April 13, 2013

Teaching critical thinking: What if you had to argue the other side of an issue?

What if you were teaching critical thinking and the issue you assigned the students to argue the other side of was something that it would be very difficult and uncomfortable to have to argue? Would you think you'd come up with an excellent assignment or would you find yourself under attack in the national news and in danger of losing your job?

What if you had to argue that the high school teacher who assigned his students to justify the Nazis' antagonism toward the Jews had come up with a pretty good assignment or at least an acceptable assignment, especially since he asked the students "to imagine that their teacher was a Nazi and to construct an argument that Jews were 'the source of our problems' using historical propaganda and... a traditional high school essay structure"?
Your essay must be five paragraphs long, with an introduction, three body paragraphs containing your strongest arguments, and a conclusion,” the assignment read. “You do not have a choice in your position: you must argue that Jews are evil, and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!”
What if you had to argue that the teacher did not display "a severe lack of judgment and a horrible level of insensitivity," as charged by Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, the Albany, NY superintendent of schools? What if you had to argue that Wyngaard's reaction is anti-education and anti-academic freedom and destructive of the very mental powers that, if developed, enable a citizenry to resist government propaganda of the kind the Nazis deployed?
“The assignment is flawed in its essence,” Rabbi Eligberg said. “It asks students to take the product for a propaganda machine and treat it as legitimate fodder for a rational argument. And that’s just wrong.”
What if you had to argue that Rabbi Eligberg was wrong to say that's wrong, because students will be subjected — throughout their lives — to propaganda that is much less obviously wrong and that will seem like rational argument and that working from the inside of creating propaganda from bad information, making it seem persuasive, is how you strengthen your power to resist propaganda and to dismantle it?
Nick Brino, a 10th grader, said he had heard about the assignment from a classmate. “I thought it was wrong,” he said. “But she was flipping out, saying if anyone was going to do it, she wasn’t going to be their friend.”

Ninth-grader Jyasi Nagel, though, said he thought the teacher was not anti-Semitic, but just trying to teach different points of view. Jyasi’s father, Moses Nagel, who is Jewish, said that he was not in favor of a harsh punishment for the teacher, but that another topic might have provided a more palatable lesson.

“It just seems like there’s a million other examples to use rather than going there,” he said.
What if you had to argue that requiring "palatable" lessons will make the students' minds flabby and lazy?

171 comments:

1charlie2 said...

What if you were stupid enough to create this as an assignment, in a public high-school setting, in a world in which some survivors of the Holocaust still survives ?

traditionalguy said...

Yes! We must all do Mein Kampf. Battle to the death. The survival of the fittest.

Our ancestors require us to destroy every other living inferior subhuman and repopulate their soil with our good blood free from taint by those slave religion vermin.

So never mind argument, we will just kill them all.

So the teacher's course becomes irrelevant. We will kill the teacher tonight.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

What if the assignment were to argue and 'logically' demonstrate that Blacks are genetically inferior, intelligence-wise, and that they have other instincts (like hair-trigger violent emotions) that made them menaces to otherwise civil societies?

No?

Well, if you don't think that assignment would be appropriate, then we have at least established that SOME topics are not-appropriate. Now we just have to determine if anti-Jewish Nazi thought falls into that category too.

CEO-MMP said...

Heh. I'm not a Christian, but I went to Catholic high school and I did really, really well in the mandatory theology classes, mostly because it was fascinating to look at things from a different perspective.

In a safe setting like high school, even college, it's a lot of fun, or should be. In the real world it rapidly loses it's appeal though--unless you're safe in some ivory tower.

But I think the teacher had a great idea. Jolt the little fuckers!

TerriW said...

Traditional guy: your answer is supposed to be *five* paragraphs long.

CEO-MMP said...

someonehastosayit sets up his own premise, then knocks it down.

Proving a point about thought.

Fritz said...

Try it with replacing Nazism with Communism, and the Jew with the Kulaks, and see who really cares.

Pogo said...

Yet somehow people who argue in opposition to gay marriage are not 'decent'.

And your visceral reaction to the libertarian speaking in a smug and superior tone, relying solely on abstractions about property ownership and the free market, suggests that certain subjects are indeed verboten.

Shouting Thomas said...

While I get your drift, Althouse, I think our problems reside elsewhere.

Too many kids aren't getting the first lesson in developing a critical intellect... traditional religious indoctrination.

A full indoctrination in Christianity or Judaism, including theology and practice, is the necessary first step.

Then, when the child moves beyond adolescence, you venture into the area of "critical thinking."

We're missing out on the first developmental step so often and starting with the second step.

The Boomers tend to forget that they got the religious indoctrination, before they moved on to the critical thinking part. Boomers became so enthralled with the critical thinking part that they forgot that there has to be some substance to think critically about. That substance is the traditional wisdom and practice of their Christian/Judaic culture.

Pogo said...

The way to teach about the human susceptibility to propaganda, emotional appeals and other illogical arguments is NOT to make them produce it.

You teach them logic, and how to dissect and debunk arguments.

You do not use your position to force them into compliance. The intended lesson may be lost on gullible and impressionable young people.

If that was indeed the intent, which is the Rabbi's point, and fear.

rhhardin said...

Evil is based on human decencies, as Vicki Hearne reads Hannah Arendt ("the banality of evil").

link and search for "jobholders" (p.106)

Care and compassion are always the argument, and the Jews do not share in this German national character and are undermining it.

It's a boilerplate argument.

lincolntf said...

There are countless ways to teach the same lesson that don't involve affirmation of genocide. But much like the Stomp Jesus professor, this teacher saw an opportunity to indulge his prejudices while at the same time exposing "open minds" to his own propaganda.

rhhardin said...

Vicki Hearne's best line, "Virtue cannot be innocent."

SGT Ted said...

Teachers aren't qualified to teach "critical thinking".

Their adherence to the entire raft of leftwing nonsense and failure supported by their "profession" proves it.

"Critical thinking" is just code for preferring and advancing leftist policies, much like Soviet Science and Nazi eugenics.

Shouting Thomas said...

High school teaching is a boring job. A high school teacher is hired to teach boring, fundamental skills.

Lots of them get tired of that and cause a scene as a consequence.

Bob Ellison said...

The notion that building an argument for a position with which you disagree is a peculiar artifact of our lawyerly culture. Deliberately adopting an adverse position is not employed in normal life, and rarely in other professions. Quality assurance folks do it to some extent.

Learning to adopt an adverse position can train the mind, yes, but it can also weaken it.

Leon said...

i guess the next assignment those kids should get is should this teacher be fired for giving this assignment. pretty good critical thinking exercise

Pogo said...

rhhardin said...
"Evil is based on human decencies."

Exactly.

And a great book, as are her others.

traditionalguy said...

