Chronology Of The Santa Monica High School Assignment To Mount A Campaign For The Nazis

The Jewish Journal reports. My first, second blog posts.

Parent Ethan Milius writes in a widely distributed email:

SUMMARY
Students at Santa Monica High School during assigned a group presentation where students were asked to role play as Nazi groups. Students were asked to come up with a Nazi slogan and poster and then present to the class from the perspective that they were trying to recruit other class members to that Nazi group. The teacher told students to be as historically accurate as possible.

This particular assignment had been created through a collaborative effort by the department responsible for teaching Santa Monica High School’s Freshmen Seminar. Freshman Seminar is a mandatory class for incoming freshman. This particular assignment had given to the Freshman Seminar classes last year and to the Freshman Seminar classes that had reached this point in the curriculum.

My daughter is currently enrolled in the Freshman Seminar taught by Mrs. Cox. During her class’s presentation a good number of students made the following statements:

“…our job is to get rid of those filthy Jews.”
“…help keep the Jewish rats in their camps.”
“…we help with the removal of the Jewish rats.”
“…Jews are the lowest part of society.”
“…everyone is welcome except those filthy Jews.”

During a series of e-mail exchanges I tried to encourage Mrs. Cox not to use this particular assignment because it was offensive and harmful to students. Mrs. Cox initially resisted stating that the role playing was an effort to understand “how could German citizens sit back and let the holocaust happen” and that the assignment was derived from Echoes and Reflections curriculum endorsed by the Shoah foundation. However, in contrast to teachers assertions, the Echoes and Reflections curriculum strongly discourages role playing the Holocaust. Eventually the teacher conceded that the assignment was offensive to Jewish students and would not be used again.

Subsequently, an article was published in the Jewish Journal in Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Terry A. Deloria is quoted as denying that “students [were] asked to act out, role play or simulate being a part of these groups” and that the “assignment specifically prohibited students from using negative words about those that were persecuted or words that would promote violence or hatred.”

FACTUAL CHRONOLOGY

FRIDAY APRIL 12, 2013

Mrs. Cox assigned her Freshman Seminar class an assignment which they were told to “creat[e] propaganda campaign posters for a Nazi Organization” and to come up with “impactful and persuasive” “Campaign Speech” with the purpose of “get[ting] people to join your organization.” Mrs. Cox provided students with a list of Nazi groups and informed students about the groups distinguishing characteristics including it’s belief system. The teacher informed students that they were to be as historically accurate as possible. Though my daughter could not remember the specific words Mrs. Cox used, she believes that either implied or literally said that the campaign speeches should target Jews.

Attached below is the assignment:

Class assignment at Santa Monica High School

Class assignment at Santa Monica High School

SATURDAY APRIL 13, 2013

I sent the following e-mail to Mrs. Cox informing her my concerns with the assignment and told her that my daughter would not participate. I also informed her that other schools had utilized role playing and Holocaust causing community outrage.

Ms. Cox

I recently spoke with [daughter] about one of her current assignments in your class. I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t present in class and may have completely misunderstood the assignment. However, I read the take home instructions and spoke with her about it. My understanding is that the students are to take the position of a particular Nazi group and then attempt to convince classmates that the views of that group are good or correct.

I can’t see value of this assignment. I full heartedly believe that understanding why German society would willing follow the horrendous and inaccurate viewpoints of Hitler and his compatriots is important. I understand why it is important to learn about German society at that time. However, I can see very little value in trying to convince fellow students that truly horrendous viewpoints which resulted in the deaths of millions of innocent men, women and children are valid or good, I think it is important to know how the society was convinced however I think that asking students to take a viewpoint that validates and promotes devaluation, discrimination and ultimate death is not good for any student.

