High school assignment debating Holocaust pulled, banned in upstate N.Y. school district

(JTA) – A homework assignment asking students in an upstate New York school district to argue for or against the Final Solution from the perspective of a Nazi official was withdrawn and will never be assigned again.

High school students in an advanced class in Oswego County were assigned a project to pretend they were members of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party in order to argue for or against the Holocaust’s 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 believe,” according to the directions of the assignment.

Two students who complained about the exercise were given an alternative assignment.

But the students, Archer Shurtliff and Jordan April, took their complaint further and called for the teacher to apologize and for the school district to permanently ban the assignment, Syracuse.com reported. Neither of the students, both 17, is Jewish.

On Monday, New York State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said the assignment has been permanently banned.

“Since first learning of the assignment, I’ve done my homework to determine the facts in this situation,” Elia 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.”

Evan Bernstein, the Anti-Defamation League’s New York regional director, praised the district and Elia after saying in a statement that “there is no assignment that could ever be given to students that even hints at a balanced perspective to the horrors of Nazi actions during the Holocaust.”

“The notion that students were asked to engage in such thinking trivializes the horrific experiences of the victims and we are pleased that it will no longer be part of the curriculum,” he also said.

But State Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn called for Elia’s resignation, noting that last week she defended the assignment as “critical thinking,” according to the New York Daily News.

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