Nazi thought is anti Jews, but it is also anti Slavs, anti Poles, anti Greeks, anti Catholics, anti Christians, anti Americans and even anti Germans that don't freely serve in massive killer Armies sent out to loot the world after killing the subhumans.

Hitler immediately began work on Rockets, Jets, nuclear bombs and industrialized extermination factories. He was close to becoming the world's Drone Killer before Obama got the job.

If he had not gambled on a late in season attack on Russia in June of 1941, he could have won it all.

lincolntf said...

This is not just an out of the blue hypothetical to get kids thinking. The inferiority and sub-humanity of Jews is a current and very real position of scores of nations, and probably most of the UN. And certainly this teacher.

Michael said...

Too late. Critical thinking is anathema to progress. Ditto the ancient and trying subjects of ethics and logic. Too late. Way too late.

Is Kardashian's ass too wide or just right? Should the name be Trevon or kineesha or perhaps Laquenna. These are worthy topics. Critical topics.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

CEO-MMP, your comment is too sparse to analyze for correctness.

I think I made the precise point I intended, which is: if you find yourself thinking that the Nazi topic is OK for an assignment, but not the Black topic, then perhaps ok-ing the Nazi topic says something unpleasant about you.

C Stanley said...

I understand the point of the exercise but I agree with Pogo.

Good critical thinking would involve assigning debate teams to argue both legitimate sides of an issue. Devising propoganda isn't the same as arguing legitimate points that people can reasonably disagree on.

A better assignment on propaganda woukd be to have students research the rationales that several societies and/ or regimes have used for dehumanizing certain groups, and comparing the techniques. That would help them detect the main types of rationales that have been successfully used to foment hate and rejection.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I could see this as an acceptable assignment, but only if the purpose was carefully explained in advance, to both students and parents.

Also, it would have to follow extensive lessons in spotting the various types of propaganda techniques, logical fallacies, etc.

Plus, the teacher should have run it by the administration and colleagues, to see if there was a less offensive way to teach the same ideas.

cubanbob said...

I suppose that using Jews in this 'critical thinking' experiment is now acceptable. But imagine the excercise if the teacher asked the students to argue that Jeff Davis was right and Abe Lincoln was wrong or that Plessy vs Fergusson was correctly decided.

Eric said...

There is a zero chance the teacher will lose her (yes, I've heard the teacher is a woman not a man) job.

What about the 1/3 of kids that refused to do the assignment? Are they heroes or lazy slackers?

Or the 2/3 that completed it? Are they little Eichmanns? Or ...

tim in vermont said...

I was asked by my social studies teacher, after he took me aside, to argue the "pro" side of American slavery. I did, but I am glad I didn't do it today when it could have defined my life.

Mitchell the Bat said...

I'm sure someone can explain why it's good for us to disbelieve everything.

LuAnn Zieman said...

Isn't this actually a one-sided debate? The problem here was there was no other side being presented.
I recall a high school senior year social studies class in which we were required to present one side of a debate. We were assigned pro and con sides, so, obviously many of us were arguing against our own beliefs. It required critical thinking to do so.
Back then--1960s, the school decided we couldn't debate abortion, which was one of our chosen topics.

Erika said...

Aristotle: It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

exiledonmainst said...

Boy, C-ford would have aced this assignment.

Amexpat said...

I'm all for critical thinking, but there is a line, somewhere, in the type of assignments teachers should not assign high school students at a public school.

That's because whenever you argue in favor of something there is a tendency to believe in or empathize with, to some degree, with the position that you are taking. Examples of assignments on the wrong side of the line would be making an argument in favor of; strong kids bullying weak kids, rape as natural human behavior that should not be punished by the state, it was wrong to abolish slavery in the US, anyone has the right to paint graffiti on public buildings, etc.

The assignment in question would have been better handled by asking the students to write an essay on why antisemitism was so prevalent in Germany rather than arguing in favor of it.

tim in vermont said...

You know what I find offensive? Use of the word "offensive" to control behavior.

garage mahal said...

I'm with CEO-MMP. Jolt the little fuckers. Anything is better than the mindless test factories we have now.

roesch/voltaire said...

In one of my classes I have the students read a memo written by a German engineer in 1942 without telling the students the exact subject matter or the status of the writer ( the memo is found in Steve Katz's article "The Ethics of Expediency")
As they begin to understand that the so called "technical and objective language" describes building more efficient railroad cars to transport the "material"(Jews) to concentration camps a discussion breaks out on the ethical and moral responsibility of the engineer in this case. Interestingly some defend the engineer suggesting that he had to follow orders, while others point to moral and ethical codes ranging from international treaties to professional codes that would support his resistance. Learning to consider multiple perspectives is important in developing the cognitive skills or critical thinking that is essential essential for creative and scientific work. I would hope the high school assignment generated this kind of debate.

Lem said...


Schools train people to be ignorant, with style.


Please Don't make argue against the Zappa hypothesis.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

What if you had to argue that Wyngaard's reaction is anti-education and anti-academic freedom...

Teachers deserve no academic freedom. They are there to do a job, and do it in the way that their employer requests. If they don't like it, find another job.

Students should have academic freedom to choose topics and argue positions anytime such choices fit with the lessons being taught.

College professors should have academic freedom when it comes to their research and papers. When it comes to their teaching assignments, the schools should be able to say what material needs to be covered in which courses.

EnigmatiCore said...

"What if you had to argue that requiring "palatable" lessons will make the students' minds flabby and lazy?"

I'd find it difficult, because I am more than a little skeptical that unpalatable lessons are needed to prevent flabby and lazy minds.

I cannot think of any lesson quite like the one described here during my education, and I grew up to be a pretty skeptical person regarding propaganda from politicians, advertisements, journalists, teachers, etc.

I think they may be overreacting, though, since it is also imaginable to me that the lesson was crafted in good faith by a teacher who felt that unpalatable lessons are necessary. That makes the person wrong, not evil.

They should give the teacher a little bit of a more stringent looking at, to see if there is some fire to go with the little bit of smoke here, while telling the teacher to run any intentionally unpalatable lessons by them to avoid these situations.

Paco Wové said...

"she was flipping out, saying if anyone was going to do it, she wasn’t going to be their friend."

The perfect Party member!

EnigmatiCore said...

exiledonmainst, you magnificent bastard.

CEO-MMP said...

@someone:

I'm fine with an assignment such as you suggest. I think I might suggest it as something in a college level course and not high school, but whatever.

I don't hold any group or ethnicity untouchable.

Iconochasm said...

I think my biggest problem with this assignment is that all of the information I'd use to answer it I learned well after high school. I couldn't have given more than shallow pablum on the topic with what I was taught, even with an amazing AP Euro teacher.

CEO-MMP said...

garage, you're a gentleman and a scholar sir!