I would imagine that the only successful way to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the period is to refuse to participate in the project’s requirement that students advocate a Nazi position. By doing so students are showing a refusal to conform to societal pressure to engage in destructive behavior. Consequently, after discussing the assignment with [daughter] and our family I have instructed her to not participate in the advocacy portion of the assignment. I told her to research the Nazi group and be prepared to describe why those views espoused by that group are destructive and that the fulfillment of those beliefs ultimately and unfortunately resulted in the Holocaust.

I should also note that a similar assignment was given to students recently in New York. It created quite a backlash. I have attached a link:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/12/us/new-york-nazi-assignment/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/13/nyregion/albany-teacher-gives-pro-nazi-writing-assignment.html?_r=0

I can’t imagine this assignment going over well if the period of history and race were changed. What would the reaction be if students were asked to convince fellow students that the forced enslavement of blacks was a good thing? Could we really justify such an assignment by saying that it would help students understand why slavery was wrong? No.

I’m sure that this assignment was conceived with the best of intentions but it really fails to achieve that purpose.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me.
Ethan Milius

SUNDAY APRIL 14, 2013

Mrs. Co responded to my e-mail.

I understand your point of view and respect your decisions. The point of the assignment is to answer the question “how could German citizens sit back and let the holocaust happen?” The point is many people were mislead by German propaganda and the necessity to be apart of the group. And the assignment is not to get the class to join one of these groups there will be no voting or anything like this. The point is to show that the groups used lies, blackmail and deceit. The extra credit is based off presentation NOT to see how many students you can recruit. Also after each presentation we look at statistics and backgrounds of these groups and finally their participation in the Holocaust. I make it very clear that these groups were evil and resulted in many inhumane killings. I also use this to show the students that even if Hitler were killed these groups followed the same ideology. Because I always get that question. So again I thank you for your concern and as long as [daughter] researches her group that is fine, she will not be given a lower grade.

If you have any more concerns please feel free to email or we can always set up a meeting.
-Mrs. Halley Cox

MONDAY, APRIL 15, 2013

Mrs. Cox’s Freshman Seminar presented their assignments.

“…our job is to get rid of those filthy Jews.”
“…help keep the Jewish rats in their camps.”
“…we help with the removal of the Jewish rats.”
“…Jews are the lowest part of society.”
“…everyone is welcome except those filthy Jews.”

During the presentations Mrs. Cox did not interrupt the students to inform them that their statements were inappropriate.

Also on Monday April 15, 2013, Jewish blogger Luke Ford posts about the assignment. I expressed my disappointed with the reply of Mrs. Cox and the decision to proceed with the assignment by providing the assignment and e-mails from April 13 and 14 to family members and friends. One friend provided it to Luke Ford.

WEDNESDAY APRIL 17, 2013

Disappointed with Mrs. Cox’s decision to proceed with the assignment I wrote her an e-mail specifically asking her to explain how the assignment taught students “how could German citizens sit back and let the Holocaust happen?”

Mrs. Cox

I am disappointed with the decision to proceed with the lesson plan in this manner.

I am at a loss to understand how student presentations where young teenagers actively advocate racist conduct helps them understand “how could German citizens sit back and let the holocaust happen?” It’s difficult to understand how an adult in a position of authority would encourage let alone not intervene when students make presentation where they advocate that “Jews are the lowest part of society.” Such a lesson plan shows an insensitivity to young jewish students who were forced to listen to their fellow students make blatantly offensive statements at the encouragement of an adult in a position of authority. My own daughter, of jewish heritage, had to sit through class while fellow students argued that they needed “to get rid of those filthy discussing jews.” Equally the lesson plan fails to take into consideration the complex thought processes of impressionable teenagers as they were encouraged to advocate racist beliefs by an adult (again) in a position of authority.

I can’t imagine any teacher assigning a similar presentation about pre-civil rights era segregation in the south where students would be required to advocate the beliefs of the Klu Klux Klan. Such an assignment would have been instantly recognized as offensive. The idea that black students would have participate or listen to such a presentation would be immediately recognized as utterly insensitive and demeaning. No explanation that the presentation attempted to enable students to understand how ‘US citizens could sit back and let segregation happen’ would be deemed acceptable. This assignment about Nazi Germany is no different.

