“Teaching critical thinking” can sometimes be a cover for “teaching kids to question traditional values, and to accept our point of view instead” (i.e. leftism). But there’s no question that if it is used to refer to helping students get the skills to evaluate the veracity and logic of what they read, it is both sorely needed and sorely lacking these days.
Of course, to teach critical thinking a teacher has to exhibit at least a modicum of it, and preferably more. Sadly, that’s not something that can be said for a lot of teachers. And what of this particular teacher?:
…]T]his week, students at Albany High School were given an alarming thought puzzle: How do I convince my teacher that I think Jews are evil?
That question was posed to about 75 students on Monday by an unidentified 10th-grade English teacher as a “persuasive writing” exercise. The students were instructed to imagine that their teacher was a Nazi and to construct an argument that Jews were “the source of our problems” using historical propaganda and, of course, a traditional high school essay structure.
“Your essay must be five paragraphs long, with an introduction, three body paragraphs containing your strongest arguments, and a conclusion,” the assignment read. “You do not have a choice in your position: you must argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!”
School administrators have apologized, and the teacher will be subject to some sort of as-yet-undecided disciplinary action. No one is suggesting this teacher actually was trying to teach anti-Semitism or to indoctrinate his/her students in it. The assignment was part of a unit on the Holocaust, and the goal (supposedly) was to teach how hate propaganda works, and how susceptible people are to it.
But an assignment to write propaganda certainly doesn’t seem like a good way to do this, especially at the high school level or younger. Analyzing the appeal of propaganda, and assigning students to write about why a person might agree with it and why another person might disagree, would be a far better one. The question of what makes certain people susceptible to being manipulated is an extremely important one, and would be a worthy and even vital topic. Writing the propaganda? Not so much.
This assignment looks like it could easily foster the very prejudices it is supposedly meant to counteract. It’s probably no accident that it’s about anti-Semitism, either, because there are so many other groups that might have been used for the propaganda-writing exercise that would almost certainly have been considered even more outrageous as subjects: for example, imagine the uproar had the assignment been to write propaganda against blacks, Muslims, or gays.
But I actually can imagine a group that would have been less controversial: I wonder what would have happened if the same assignment had been given, but the students had to devise an essay revolving around hatred of white men? We don’t lack for the material; just look at some of the campaign verbiage churned out by the left during the last couple of years, especially the election of 2012.
The sad truth is that human beings are very susceptible to propaganda, and that it is most effective when hidden behind a facade of good intentions. Even the Nazis understood this; their anti-Semitism wasn’t just “kill, kill, kill the Jews!” It was embedded in the message that Jews were evil and out to destroy the German nation, and therefore had to be fought in self-defense.
Here’s a little pamphlet for schoolchildren of the Reich (note the anti-moneylender theme, as well as the mimicking and usurping of the religious “catechism” format with which many German children were already familiar):
Which race must the National Socialist race fight against?
The Jewish race.
The goal of the Jew is to make himself the ruler of humanity. Wherever he comes, he destroys works of culture. He is not a creative spirit, rather a destructive spirit.
How is that evident?
The work of Aryan peoples shows a true creative spirit. The Jew is mostly a merchant, as he was for millennia in the past. There are no Jewish construction workers in Germany, no smiths, no Jewish miners or seamen. Nearly all major inventions were made by Aryans.
How has the Jew subjugated the peoples?
With money. He lent them money and made them pay interest. Thousands and thousands of Germans have been made wretched by the Jews and been reduced to poverty. Farmers whose land had been in the family for more than 100 years were driven from their land because they could not pay the interest.
What happened to those farmers?
They had to move to the cities. Torn from the land to which they belonged, robbed of their labor that gave their lives purpose and meaning, they fell victim to poverty and misery. Worn down, their souls crushed, they accepted Jewish doctrines that denied the Fatherland and opposed all that was nationalistic. Their strength and ability faded. The Jew had reached his goal.
What other guilt does the Jew bear?
While the German people was fighting a life and death battle during the World War, the Jew incited people at home and seduced them into treason. The November Revolution of 1918 that brought about Germany’s collapse was the work of the Jew.
The pamphlet goes on…and along with many other such publications for both young and old, helped to create the proper climate for the Nazis’ work.
One of the many legacies of the Holocaust is that comparison to the Nazis is a ready-made and almost surefire way to demonize any group, although it’s become somewhat old through incessant repetition. The problem is to distinguish between the movements that really do want to destroy other groups and those who are merely defending themselves against the unreasonable hatred of others. To the naive observer (and one who lacks critical thinking), the two can seem to resemble each other.