EnigmatiCore said...

AP Euro? There is such a thing? I thought my school had a lot of AP courses, but it didn't have that one. Or is it a more recently added one in general?

EnigmatiCore said...

"Multiply this mindset times ten, with liberal radical"

Multiplying garage's liberal radical mindset by ten would be quite similar to dividing by zero. To infinity, and beyond.

traditionalguy said...

The intellectual presumption that Nazi Propaganda is just a set of ideas that we can handle if we learn how to debate it is like saying nitroglycerine packed in sawdust is safe like another form of fireworks.

Reality counts.

Chip Ahoy said...

What if the mommies and daddies of the world suddenly one day decided to snap the rug from under their own children by telling them that the story regarding the basics of becoming mommies and daddies themselves is actually horribly bigoted and you are little bigoted bastards for holding it. Here, another version is the true version of marriage, history is shit, the version held distasteful and not worthwhile held by the president they barely elected changed, so the electors changed too, or the electors changed first so the president changed, whatever that part is not important, it was a thin line and it was crossed and it changed and now you must too or be regarded as bigoted. Make your best argument in three paragraphs and make an introduction and slap it on and give it a conclusion and slap that on. So five paragraphs on why rug-snapping civilization's basics is good for little children to keep them on their toes.

This is almost fun.

Ann Althouse said...

"But imagine the excercise if the teacher asked the students to argue that Jeff Davis was right and Abe Lincoln was wrong or that Plessy vs Fergusson was correctly decided."

Every time I teach conlaw2, I require students to go through the exercise of thinking about Plessy v. Ferguson as having been correctly decided. There is no way to read a case with understanding if you don't at some point think from the perspective of the judges that decided it that way. It had to have made sense to them, therefore you must understand how they could think that. You must consider whether we think it's wrong because we don't like the policy it permitted democratic majorities to adopt.

Ann Althouse said...

What if my students resisted having to think in those terms and refused to do the classwork, then went to the dean and told her I'm racist, and the dean backed the students up?

Is that like what happened in Albany?

Erika said...

There is no way to read a case with understanding if you don't at some point think from the perspective of the judges that decided it that way. It had to have made sense to them, therefore you must understand how they could think that. You must consider whether we think it's wrong because we don't like the policy it permitted democratic majorities to adopt.

This is remarkably similar sounding what I learned in my high school sophomore debate and rhetoric class. Please don't say that these are new thinking skills for law students.

garage mahal said...

Multiplying garage's liberal radical mindset

You couldn't name one "radical" thought I espouse.

Gahrie said...

I am a teacher.

Do I think the lesson plan is defensible? Sure.

Could it be effective? Sure.

Is there a chance in hell in today's climate that I would ever use it? Not a chance in hell.

EnigmatiCore said...

"You couldn't name one "radical" thought I espouse"

"Jolt the little fuckers. Anything is better than the mindless test factories we have now."

Gahrie said...

The intellectual presumption that Nazi Propaganda is just a set of ideas that we can handle if we learn how to debate it is like saying nitroglycerine packed in sawdust is safe like another form of fireworks.

The intellectual presumption that any idea is off limits to debate is like saying banning guns will end murder.

CEO-MMP said...

EnigmatiCore said...

"You couldn't name one "radical" thought I espouse"

"Jolt the little fuckers. Anything is better than the mindless test factories we have now."

That's not radical and he didn't espouse it.

iowan2 said...

A buddy and I had to argue the South African apartheid was acceptable. Me being the farm kid and my buddy, literally from the wrong side of the tracks.

We kicked ass, against the Superintendents kid and the Ministers kid

That being unconventional enough, after it was over, the teacher took me aside and asked if I was going to college. I said I didnt know. She responded that it would be ashamed if I wasted my self farming......No bigotry in the teaching proffession

rhhardin said...

Hitler said Jews were slippery and dishonest, relating a story of besting them in debate and then coming back the next day and finding they acted as if they didn't remember it.

rhhardin said...

Jews then apparently were a lot like conservatives today.

edutcher said...

OK, what if she hadn't used the Krauts, but went with the Russkies?

Would the "offended" rabbi have known that Uncle Joe, had he lived a few more years, intended to finish the job Dolf had started?

The school board needs to remember some wisdom from Winnie, "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life".

MadisonMan said...

History is full of uncomfortable occurrences. Those who do not study them are doomed to repeat them.

The teacher should have done a little more prep work -- to prepare the parents for what is coming, and perhaps to modify the assignment based on the more visceral objections. They didn't, and created a great study for another Social Studies class on what happens when you teach things that "offend".

People are too easily offended in the US today.

virgil xenophon said...

ST, et al here who argue "basics first, critical thinking later" are on the mark. One first has to have some frame of reference, some foundational data upon which to refer; upon which to critique. As a pilot I would analogize using the INS (Inertial Nav. System.) In order for the INS to "reason" as it moves thru space/time amidst changing conditions, it must first have an initial data input so it knows where it started from so it can compare movement from that point forward. Without this initial "fix" the INS is useless. As such, the same goes for HS-level (and below) students. Without a necessary foundation of "facts" from which to refer, they have nothing referentially to opine about. Absent such initial foundations as a point of reference their "opinions" and "critiques" are about as valuable as a cats opinion about solving for the correct answer to a set of differential equations, i.e., TOTALLY useless. Every time I hear some vapid HS-age moron start out a comment by saying, "Well man, the way I feel is....) I struggle mightily to refrain from throttling the bastard with my bare hands (if within my reach) FIRST, one must have a base-line minimalist knowledge about a subject before one can have "feelings" about anything about it..

God help me, I'm becoming more like whoresoftheinternet every day..

Enjoy the decline morons..

CEO-MMP said...

virgil, it's high school. when I went to high school we had a class called Critical Thinking. There was CritThink I and CritThink II in fact.


By high school kids should be relatively well grounded in basics and learning how to move on, be it to college or 'the world'.

Should be.

edutcher said...

virgil, the little darlings have been indoctrinated to feel (go with your gut, etc.) since they could understand the language.

They get it from the media as well as the union teachers. This is the whole Lefty approach; symbolism over substance - as Rush says, perception over truth.

As far as they can see, they're just doing what they've been told to do.

Shana said...

My daughter is a Lincoln-Douglas debater. Nothing makes you understand an issue better than being able to defend the aff and the neg. However, I hope no student with future political aspirations turned the assignment in. Romney was just a high school prankster, the said student would be labeled a neo-Nazi.

Shouting Thomas said...

Folks, I've played a lot in Albany and worked for the state in Albany.

Albany is an incredibly boring state worker town. State workers want to be left alone to plan their retirement. They go in to work at 7 a.m., leave by 3 p.m. and are in bed by 9 p.m. They roll up the sidewalks in Albany by 10 p.m.