Clearly the subject matter of the entire semester’s curriculum (except this particular lesson plan) and the length of class time specifically dedicated to the Holocaust indicates a truly commendable desire to thoughtfully address a tragic period of human history. While this particular lesson plan may have been drafted with the best intentions, it is not an effective manner of teaching students lessons about Nazi Germany. It’s misguided and offensive. This lesson plan should not be used in the future and an immediate remedial effort should be undertaken to correct for it.

In hopes of adequately addressing this issue, I think that this topic is one that should be discussed with the school principal.

Ethan Milius

Later that night Mrs. Cox responds as follows:

I’m sorry you feel this way and all of the curriculum is addressed and conducted by our admin team. Renee Semik is a long time freshmen seminar teacher. This assignment was looking at German propaganda and I stated repeatedly that it had nothing to do with hatred of Jewish people. I have many Jewish students and I am very sensitive to their emotions and needs. All of the lesson plans come from the curriculum of Echos and reflections ran by the Yad Vashem and Shoah Foundation. A resource all freshmen seminar teacher use. To not look at Nazi propaganda is a disservice so students. We need to look at these issues in its entirety to understand and ultimately prevent it. In terms of slavery we address many of these issues in our race and membership unit. Looking at the eugenics movement. All of the issues we address are difficult to many students but that does not mean they do not need to be taught.

Tomorrow we are looking at testimony of germans who participated in the Holocaust. It is important to understand their side as well in order to address the issue that EVERYONE has a choice. And even though they were scared they could have prevented these atrocities. And that is the point of the lesson. We look at all sides because unfortunately this was not the end of atrocities in this present day society. We will also address the Rwanda genocide and the genocide in Darfur.

In no way do I promote Nazi ideology! I do quite the opposite. I show the flaws and the danger in going along with the masses. I believe you are very misinformed about the curriculum and motto of this course. I would be more than happy to meet with you about this but if you feel like taking it to admin then that is your decision. I am just sorry you are so misinformed.

-Mrs. Halley Cox

THURSDAY APRIL 18, 2013

That morning I respond to Mrs. Cox’s e-mail:

I am acutely aware of the need to study why German society radicalized and adopted a violent policy of hatred addressed towards Jews. I made that abundantly clear in my first e-mail.

As I stated before, clearly the subject matter of the entire semester’s curriculum (except this particular assignment) and the length of class time specifically dedicated to the Holocaust indicates a truly commendable desire to thoughtfully address a tragic period of human history.

The issue is this particular presentation which has students pretend to be nazi youth groups and then advocate their racist beliefs. I’ve asked you repeatedly how this particular presentation approach promotes your thesis of understanding “how could German citizens sit back and let the holocaust happen?” I would like a specific answer to that question, not a condescending platitude about the need to understand why Germans acted in a particular way. How is having young impressionable students pretend to be Nazi youth groups spouting racist beliefs as their own better than objectively teaching students about these groups as done in classrooms by academics since the Holocaust?

Secondly would you (and will you) employ this same type of assignment as I described if the subject involved a different racial group? Can we expect a similar presentation about pre-civil rights era segregation in the south where students would be required to advocate the beliefs of the Klu Klux Klan? I’m sure you appreciate that would be offensive and entirely inappropriate. Why is this different?

Ethan Milius

Later that day Mrs. Cox responds:

First I would like to start off with an apology. I tend to be very passionate about my job and became extremely defensive. I apologize for this.

