Ryan Torok writes: Generally, expert advisers counsel against teaching about the Holocaust by having students do exercises that re-create the experience. Role-play activities can reinforce negative views, stereotype group behavior and are pedagogically unsound, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Yet some teachers leading classes on the Shoah have used such techniques, including re-creating the experience of being transported in cattle cars by having students cram into a small space, or holding the better-known “blue eyes-brown eyes” activity, with the teacher giving fewer privileges to the students with brown eyes.
Two weeks ago, a class at Santa Monica High School was asked to participate in an exercise in which students were instructed to create propaganda posters and campaign speeches on behalf of the Nazis, and to present their material to the class.
“Your job is to get people to join your organization,” the assignment stated.
Shannon Halley-Cox, a ninth-grade social studies teacher, gave the assignment to about 40 students during an April 12 class as part of the freshman seminar standards, which encourages students to “confront the complexities of history” by analyzing such topics as the Holocaust, the American eugenics movement and racial tensions in Los Angeles, according to the Santa Monica High Web site. Santa Monica High School, one of three high schools in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, has a student population of 3,100 in grades nine through 12.
This assignment — first reported on lukeford.net, a blog by Luke Ford that focuses on the Los Angeles Jewish community — echoes an incident that had occurred earlier this month at a high school in Albany, N.Y. There, an English teacher instructed students to write essays convincing the Third Reich of their loyalty by arguing why Jews are evil, based on Nazi propaganda.