Friday, April 12, 2013

critical thinking

About a third of the 10th-grade students in an Albany, N.Y., English class refused to complete an assignment in which they were told to research Nazi thinking and then cite the reasons why Jews had been responsible for Germany's pre-World-War-II difficulties from a Nazi point of view.

When reported in a local newspaper, the furor was as pronounced as it was predictable:
Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard was expected to personally apologize on Friday to families of Albany High School students who were given the writing assignment, said Ron Lesko, a spokesman for the district.
The unnamed teacher may be disciplined.

My question is this: How can critical thinking ever take root among our young people when the yardstick for that thinking is how many people agree or are offended?


  1. Adam, you are kidding right? You think this was a "research" assignment that engaged critical thinking?

    It would have been different if the teacher had asked the kids to examine how easy it is to behave like a Nazi (or a criminal), especially when you uncritically accept the prodding of an external authority. But here the teacher merely suggested a situation that made it easy for the students to think like Nazis. It reminds me of the David Milgram experiment.

    My daughter has been studying Nazism in school too. Yesterday the teacher was talking about how Nazis thought how the execution of Jews was not efficient enough. A boy came up to my daughter after class and told her "we're gonna have to figure out how to kill you guys faster". She has also been called a "fucking jew" on FB since this topic was raised in school.

    These subjects cannot be raised unless the teacher is prepared to go into a whole range of thoughts and emotional reactions. What teacher has the maturity to do that?

    I am not saying we shouldn't raise these issues in school; on the contrary! I have always wanted philosophy and critical thinking to be introduced in kindergarten. I am just saying: what teacher do you trust to teach this stuff to kids? In this country, teachers of ethics and religion are the most reactionary of all. Last week, my daughter also reported that five classmates in her ethics and religion class got a detention when they responded "atheist" to the teacher who'd asked them what their religion was!

  2. The news story said this:

    "The teacher gave three classes of 10th grade students a persuasive writing assignment as part of a class project to demonstrate how Nazis thought and showed their loyalty to the Third Reich before World War Two.

    "You need to pretend that I am a member of the government in Nazi Germany, and you are being challenged to consider that you are loyal to the Nazis by writing an essay convincing me that Jews are evil and the source of our problems," the assignment instructions said."

    Is group-hug agreement to be the yardstick of critical thinking? You can hate the hell out of a particular point of view, but without the willingness to enter, critical thinking goes begging and mediocre rigidity blooms. What kind of faith is it that cannot envision its opposite number ... pretty flimsy is my guess.