In terms of the assignment in the past I just gave the stats of the organizations and every year I had students ask WHY would Germans join them. I would always answer with “it’s not WHAT you say it’s HOW you say it” and then go back to mob mentality and a film we watched called The Wave. But even after that they still asked why they just couldn’t wrap their heads around it. So a couple years ago my colleagues and I created this assignment. Where we look at perpetrators and propaganda. Now I clearly stated multiple times that they could NOT attack jews-if the orgs did this not many people would join. So their job was to create propaganda for the perpetrators. Then after we discussed the question of WHY people would join. And we discussed it had nothing to do with hatred of Jews but a number of factors including propaganda. I tied it into mob mentality, the milgrams experiment, and the wave. All assignments we did prior to this.

So what’s next-we will be looking at these orgs and their involvement in atrocities. Many students believe these perpetrators did not have a choice. But I explain to them that YES they did have a choice just like they had the choice to join the org. If anyone could have stopped the atrocities it would be them.

I hope this gives you a little more clarification. And I really do appreciate your concern and very much apologize if I seemed hostile. That was not my intention.

Thanks,
Mrs. Halley Cox

Later that day she responds again:

I spoke with [daughter] today and apologized to her as well. It must be hard for her to be in the middle of this. I reassured her that none of this affects our relationship and I do not want her to be intimidated or fear talking with me. I told her that I will take your concerns to my department and we can look at the curriculum in more detail. I feel it is always good to have an outside opinion. So often we get caught up in the lesson and what may seem like a great idea to us may not to you as parents or to the students. So I thank you and in no way did I mean to sound condescending. I feel with email it is so hard to convey your true message and tone.

As stated I am a passionate person and become very defensive a quality my husband says I need to get over because it comes off as brash and hostile.

If you would like to discuss this more I feel it would be best in person or over the phone. I am perfectly fine with a member of our admin team being present as well. I just feel through email it comes off brash and condescending.

Later that day I respond:

I appreciate the response. I am not suggesting you are a racist, or that you do not care about this subject matter. There is quite obviously no way that you can be as deeply involved in the teaching of this subject without a genuine desire to positively impact students by conveying to them the sometimes tragic lessons of history.

My concern is only with this particular assignment in that it does not appear to actually address your stated goals, appears to do more harm than good and is offensive. Below I have attempted to explain why I think this.

I still have not received a response to my question. How does this particular presentation where students who pretend to be nazi youths, create hateful racist slogans and posters, and then advocate anti-sematic beliefs foster an understanding of “how could German citizens sit back and let the holocaust happen?” I’m asking functionally how does this work on the level of a teenage student? What exactly and how are students learning something from mimicking the abhorrent behavior of hate groups that the students are learning something? I don’t understand how this particular assignment achieves your stated goals. I’m inclined to believe that if don’t apply a generic response but really analyze it that you will agree.

My analysis of the assignment:
This presentation technique is ineffective because it trivializes the real consequences of such beliefs by divorcing the students from an immediate connection to the horrific consequences of such beliefs (ie the slaughter of 6 million Jews). Structurally, the type of speech employed by the various Nazi groups dehumanized the Jewish population so that German society as whole ceased to see Jews as actual people. This was literal and figurative in nature- “Jews are the rats responsible for the collapse of the German economy.” When populations cease to perceive another group as human; fail to see them as similar to themselves; fail to be able to sympathize or empathize with them, they are capable of acting out horrible acts against those minority groups.

Structurally, the class assignment replicated that process of dehumanization. My understanding is students were asked to apply creative thought to make racist posters and that students literally stated during their presentations that “Jews are rats,” and “our job is to get rid of those filthy disgusting Jews.” Apparently there was laughter when one of the students began speaking in German. Replication of such behavior recreates the dehumanizing process in the present without immediately associating a pejorative connotation to such conduct. By asking students to assume the position of Nazi groups, they are implicitly being asked to make a connection to these groups such that their identities in some capacity become interchangeable. The impressionable mind of a teenage student thinks how can I do this assignment well and moves next to how can I persuasively present the positions of these group, ie that Jews are bad rather than develop empathy for the victims of Holocaust or understand why German society made the decisions it did. The assignment thus dehumanizes the Jewish people rather than humanizes them.