I cannot think of a town less likely to look kindly upon a teacher who is bored with his job and looking to raise a little hell than Albany.

You don't go to Albany for "critical thinking." You go to plan on your retirement on a state pension.

Jim said...

Two years of high school debate, arguing both sides every weekend, made me a much better person. It paid off in college, in graduate school, as an engineer, father. I pity people who can't make the best case for a case for that which they oppose.

Pogo said...

"I pity people who can't make the best case for a case for that which they oppose."

Which was not the lesson being taught here.

One side only; the usual one.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Don't high schools have debate teams any more?

When I was in high school--in the late 70s--I was part of the debate team.

And the way debating worked was, you had to prepare both a "pro" case and a "con" case, on whatever question was being debated, by everyone, that year. You would end up debating both sides, including the side you favored. And you did it over and over through many tournaments. Either you got better, or you lost to those who did.

I think the question my year was nuclear power; another year it was the death penalty. No one seemed to get upset that sometimes we were arguing for the death penalty, sometimes against. We understood the purpose of the exercise.

dreams said...

What if the students had been assigned to argue that Obama is a anti-American socialist/communist who was raised by his fellow traveler mother to hate America?

virgil xenophon said...

That'll happen only in your dreams, dreams..

dreams said...

When it is most important to be politically correct, shouldn't we expect more and more people to be closed minded?

Rusty said...

Jim said...
Two years of high school debate, arguing both sides every weekend, made me a much better person. It paid off in college, in graduate school, as an engineer, father. I pity people who can't make the best case for a case for that which they oppose.

What's worse is they can't make the best case for the case they support.

William said...

I think the teacher acted in good faith, but the costumes upstaged the play. You don't ask students to don g-strings in order to learn ballroom dancing (dammit). Hitler preached any number of pernicious doctrines and was a truly evil man. What is interesting and unique about him is that he is the only such monster whose works and person have been thoroughly discredited.

Shana said...

Debating is alive and well at the high school level. Even homeschoolers have a huge speech and debate league.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

CEO-MMP said...

@someone:

I'm fine with an assignment such as you suggest. I think I might suggest it as something in a college level course and not high school, but whatever.

I don't hold any group or ethnicity untouchable.


You would lose your job. Without question.

wyo sis said...

"Multiplying garage's liberal radical mindset

You couldn't name one "radical" thought I espouse."

The most radical thought you can have in 2013 America is conservative, Constitution originalist, white Christian thought.

EnigmatiCore said...

White christian thought? What the hell is that?

Shouting Thomas said...

White christian thought? What the hell is that?

Scots-Irish-German traditional cultural wisdom.

Iconochasm said...

I had AP Euro in 2002. My school added AP World History in 2004, after I was gone. But my school had a preposterous number for tests per student, so that may not be the norm.

wyo sis said...

It's not that difficult.
White.
Christian.
The two least respected groups of people. Make a Venn diagram.

Luke Lea said...

The ability to argue both sides of a case is sophistry, not critical thinking. Critical thinking aims for the truth, sophistry aims to persuade.

dreams said...

What if the students had been assigned to argue that Gosnell is a courageous heroic protector of women's reproductive health?

"the baby’s little fingers were clasping and unclasping, and his little feet were kicking. Then the doctor stuck the scissors in the back of his head, and the baby’s arms jerked out, like a startle reaction, like a flinch, like a baby does when he thinks he is going to fall.

The doctor opened up the scissors, stuck a high-powered suction tube into the opening, and sucked the baby’s brains out. Now the baby went completely limp. . . . He cut the umbilical cord and delivered the placenta. He threw the baby in a pan, along with the placenta and the instruments he had just used."

http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/345483/dehumanizing-word-games-gosnell-andrew-c-mccarthy?pg=2

Ann Althouse said...

"The ability to argue both sides of a case is sophistry, not critical thinking. Critical thinking aims for the truth, sophistry aims to persuade."

But a step in getting to the truth is recognizing that the material you are consuming is often written by someone who is trying to persuade. Studying how arguments are put together and how bad material is spun into something that looks good is an extremely valuable skill.

And when you think you've got the truth, you may want to put your communication in persuasive form, particularly if you do politics or law. Part of this persuasion is done by cutting through the persuasion done on the other side.

There's a competition going on here, and you have to be strong enough to play.

Freeman Hunt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David-2 said...

I could have sword this happened already in some law school (or schools) where students refused to take either a pro-abortion or anti-homosexual side of a mock trial because there obviously could be no arguments made and it was just so objectionable. And the point was made that lawyers need to argue for the client, even if they personally disagree, but ultimately the school folded and changed the mock trial topic.


But unfortunately I can't find the incident using Google. I'm sure it isn't my imagination though.

Ann Althouse said...

@dreams I know what I'd argue there. I'd argue that the fact that the nurse could see the baby is not the baby's perspective. When partial birth abortion was banned, it meant that a late-term abortion would have to be done by another method that involved more suffering for the baby, albeit out of sight of the born humans in the room. Who do we care about? The baby being killed or the people who are doing the killing?

A late-term abortion can be banned entirely, but not where it is needed to save the life and health of the mother. The best method should be used, not the method designed to preserve the feelings of the various attendants in the operating room, especially not when the suffering of the doomed infant is not at stake.

Freeman Hunt said...

I once had to argue in a class mock trial that the My Lai Massacre was justified. Our side even won.

(Note that I do not actually think the My Lai Massacre was justified.)

I think my teacher was wise to have us do this exercise orally. Asie from what I've written above, it also allows you to see groupthink in action, right from inside.

Ann Althouse said...

By the way, the language quoted by dreams — "the baby’s little fingers were clasping and unclasping" — is in the SCt case (Gonzales v. Carhart), and I have had a student say why did we have to read that? Why wasn't that edited out of the case?

It's analogous to the argument based on what people see and what they don't see, used to ban one form of gruesome abortion when the alternative was also gruesome but the suffering body was out of sight.

David-2 said...

uh, sword -> sworn. Obviously. Sorry.

dreams said...

It seems to me that the reason the liberal media refuse to cover Gosnell is because they don't want to assign to themselves the advancement of the argument that it is okay to kill botch abortion live babies or to highlight the stark argument against partial birth abortions.

Mike said...

I understand the reason why she gave the assignment. Arguing the opposite of what you think is an incredibly important skill. However, it was far too difficult an assignment for high schoolers. from a modern perspective there IS no justification for the Holocaust and I would expect that they would have to resort to confusing or illogical arguments instead of critical thinking. Of course law students debating Plessy v. Ferguson has a higher level of student and a slightly easier topic. This seems more akin to debating:
1) "Killing your lover's husband because you want to be with her is wrong: Pro or con"
or
2) "The sky is actually made from the skull of Ymir the ice giant. Justify in five paragraphs."
It could be fun and stimulating to argue those, but it's just too hard for a high school class.
The assignment on the Holocaust was basically asking people to justify why murder is good, and mass murder is great. That would be difficult for law students, nonetheless high schoolers.

jr565 said...

ann Althouse wrote:
A late-term abortion can be banned entirely, but not where it is needed to save the life and health of the mother.

