“Had the assignment been to argue in favor of slavery or other human atrocities, would anyone dare to defend it?” Hikind charged in a statement. “I honestly couldn’t believe this story when I heard it. I thought it was a sick joke.”
Hikind added that the assignment was a “stab in the back to Holocaust survivors.”
Michael DeNobile issued the assignment to high school seniors in his “Principles of Literary Representation” class in February. The CiTi/BOCES New Vision program offered the course at SUNY Oswego’s campus, Syracuse.com reported.
The assignment had the words “Top Secret” stamped on it and asked students to put themselves in the shoes of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party members to argue for or against the Final Solution.
“This is an exercise on expanding your point of view by going outside your comfort zone and training your brain to logistically find the evidence necessary to prove a point, even if it is existentially and philosophically against what you believem,” the assignment read.
Archer Shurtliff and Jordan April, both 17 and students at Oswego County High School, are not Jewish but told Syracuse.com they felt “weird” when they received the assignment.
Other students were outraged and “disturbed” the task required them to defend anti-Semitism.
The students brought up their concerns to DeNobile and the New Vision faculty members. They then offered alternative assignment ideas that didn’t involve mass killings and, a few days later, they were granted other projects.
Commissioner Elia said in a speech last week that the controversial assignment could prompt “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,” Elia reportedly said. “That idea of being able to identify the perspective an article has or a writer has is a very important skill.”
But on Monday, Elia appeared to walk back those remarks.
“Since first learning of the assignment, I’ve done my homework to determine the facts in this situation,” she said in a statement. “I spoke with district officials about this serious matter. We agree the assignment should not have been given. The teacher apologized and the assignment will not be used in the future.”
A spokeswoman for CiTi superintendent Christopher Todd said in a statement to Syracuse.com: “We embrace creativity and respect, and all of the students in the class were offered an alternative project of their choosing, three of which took advantage of that opportunity and completed the assignment successfully.”