On a subtle level it also gives tacit approval for such language and behavior because students are allowed to act out inappropriate conduct without consequences at the behest of an authority figure. This can have long term negative consequences on impressionable youths.

Additionally, it victimizes Jewish students who are subject to listening to fellow students express vile hateful speech describing them. Remember that this is a culture (my culture) which carries with it (whether articulated or not) an identity of having being subject to the massacre of millions of it’s people. To be forced to sit and listen to students pretending to be Nazi groups and advocating Nazi ideology is painful. Watching this occur at the instruction of a teacher fosters a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness which necessarily impacts their sense of identity.

My position through comparison:
You have not responded to my question as to whether you would or will employ this same type of assignment as I described if the subject involved a different racial group? If for example the presentation were about pre-civil rights era segregation in the south where students were required to advocate the beliefs of the Klu Klux Klan? I don’t ask this question in jest but rather as real attempt to understand your perspective on this assignment. If you have a visceral reaction to such an assignment, an innate understanding that such an assignment would be inappropriate and offensive, why is the same assignment with Jews different? I point this out because it seems patently obvious that both assignments no matter how well intentioned are offensive.

I would appreciate the opportunity to meeting to discuss the topic further in person. Having an additional member of the staff present is a good idea.

Ethan Milius

Mrs. Cox responded:

Thank you. I teach AM, 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th. My prep is 3rd. I leave right after 5th. I am also available at lunch.

I responded:

I will check with my supervisor about my availability to meet next Friday (if you are available) perhaps before school.

Additionally, though your presentation was modeled on “Echoes and Reflections” their website “strongly caution[s]” against role playing or simulated activities because “[s]ome young people might over-identify with the events of the Holocaust, be excited by the power of the Nazis, or demonstrate a morbid fascination for the suffering of the victims.”

From http://echoesandreflections.org/learn_about_curriculum/faq.asp

Does Echoes and Reflections include examples of simulation activities that I can use with my students?

No. Although empathetic activities such as simulations can be very effective techniques for interesting young people in history by highlighting human experience and responses to events in the past, we strongly caution teachers against their use when approaching a subject as sensitive and complex as the Holocaust. Some young people might over-identify with the events of the Holocaust, be excited by the power of the Nazis, or demonstrate a morbid fascination for the suffering of the victims. It may be useful, however, for students to take on the role of someone from a neutral country, responding to events: a journalist writing an article for a newspaper about the persecution of Jews; a concerned citizen writing to his or her political representative; or a campaigner trying to mobilize public opinion. Such activities can be good motivators and can also highlight a possible course of action that students can take about events that concern them in the world today.

Mrs. Cox responded:

I would meet next friday but it is CST testing all next week. But next mondayis my prep which goes directly into lunch so it would be 55 minutes + 35 for lunch. Or next friday after testing so around 10:30? Also I would love to have Marisa Silvestri come in. She is the teacher in charge of Freshmen Seminar. Does any of this work for you?

Before I could respond, Mrs. Cox wrote me stating that she had been contacted by a Ryan Torok, a journalist with Jewish Journal. I had been contacted on Wednesday April 17, 2013, by Ryan Torok via e-mail. Later that night he interviewed my daughter and me about what happened in the class. I had forwarded him all of the e-mail correspondences and assignment itself. Mrs. Cox wrote the following:

If you would like you are more than welcome to call me as well. Since I just received an email from Ryan Torok this matter may need to be addressed sooner. Please call at xxx-xxx-xxxx. This is my personal number so please do not give it out.

I wrote Mrs Cox as follows:

I will call you within the next hour.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum under it’s guidelines for teaching about the Holocaust considers roll playing or simulating experiences “pedagogically unsound” because students “often forget the purpose of the lesson and even worse, they are left with the impression that they now know what it was like to suffer or even to participate during the Holocaust.”