Didnt the doctor kill alot of these babies after they were technically born though? If, at that point the baby is out of the mothers womb how is the question of the life and health of the mother still relevant?

Christy said...

Not until I read Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird did I understand how basically decent people could stand aside while Nazis did their dirty deeds.

Understanding need not be forgiving. Sounds like the lesson, while worthy, was not well thought out.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Luke Lea:

It can give rise to sophistry, sure; and in the case of my high school debate team, we would lapse into that anyway. I.e., we would pride ourselves on "technically" valid arguments that we knew were essentially bogus. But that's part of being that age.

Nevertheless, as an exercise in critical thinking, it is a useful tool.

Stephen A. Meigs said...

It is important to recognize the characteristics and techniques of propaganda, but Why does one have to make propaganda in order to understand it? The teacher could merely have assigned writing an essay describing the arguments and techniques the Nazis used to support their ideology.

True, lawyers may need to argue the case for defendants that are fairly obviously guilty, and politicians may need to argue for the best policy that is politically possible rather than an ideal policy, but these exceptions are not particularly important considerations for the benefit of humanity. Perhaps practice in persuasion, if it is deemed necessary, should be delayed until students know they want to be trial lawyers or politicians (and could be geared more toward what a good lawyer or politician might find useful).

Practice in bad reasoning is no good practice. For instance, when I read a piece of mathematics where the definitions are quite ugly, if I think about it sufficiently that the definitions become somewhat habitual, this can actually make it somewhat more difficult for me to come to think clearly about the subject.

dreams said...

I think debates are good in that they present both sides of an argument (the other side of the story) and help develop persuasive skills and the ability to think ahead so as to anticipate the counter argument.

Fr Martin Fox said...

This topic reminds me of an idea for a film (or mini-series), that I'd like to see happen--but I very much doubt it will:

Someone should make a film telling the story of the rise and fall of Nazism, from the perspective of an ordinary person who gets drawn in.

That is to say: suppose, instead of Hitler & company simply being portrayed as nothing more than raving lunatics, show them as the persuasive politicians and propagandists that they were.

It's one thing to show how depraved the Nazis were. But it seems to me we do ourselves a great disservice by repeatedly showing Hitler flailing about, screaming in words we don't understand (if we don't speak German).

The harsh fact is, he persuaded a lot of people. Would anyone dare to show that? And even more daring, to put the audience in the position of being the ones who are swayed?

Has such a book or movie been produced? I don't know of it. It would, I think, be awfully daring; it would be a case where such daring was truly meritorious--as opposed to the adolescent "daring" of putting a crucifix in urine--the sort of "bravery" from artists we usually get.

Freeman Hunt said...

It could be fun and stimulating to argue those, but it's just too hard for a high school class.

That's not too hard--I think high school students would LOVE the assignments you just came up with!

creeley23 said...

Obviously arguing both sides of an issue is a valuable exercise. Few here will argue against that, though Luke Lea did.

Althouse takes the logical high ground here, but ignores the specifics that make this case troubling -- we're talking about children in public high school, not adults in one of her conlaw classes.

Not everything that's good for adults is good for children. Not everything that can be discussed in an open, adult space where people are free to attend or not, can be discussed in high school.

What if teaching at a top-ranked law school weakens one's ability to notice commonsense realities?

Drago said...

garage: "I'm with CEO-MMP. Jolt the little fuckers. Anything is better than the mindless test factories we have now."

garage is perfectly ok with our schools being mindless factories.

He just doesn't want us to test to determine how mindless those factories have become.

That might lead to some unpleasant analysis and consequences.

creeley23 said...

What if asking a long string of "What if?" questions is a lazy propaganda technique?

Aaron said...

We had to argue as Athenians whether to give women the right to vote. That was fun. A+ on the essay, final line was something about not wanting foreign policy run on the menstrual cycle.

Bender said...

Father --

Both Judgment at Nuremburg and Sophie Scholl present supporters of the Nazi regime as real people, rather than the cartoonish figures that usually are depicted.

Also, Robert Duvall is excellent in The Man Who Captured Eichmann, really portraying the "banality of evil."

And then there is Conspiracy about the Wannsee Conference.

ricpic said...

It was once mandatory that an educated man master rhetoric before he could be so classified. Assigning a student the task of arguing the Nazi position vis-a-vis the Jews - that they are untermenschen and therefore are to be dealt with as untermenschen - is an assignment in rhetoric. Rhetoric can be in support of any proposition, the only requirement is that the rhetoric be convincing, otherwise it falls short. Let's say a student succeeded in making a strong rhetorical argument in support of the Nazi position. If, at the end of the assignment, the teacher commended the student and then proceeded to refute his argument, not because it was UGLY but because it was based on a prejudice not on a reality, for reasons a, b, c, d....well, there would be nothing wrong with assigning the student such a task.

Bender said...

The thing is this -- if we are to say that National Socialism was and is evil, one must be prepared to answer the question "why?" And to do that, one must be able to refute those points advanced by the adherents of Nazism.

Then again, our contemporary society does not believe in the concept of "evil," at least not in any real moral sense, but only in a political/emotional sense which rejects the use of reason (and even says that those who advocate for reason are "stupid") in favor of raw power. As such, understanding how someone could embrace something like Nazism is irrelevant, rather, it is evil merely because we say so, period. It is "might makes right." Such an approach is also reflective of that very Nazism that people protest against.

The errors and evils of Hitler's thought have NOT been discredited. They have instead merely mutated to other things, not a few of which we are dealing with today.

Bender said...

If the Jews are untermenschen, and the disabled are lebensunwertes leben, and both are essentially social vermin that are harming the national body, then the policies of the National Socialist regime practically dictate themselves.

Note that just the other day in these pages we had many people arguing that personhood was a matter of choice.

The Nazi regime chose that certain entities were not persons, but were subhuman non-persons.

How were they any different from our contemporary society?

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Remember the college (or possibly a number of colleges) that starting assigning all incoming freshmen one book to read over the summer, to be discussed in a mandatory fall seminar? I think I would've assigned something shorter than a book: Saki's "The Unrest-Cure". (If you don't know the story, and follow the link to read it, bear in mind that it's from before WWI -- 1912 or so, IIRC.)

