti Semitic? Palestinians are Semits too....many Arabs as well...

    April 16, 2013 at 9:12 am |
  17. Lenny Gottesman

    We don't know how the assignment was presented, but a large percentage of the class refused to complete the assignment. That fact suggests that the assignment was not on the up-and-up, so to speak.

    April 16, 2013 at 9:12 am |
    • Mcbobby

      Not necessarily, you are forgetting that we live in a world gone mad with political correctness. I'm surprised that we're not being criticized for even offering opinions on something remotely to do with Jews. You even mention the holocaust and/or "Jew" and the anti-defamation league will tear you a new one.

      April 16, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • derp

      It was only a handful of the students in the class who complained.

      Do you actually read and learn facts before commenting?

      April 16, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • Chuckles


      Yet you just did and I don't see an ADL rep at your door telling you to cease and desist.

      It's pretty easy, jews more than anyone want people to learn about the Holocaust. The ADL has special programs set up specifically to help teach students about the holocaust and to graduate from the FBI, agents have to take an ADL class on the propaganda used by the nazis to make police turn against the very people they swore to protect.

      There are ways of teaching about the holocaust without asking a person to think like a nazi and defend their actions, plain and simple.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  18. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    Let's change a few words here and there and see what happens.

    Imagine the teacher is an important member in the State Republican Party Committee. Now Imagine that you are trying to prove that you are a loyal party member. The Committee member gives you an assignment to write up a campaign profile showing why President Obama and the Democrats are not loyal Americans, and seek to undermine the country.

    As it was in Albany NY, that traditionally had and extremely strong Democratic Party Machine that ran things, I imagine that the outcry would be even worse!

    April 16, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • rs1201

      Not analogous in any shape of form!
      Neither President Obama nor the democratic party participated in the annihilation of almost 12 million people...6 million Jews and 6 million gays, gypsies, and disabled.
      There's no analogy to the Holocaust and the people who perpetrated it!!!

      April 16, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • The real Tom

      Of course there are analogies. Do you even READ the news? Doesn't it occur to you that showing students how ordinary people were swayed by Hitler is a lesson in the power of propaganda? That good people can be persuaded to do terrible things? That such genocidal acts are being perpetrated today?

      April 16, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • The real Tom

      What boggles my mind is that some of the folks posting here can't figure out what an analogy is. The scope of the Holocaust isn't the point. The point is that Hitler used persuasion to convince millions of Germans that killing the Jews was the best way to create a perfect state. The use of propaganda didn't end with WWII. It continues today and while I agree that such an assignment was not best given to high school students, the validity of the purpose stands.

      April 16, 2013 at 9:41 am |
    • Reformed Catholic

      The assignment was and is valid, especially in the context of what we're seeing today.

      The Nazi propaganda machine was just as effective as the mainstream press's Political Correctness of today. Remember the howls created by the press over the Susan Koman/Planned Parenthood kerfluffle. NBC News's Andrea Mitchell made it sound like all PP's funding was going to stop, and the bad, Susan Koman Foundation founder was to blame. Any response made by the Foundation CEO was downplayed, nor was the total amount being stopped given much emphasis. The actual facts that the reduction was less than what .5% of the annual PP budget and that PP didn't perform mammogram was barely mentioned, if at all.

      Hitler, himself came up with the definition of the Big Lie in Mein Kampf, which his Minister of Propaganda used so well:
      "All this was inspired by the principle–which is quite true within itself–that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods"

      If this assignment made these kids do more research into the news reporting of today, it was a good assignment. After all, according to many surveys, the American public believes that there is a very sizable minority of gays .. less than 40%, this based on what they see in the media and news. When in reality, there may be less than 10%, and some research says its less than 4%.

      If you repeat the Big Lie often enough, people will believe it.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • Chuckles

      Of course the assignment wasn't valid. It's absurd to think otherwise. I'm not saying the message was a bad one and it's obviously important to learn about history from the winners and losers perspectives, but this assignment was poorly constructed and given without thought. It's that simple.

      @Reformed Catholic – you give these students and the teacher too much credit. If the assignment had been to compare and contrast today's propaganda with the nazi propaganda that would have been one thing. If the assignment had been to come up with some points to have a debate in class and discuss face to face how the nazi's believed they were the good guys, that would have been another,

      This assignment however, on its face, was to make a kid go home, think like a nazi and write some hateful stuff in an essay to get graded on just how hateful they were. That's not good teaching, no matter how well intentioned the assignment actually was.

      April 16, 2013 at 11:54 am |
  19. FreddyCanuck

    This teacher made one very fundamental mistake – don't you dare write or say anything that can even remotely be considered anti-Semetic. In our modern society, we are the dog and the Jewish mouthpeaces are the tail. They wag us, not the other way around.

    I like the idea of asking these students to write a persuasive argument both ways BUT ... that would still sit badly with these mouthpieces and all hell would have broken loose anyways.

    Every religion or faith colors history with its own paintbrush. If we are to teach ouy children right from wrong, to learn the lessons of the past, they must be able to delve into the nastiest, darkest parts of that history. That includes understanding how and why the Jews were despised and used by the Nazi's.

    April 16, 2013 at 8:40 am |
    • bannister

      Exactly. The Jews are a VERY powerful ethnic group and VERY racially conscious. I know it's a cliche to say the Jews run the media – but they largely do! With the advent of the internet, things are less controlled now and we are able to have this conversation but for many years, Americans could only see news and entertainment that was filtered through a Jewish lens.

      Justin Bieber learned about Jewish power this week when he made that stupid remark about Anne Frank being a "Bieber." Mel Gibson, Marlon Brando and Dolly Parton have learned the lesson too – you just can't criticize the Jews.

      Don't get me wrong – many Jews are wonderful people. BUT – the collective influence they've had on America has a dark side as well. They have pushed for open borders, war in the Middle East and censorship in our media. I encourage everyone to read an incredible book called "The Culture of Critique" by professor Kevin MacDonald or at least read the reviews on Amazon. It's a real eye opener!

      April 16, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • Keyser Soze

      Bannister your argument is a little bit frightening. First of all to use justin bieber as an example of jewish sensitivity is absurd. It was his disrespect (albeit unknowing) for a coveted individual that caused headlines, not anti Semitic statements. As for "The Culture of Critique" a lot of what Kevin MacDonald suggests sounds a lot like the Nuremburg Laws which prevented Jews from maintaining certain professions, and placed unequal restrictions upon them. I am not arguing that the punishment does not fit the crime in this particular issue; in fact I think it was a well thought out assignment, if poorly introduced. But to generalize a collective is a little low. Yes, Jews do have a "dark side" in our society, but doesn't everyone at some point?

      April 16, 2013 at 9:44 am |
  20. bdby

    she kept putting off the assignment “because I didn’t want to think about it”

    And that there is the problem. We are forgetting, NEVER FORGET !!

    April 16, 2013 at 8:37 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.