From http://www.ushmm.org/education/foreducators/guideline/

“In studying complex human behavior, many teachers rely upon simulation exercises meant to help students “experience” unfamiliar situations. Even when great care is taken to prepare a class for such an activity, simulating experiences from the Holocaust remains pedagogically unsound. The activity may engage students, but they often forget the purpose of the lesson and, even worse, they are left with the impression that they now know what it was like to suffer or even to participate during the Holocaust. It is best to draw upon numerous primary sources, provide survivor testimony, and refrain from simulation games that lead to a trivialization of the subject matter.”

Mrs. Cox responded:

Thank you very much I would much appreciate it. The sooner the better because I will be putting my daughter to bed soon.

Later that night I spoke with Mrs. Cox. The wrote the following e-mail on Friday April 19, 2013 summarizing that conversation.

I spoke with Mrs. Cox over the phone last night.

After apologizing for the presentation, Mrs. Cox asked that I intercede in preventing the Jewish Journal from publishing an article. I informed her that I had no control over what a journalist wants to publish. She informed me that the Freshman Seminar class that she teaches on intolerance has frequently been the subject of budget cut talks and that despite this assignment she believes that it is an important topic to teach students. I told her that I agreed that it was an important topic to teach students and that other than this particular assignment it appeared from my observations of curriculum to be teaching about very crucial episodes of intolerance in recent history that were important learning lessons for students. I believe that it’s a tribute to the school that it would dedicate so much time to such an important topic. I explained that I certainly did not receive 3 weeks of teaching on the Holocaust and the events that led up to it.

Mrs. Cox reiterated that she apologized for the assignment and that the assignment would not be given in her class or any other Freshmen seminar classes. She said that she spoke with supervisor immediately after receiving my first later and they had intended on discussing the issue at a future meeting but after receiving the information about Echoes and Reflections that they decided to immediately stop using the assignment.

I told her that I was pleased that a decision was made to stop using the assignment but that serious thought should be put into how this assignment ever got to point that it was presented to a class and steps should be taken to ensure that a comparable assignment is not developed in the future. Mrs. Cox responded that she had previously taught her class without the use of role playing/simulations but students had asked how ordinary Germans had gone along with such hateful beliefs. She said that when she came back from maternity leave a colleague had suggested this approach. She said that her department is very collaborative and a decision was reached to use this particular role playing assignment. She said that it was used last year and that some but not all of the classes had used it this year. She said that she had some reservations about using the assignment but ultimately she takes responsibility for using. She continued to state that she was sorry that [daughter] had to experience going through the assignment and she in no way intended to offend anyone. She repeated that she cared deeply about the subject matter.

I pointed out to her that the role playing assignment is not just offensive to Jewish students but is harmful to the non Jewish students that participate by role playing as Nazi youth members and advocating racist beliefs. I reiterated what I written in my e-mail and told her that a greater explanation can be found in the body of Echoes and Reflections. I also stated that its important that the department understand that the harm is not just to Jewish students. She quickly said that they understood and then repeatedly apologized about how this effected [daughter]. This interchange was repeated several times throughout the conversation, leaving me with the impression that she still did not fully comprehend why the assignment was inappropriate for Jewish students as well as non Jewish students. I told that I didn’t think that she fully understood the significance of the how inappropriate the assignment was but said that it appears that she was making a good first step in that direction.

I also pointed out that the entire nature of the subject matter and assignment was a potential learning opportunity for the teachers and students. In the class she had been teaching about how the leadership in Germany had abused it’s power and ordinary people did nothing to oppose it. I told her that this presentation was similar. Teachers had presented an offensive and inappropriate assignment and fellow teachers, students and parents just went along with it until one parent took a stand. An important question to ask is how did this happen? Why didn’t anyone else say anything?

Finally, she wanted me to know that if I had any further concerns that I should contact her and that she wanted me to know that lines of communication should always be open. I told her that appreciate that. She also said that she thinks that believes that there was some misunderstanding because of some initial miscommunication between us. I informed there was not a lack of communication and there was no miscommunication.