Much to discuss there.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Ann, wasn't there a famous -- well not "case" in this context, call it "incident" -- of law students refusing a moot court assignment because it forced some of them to argue that Roe V. Wade was wrongly decided? And the organizers of the moot court competition eventually offering the fastidious pro-Roe faction an alternative assignment about something a little less personal? (My very hazy memory is telling me it was a case about riparian rights, but in any event it was something of that nature.)

Bender said...

Here's a class exercise --

Pretend you are Norma McCorvey a/k/a Jane Roe. Now argue the issue of abortion.

ricpic said...

Father Fox - The historian John Lukacs has written a book, The Hitler Of History, which, without hysteria, describes the reasons why both Hitler and National Socialism had strong appeal to a broad spectrum of the German people.

Shana said...

Of course there is a reason you don't see "Resolved: That the Jewish race is inferior and should be exterminated" or "Resolved: That partial birth abortion is a human right that must be protected" as high school debate topics.

Bender said...

Note also, that it was not only Germany that was confronting "the Jewish question" in Europe. Many other nations dealt with the question as well, many other nations offered and implemented various solutions to the Jewish question. That the Nazis finally came upon one particular solution is not surprising since it was merely the logical extension of all of the other non-German, non-Nazi solutions.

Civilis said...

In theory, I like the idea behind this sort of exercise, and the specific exercise in question has a number of things going for it. It requires students both to learn the history of the subject as well as critical thinking skills. I think it's better to pick a subject that the students are automatically against than to pick something either politically current (which risks the wrath of parents of the disfavored political philosophy) or something prone to the winds of historical revisionism and political correctness (such as the colonization of America or the Civil War).

The biggest issue I have with the assignment as given from a critical thinking perspective is that it requires the students to argue based on 'facts' which are obviously not true (as opposed to arguing from a set of one-sided facts, which, though biased, have the advantage of being true, or, at least, subject to individual perception). It does little good to present a critical thinking exercise where the result can be dismissed simply by saying the underlying facts are incorrect.

Civilis said...

Anything is better than the mindless test factories we have now

So, which do we go with: homeschooling for everyone, or turn the US public school system over to the Catholic church?

When I went to school decades ago, the state of Virginia had periodic state-mandated assessment tests to see how we were doing. Aside from taking a couple days off our schedule every other year, these didn't have any impact on the educational programs. If schools have become mindless test factories, it's the fault of the educators at the school system level that decide educational priorities, not the legislators that want to see what kind of results the system is currently producing.

Synova said...

My daughter made nazi propaganda posters for her History class, BUT it wasn't anything about Jews directly. The teacher gave her a good grade but the posters didn't get displayed the way other student artwork would have been.

There could easily be a very good lesson in asking students to try to imagine themselves feeling that the trouble in their lives was the fault of Jews, if the assignment was handled right. An essay would be very difficult, even for those who understood the idea that this wasn't intended to represent their own views, and it would be impossible for those students who can not lie. Others won't have a conceptual space for "devil's advocate". They *might* have been able to do it if they made up a fictional German person and pretended this was them talking.

But the main problem, really, with an assignment like this is that there is no way to know what the teacher actually did with it.

I would think that a very very good lesson for young people to learn is that good people do evil things.

If I were asked to argue the value of this assignment (and the assignment after it, to argue for slavery and segregation) it isn't that young people need to be able to recognize propaganda. It would be that it would be a very very good thing if students could learn that good people do evil things and that understanding how someone feels and why doesn't *justify* the evil that they do. Evil remains evil.

PianoLessons said...

Kudos to Someone Has To Say It who wrote:

What if the assignment were to argue and 'logically' demonstrate that Blacks are genetically inferior, intelligence-wise, and that they have other instincts (like hair-trigger violent emotions) that made them menaces to otherwise civil societies?

I was going to comment by saying the problem here is not the assignment (actually a good one is teaching qualifiers in Toulmin argument) but the target audience as Jews.

How about the same assignment asking students to take the position that Muslims are all dedicated to a worldwide jihad to kill Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and any other religion and culture not Islam?

Antisemitism is on a horrible rise not only in Europe and the Mideast, but in American academia and the extreme lefty ideology.

Great assignment for critical thinking work but wrong target.

Freeman Hunt said...

Civilis, isn't it important to learn about that though? I think that arguing from non-facts is pretty common. Look at the wild things people say about food today. Or vaccines.

Ann Althouse said...

"Didnt the doctor kill alot of these babies after they were technically born though? If, at that point the baby is out of the mothers womb how is the question of the life and health of the mother still relevant?"

My comment responded to dreams's comment that used a quote from the SCt case on partial birth abortion, so I'm using those facts, which relate to the abortion right.

What Gosnell is accused of goes beyond what's protected by the right.

It could be that some of those women had a right to have the abortion, and then the abortion was botched. Then there is the horrible reality of a fully visible baby that everyone was a moment ago trying to kill. Doctors are expected to shift to saving its life. There is not right to kill it.

PianoLessons said...

Althouse - are you really arguing against what US Senator Barbara Boxer said:

In the 1999 colloquy, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said: Suppose during this procedure the baby slips entirely from the mother’s birth canal. “You agree, once a child is born, is separated from the mother, that that child is protected by the Constitution and cannot be killed? Do you agree with that?”

Boxer: “I think when you bring your baby home, when your baby is born … the baby belongs to your family and has all the rights.”

Santorum persisted: “Obviously, you don’t mean they have to take the baby out of the hospital for it to be protected by the Constitution. Once the baby is separated from the mother, you would agree—completely separated from the mother—you would agree that the baby is entitled to constitutional protection?”

She would not say “yes.” Instead, she said, understandably: “I don’t want to engage in this.”

Soource: George Will 7/31/2010 The Daily Beast

Ann Althouse said...

"Ann, wasn't there a famous -- well not "case" in this context, call it "incident" -- of law students refusing a moot court assignment because it forced some of them to argue that Roe V. Wade was wrongly decided? And the organizers of the moot court competition eventually offering the fastidious pro-Roe faction an alternative assignment about something a little less personal."

Sounds like something that could happen but I can't say that I remember it.

PianoLessons said...

Sorry - I meant to include the George Will article on Congressional Testimony (Boxer)

George Will

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2010/07/31/barbara-boxer-in-context.html

Ann Althouse said...

"What if you had to argue that Wyngaard's reaction is anti-education and anti-academic freedom...Teachers deserve no academic freedom. They are there to do a job, and do it in the way that their employer requests. If they don't like it, find another job.... College professors should have academic freedom when it comes to their research and papers. When it comes to their teaching assignments, the schools should be able to say what material needs to be covered in which courses."

But this wasn't a case of the teacher-employee declining to teach the assigned topic or to use the required material, I don't think. This was someone who had to make up tasks for the students and is seen as posing a question that, while on topic, is distressing and offensive to the students. And now they want to punish the teacher for it.