[daughter] came home yesterday and told me that she had a discussion with a few friends about the assignment. One of the friends participating in the conversation actually was in her Freshman Seminar class and had participated in the assignment. Despite [daughter]’s explanation which echoed my e-mails, none of her friends could see what was wrong with the assignment. They were persistent in their arguments that the assignment was good way of learning. Finally, [daughter] asked them what if the topic were intolerance in pre-civil rights era America and the assignment were to role play as the Klu Klux Klan. Her friends went silent.

What do we learn from this?

This is not a story about bad guys. If anything it’s about good people with good intentions who made bad decisions. It’s also about a barely noticed undercurrent of antisemitism. It’s not the aggressive antisemitism of Hitler but rather a passive intolerance towards Jews which allows hateful beliefs to continue unabated. If any one group of people at Santa Monica High School could have been expected to perceive the harmful nature of young students role playing as Nazi youths, it would be this department’s teachers. But they didn’t. In fact, the idea was their own and when it was brought to the attention of at least one of the teachers before the assignment was to be completed it was met with resistance. These are the people that are supposed to be teaching about intolerance and yet their perhaps unconscious biases undermined their ability to act as effective educators of impressionable students. But it’s not just that teachers didn’t see the offensive and harmful nature of this assignment, multiple classes of students this year and last year had no problem pretending to be Nazi youths railing against Jews in hateful speech. You would have to imagine that at least some of these students told their parents and yet no parent said anything. How does this happen?

Mom said to me this morning that it must have been hard to stand up in this case. I told her it wasn’t. It was actually quite easy. This class assignment was so obviously wrong. Everything I have been taught throughout my life makes the decision to do something about this an easy decision. What’s difficult is the knowledge that these are not bad people. This is not like work, I am not standing up against a murderer. There are good people that make bad decisions, sometimes that allows really bad people to do worse things. We are all there is that stands between that.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ryan Torok’s article in the Jewish Journal was published. In it Terry Deloria, assistant superintendent to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, is quoted as saying that Mrs. Cox’s “assignment specifically prohibited students from using any negative words about those that were persecuted or words that would promote violence or hatred.” Further, Deloria denied that “students [were] asked to act out, role play or simulate being a part of these groups.”

Based on the quote from Terry Deloria, I wrote the following e-mail:

Mrs. Deloria

As you are probably aware, I am writing you about a recent assignment in my daughter’s Freshman Seminar. Students were asked to role play/simulate Nazi groups as a part of assignment. They were specifically told to come up with a slogan and poster for the Nazi group that they were assigned. They were then told to recruit for/advocate the positions of that group. The teacher, Mrs. Cox, specifically told the students to be as historically accurate as possible. My daughter was left with the distinct impression that the students should specifically reference Jews. Other students did too. When students made their presentations they said among the following:

“…our job is to get rid of those filthy Jews.”
“…help keep the Jewish rats in their camps.”
“…we help with the removal of the Jewish rats.”
“…Jews are the lowest part of society.”
“…everyone is welcome except those filthy Jews.”

During the presentations Mrs. Cox did not interrupt the students to inform them that their statements were inappropriate. I exchanged numerous e-mails with Mrs. Cox about this particular assignment where I specifically cautioned against role playing/simulations of Nazi groups. At no time did she deny that this was the assignment. In fact she admitted that this was the assignment. I spoke with my daughter at considerable length about the assignment. I also spoke with her about the statements of her fellow students during the assignment. I read the assignment myself.

I am deeply troubled by your apparent denial that “students [were] asked to act out, role play or simulate being a part of these groups” and your assertion that the “assignment specifically prohibited students from using negative words about those that were persecuted or words that would promote violence or hatred” as attributed to you in an article published in the Jewish Journal.

For a multitude of reasons that I expressed in my numerous e-mails to Mrs. Cox this assignment is blatantly offensive and harmful to all students in the class. Among many problems with the assignment, it is insensitive to Jewish students in the class, it trivializes hateful racist speech by divorcing it from the consequences of such speech (the slaughter of 6 million Jews), encourages students to identify with perpetrators of horrible violence and it potentially encourages students to act out against Jews.

My hope in writing Mrs. Cox was 1) that the Santa Monica School District would cease using this assignment or others like it as part of its curriculum, 2) to prevent future similar assignments from becoming part of the curriculum the department should analyze the decision making that allowed this obviously inappropriate assignment to be presented to classes, and 3) that some remedial efforts be made to correct for the harm to students taught this course.

My last conversation with Mrs. Cox led me to believe that she and the department were making the first steps in the right direction to achieving these goals. I will note that my conversation with Mrs. Cox led me to believe that while she was aware that this assignment was offensive to Jewish students she did not fully comprehend how this assignment was harmful to all students.

No parent nor any member of the greater Santa Monica community can have any hope that assignments like this will not be a part of a curriculum taught to young impressionable students if administrators deny that such assignments were even made. I sincerely hope that you were either misquoted or have been misinformed about the nature of the assignment.

I think that it is absolutely essential that a meeting be conducted with you and the department to ensure that these concerns are adequately addressed.

I have attached below my correspondence with Mrs. Cox.

Ethan Milius

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Assistant Superintendent, Mrs. Terry Deloria responded via e-mail:

Mr. Milius,

I’d like to talk to you directly by phone today, if your schedule permits. If so, please provide a contact number and a few times convenient for you to talk with me. Thank, T

Shortly after the e-mail I spoke with Mrs. Terry Deloira over the phone. She initially told me that was glad that she could talk to me in person and that she believed part of the problem with Mrs. Cox was that the correspondence was via e-mail. I informed her that none of the problem was a consequence of e-mail and that I would be highly suspicious of an administrator who told her teachers not to communicate via e-mail to avoid a paper trail. She insisted that was not the case. She acknowledged that the assignment had given and that it would not been given in the future. I explained to her that Mrs. Cox had told me the same thing and that I appreciated that the assignment would no longer be given.

I also expressed concerned that an effort should be undertaken to understand how this assignment was given in the first place. Mrs. Deloria insisted that she would meet with the department to understand how this could have happened. She also stated that for the many reasons in my e-mail the assignment was inappropriate.

I also explained to Mrs. Deloira that some remedial measure should be taken so that students understand that this type of speech and this teaching method is not appropriate. I informed that Mrs. Cox had informed the class that some students had objected to the assignment and that they should be commended for standing up against something they thought was inappropriate. I told her that after the class a student approached my daughter and said that my daughter was responsible for class no being to learn through those assignments. I told Mrs. Deloira that is evidence that the students clearly do not understand why the assignment is inappropriate and that this remedial measure is totally inadequate in dealing with the issue.

Finally, I asked Mrs. Deloira whether she had been misquoted in the article. She said that the school administration had a limited time to reply to Ryan Torok’s request for a statement and that administrators wrote a letter addressing the issue. I asked her if she read the letter. She said that she scanned it. I told her that it seemed that she was trying to distance herself from the letter. I asked her if quote was from the letter. She said she wouldn’t commit to it until she read the article. I told her that she doesn’t need to read the article to know if she was misquoted in denying that the assignment was given because it’s the exact opposite of what she was saying during the conversation. She said that it is a secondary source and again stated that she would have to read the article. She said that she would read the letter and a later point because she had a meeting to attend and then would call me back.

After our phone conversation Mrs. Deloria responded via e-mail:

Mr. Milius,

I read the article, and I was quoted accurately. My response was based on assignment parameters shared with me by school administration. Since submitting my district’s response to Mr. Torok, I have received evidence that these parameters were not followed, at least in one classroom. I am both disappointed and concerned. I am taking immediate and appropriate actions in this matter.

Sincerely,

Dr. Terry A. Deloria

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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