PianoLessons said...

The real question is what offends people and what doesn't.

Today it seems OKAY to bash Jews and Catholics but not Muslims or Gay folks.

Just monitor liberal blogs and late night comedians to test out my assertion.

Bash any "PC approved" minority? - Racist.

Bash gunowners or Tea Party folks - no problem.

Society has always lived with "who's in" and "who's out" codes.

No one can question that the extreme left is trying to debunk the "myth" of anti-Seminitism in their quest to be more European - about forty years too late.





Ann Althouse said...

@piano I can't understand the question Boxer didn't want to talk about something. What does it mean to be against that?

One problem with Santorum's question is that it assumes a constitutional right as against private citizens, which is wrong. It is a question about statutes. Some statutes protect the unborn. Must statutes protect the very recently born?

Revenant said...

If you're trying to teach critical thinking to kids, don't start with a topic virtually NOBODY can think about without getting emotional.

Honestly, that's like trying to teach calculus to preschoolers.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Bender, Ricpic:

Thanks for the references; except for Judgment at Nuremberg, I'm not familiar with those. I'll check them out.

So, with that disclaimer, let me ask: do those portrayals do as I suggest: put the viewer--or reader--in the position of the ordinary German, who gradually winds up being a supporter of Nazism, and to some degree, complicit with its evils?

You see what I'm suggesting? I think of the scene in Cabaret, where an seemingly innocent song turns into a Nazi rally. And, if you're familiar with him, some of Harry Turtledove's writings. But his are alternate-history fiction, so that makes it safer.

Steven said...

“The assignment is flawed in its essence,” Rabbi Eligberg said. “It asks students to take the product for a propaganda machine and treat it as legitimate fodder for a rational argument. And that’s just wrong.”

Dude, you're a rabbi. Your whole job is doing that.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Ann,

It could be that some of those women had a right to have the abortion, and then the abortion was botched. Then there is the horrible reality of a fully visible baby that everyone was a moment ago trying to kill. Doctors are expected to shift to saving its life. There is not right to kill it.

That is right. (Though did you mean "visible"? Or "viable"? Or both?)

The moment a live infant is born, it's an infant, a child, not a fetus, and killing a child is quaintly known in these hinterlands as, er, "murder." If there is a doctor present and there is a live human child in distress, the right word for the entity is "patient." That it has been necessary for some states to explain this to people who call themselves "physicians," and that lawmakers (including the current President) have refused to agree still staggers me.

C Stanley said...

Father- although not quite what you are suggesting, a book called On Hitler's Mountain was written by a woman who had grown up in close proximity to Hitler's Eagle Nest retreat. She describes it all through a child's eyes.

(Sorry, I don't know how to embed the Amazon portal link.)

C Stanley said...

The moment a live infant is born, it's an infant, a child, not a fetus, and killing a child is quaintly known in these hinterlands as, er, "murder." If there is a doctor present and there is a live human child in distress, the right word for the entity is "patient." That it has been necessary for some states to explain this to people who call themselves "physicians," and that lawmakers (including the current President) have refused to agree still staggers me.

4/13/13, 3:26 PM

Hear, hear.

Saint Croix said...

It's analogous to the argument based on what people see and what they don't see, used to ban one form of gruesome abortion when the alternative was also gruesome but the suffering body was out of sight.

The seen/unseen distinction is the born/unborn distinction.

If you object to the idea that infanticide is evil only when we can see it, then you should start questioning the infanticides that we cannot see (i.e. that happen inside the uterus).

Your argument in the Carhart case is analogous to an argument that Dr. Gosnell could easily make. Yes, the baby is born, but she is no different than the unborn babies that we abortionists kill all the time.

The born/unborn distinction is inherently illogical. And you can only resolve the irratinality by

a) killing newborns too, what's the big deal?

or

b) worry about killing unborn infants.

The Supreme Court even has a perfectly bigoted and dehumanizing term ("fetus") that is used precisely to describe those babies we cannot see.

Saint Croix said...

A late-term abortion can be banned entirely, but not where it is needed to save the life and health of the mother.

Then it cannot be banned at all, since "health" is entirely vague. It's like getting a note from your doctor. For instance, in Roe Justice Blackmun discusses the "stigma of unwed motherhood," as justification for a "health" abortion.

The best method should be used, not the method designed to preserve the feelings of the various attendants in the operating room, especially not when the suffering of the doomed infant is not at stake.

But the baby is only "doomed" because the people in the room are determined to kill her.

Why not terminate the pregnancy by inducing labor, delivering the baby, and putting her in a NICU? Why did the cases develop as a kill-right as opposed to a stop-the-pregnancy right? And did the development of the cases as a kill-right lead to the atrocities in Philadelphia?

C Stanley said...

Your argument in the Carhart case is analogous to an argument that Dr. Gosnell could easily make. Yes, the baby is born, but she is no different than the unborn babies that we abortionists kill all the time.

And as gruesome and difficult to look upon his method was, it is probably MORE humane (from the infant's perspective) than what happens to babies born alive after legal abortions who suffer for hours (on cold metal trays, or in storage room closets) before expiring.

Lydia said...

Fr Martin Fox said...
The harsh fact is, [Hitler] persuaded a lot of people. Would anyone dare to show that? And even more daring, to put the audience in the position of being the ones who are swayed?

Oh, cool. Let's turn a bunch of folks into latter-day Nazis. Or at least slavering Jew haters.

PianoLessons said...

Althouse - I should have made US Senator Barbara Boxer's comment stand out in the passage I posted:

She said "Boxer: “I think when you bring your baby home, when your baby is born … the baby belongs to your family and has all the rights."

She speaks for a pro-choice position that says once you "approve of the fetus" and wrap it up in a blanket to take it home, it begins to have constitutional rights.

No wonder she didn't want to answer any questions about this statement but....she said it. CSPAN recorded it. George Will wrote about it.

Lydia said...

Re Althouse's analogy between getting inside the heads of Nazi propagandists and the court majority in Plessy v. Ferguson:

Shouldn’t a teacher consider the consequences of different ideas? Seems to me that the consequences of separate but equal and the inherent evil of Jews, which led to their near-extinction, are of quite different orders.

As Mike @11:41 AM said: "The assignment on the Holocaust was basically asking people to justify why murder is good, and mass murder is great."

Bender said...

Eichmann and Conspiracy both are less about everyday non-political types who fall into Nazism as they are about dedicated Nazis, but demonstrating that those true-believing Nazis are quite ordinary people -- as Hannah Arendt put it, the banality of evil.

The German-made Sophie Scholl is about the real Sophie Scholl, member of the White Rose German resistance movement, and much of it is taken from transcripts of her interrogation by a quite reasonable civil servant who appreciated Hitler having raised the nation out of the gutter. There are also others who show what probably was the vast majority of people, those who simply went along to avoid trouble for themselves. That said, there is one person in the film during her trial that is WAY OVER THE TOP with his cartoonish histrionics. But that is because the real Roland Freisler was like that in his kangaroo courts.

Fr Martin Fox said...

I said...
The harsh fact is, [Hitler] persuaded a lot of people. Would anyone dare to show that? And even more daring, to put the audience in the position of being the ones who are swayed?

Oh, cool. Let's turn a bunch of folks into latter-day Nazis. Or at least slavering Jew haters.

Oh gosh are you stupid. You can't...

There's no point in even trying to explain it to you; you're as dumb as a sack of hammers.

Lydia said...

Not saying that's your intent, Father. Just that playing with fire is never a good idea.

Bender said...

Let's turn a bunch of folks into latter-day Nazis.

To avoid turning people into Jew-haters, let's have people argue in favor of the German T-4 program instead then. Instead of arguing in favor of Auschwitz, let's have them argue in favor of Hadamar.

Civilis said...

Freeman,

Merit is, ultimately, in the eye of the beholder. I look at it as asking students to solve higher math problems with the assumption that pi is equal to 3. For another example, it's as if a lawyer in a criminal trial bases their entire case around the suspect being at location A when the crime was committed, and he knows that the suspect was at location B, and knows the other side knows this and can prove it.

Ultimately, to do these sorts of critical thinking exercises one needs to have a grasp of both sides, so you can both state your own position clearly and head off any obvious flaws. This particular exercise has an obvious flaw.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Lydia:

So you think we should "protect" people from reality? Shape their world for them?

Unbelievable.

I'm guessing you favor the sorts of laws they have in Germany, where you can't even publish Mein Kampf.

Fr Martin Fox said...

I'm a big fan of the late Rod Serling, who would actually try stuff something like I'm suggesting--although tamer.

Mr. Serling had great confidence in his audience.

PianoLessons said...

Anti-Semitism is rampant - again - in Europe and Obama's Alinky like chaos in USA is about forty years too late as libs and academics desperately try to "be like Europe".

I swear they still think all bankers are Jewish.

Hating bankers - I am with em. But come on folks - get educated!

Today's anti- Semetism news from Europe:

http://www.ejpress.org/article/65898

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/31/disturbing-persistence-antisemitism-europe

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/anti-semitism-in-europe-jews-are-outsiders-not-equals.premium-1.507084

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4365362,00.html

Civilis said...

Father,

With respect, I think the argument is that some high school students can be very stupid, even the smart ones. I remember some of the more-literate ones being swayed by the righteousness of the IRA and convinced of the invincibility of the Iraqi army against the coalition during Desert Shield.

Most of those Occupy Wall Street protesters had to have been high school students at one point...

Fr Martin Fox said...

Civilis:

Well, I was pointedly not suggesting an exercise for high school students. I was talking about writing a book or making a movie--for adults.

And the fact that some people aren't very bright is not a reason to say a movie shouldn't be made, or a book shouldn't be written.

Bender said...

It should be noted that Jews were barred from the T-4 program.

PianoLessons said...

roesch/voltaire said...

In one of my classes I have the students read a memo written by a German engineer in 1942 without telling the students the exact subject matter or the status of the writer ( the memo is found in Steve Katz's article "The Ethics of Expediency")

I too have used this same memo in classes. It is chilling and a great reading assignment.

Now could I ever imagine asking students to shift roles and become the Nazis who wrote here about the space troubles for carrying dead, gassed victims from concentration camps in their vans?

Uhm - I don't think so.

damikesc said...

I don't have a beef with the assignment at all. Sounds like an extremely useful project. The youth nowadays vigorously refuse to recognize a differing opinion.

Shame it wasn't done in a college, where this thing is horribly needed.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Lydia:

I apologize for my harsh response; I was just stunned.

Bender said...

If being forced to argue an offensive point is unacceptable, then have kids presents arguments concerning the MS St. Louis. Pick a side, either side. Everyone gets to choose.

Should the ship have been allowed to dock and unload its Jewish passengers in the United States in 1939? Or was FDR right in turning them away?

Argue whichever side you want.

Lydia said...

Actually, my fault, Father. I should have made it clear that I didn't think that's what you were advocating.

PianoLessons said...

The assignment was fine as long as the target group to argue against wasn't Jews. Catholics. Muslims. Buddhists. Christians. Other religious groups being attacked by anti-religion liberal and progressives with moronic COEXIST bumper stickers on their cars.


Anti-Semitism in Finland:

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/11540#.UWnbD7WyCYk

Anti-Semitism in Netherlands:

http://tundratabloids.com/category/anti-semitism-in-the-netherlands

Anti-Semitism in France (apparently they lead Europe)

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4364834,00.html

Anti-Semitism in Spain

http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/2020/spain-anti-semitic

PianoLessons said...

True story: In my grad school Shakepeare class (2005), we went to Chicago's Shakespeare Theater to see "The Taming of the Shrew". 13 women in the class decided to get up and leave in protest at Kate's final speech because it so deeply offended their feminist principles as they saw her speech today as a submission to support their husbands.

These same thin skinned folks about this play (which is now almost censored in academia - check it out) are those who think this "pretend you are Nazi and argue why the Jews should be exterminated" assignment is just terrific.

PianoLessons said...

Final Post on this thread:

Chilling Orwellian anti-Semimitism at the British Museuum in UK:

http://www.newenglishreview.org/bloga.cfm/blog_id/48512/Bat-Yeor-A-Day-at-the-Museum

Paddy O said...

The students who refused to do it were expressing critical thinking. They assessed the issue, the offensiveness of it, weighed the risks.

I am very much reminded of the Confessing Church, when the state churches and many theologians signed on to the Nazi propaganda--because that is what good, dutiful Germans did--those in the Confessing Church said No.

Not only critically but brave. There are an infinite amount of other topics that can foster critical thinking skills other than indulging in genocide fantasy.

Henry said...

What if you asked students to write essays that could, absent you as the context, be used to ruin their reputations? How is that defensible in the slightest?

Gene said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gene said...

Americans are not sophisticated enough to cope with taboo subjects. College students think it is their right not to be subjected to any views which hurt their feelings on the grounds that controversial opinions hurt their right to an equal education.

They don't understand that there are legitimate views other than their own. They don't have the intellectual sophistication to make the case for something which which they disagree.

In short, Americans can't think, which is one reason why there is such a high likelihood we will soon be involved in yet another war.

Freeman Hunt said...

Now I'm rethinking the idea of even doing this assignment orally. I think that could feel extremely hostile to any Jewish students no matter how sophisticated the class. (And it would be a total disaster in an unsophisticated class.) We do not live in a post antisemitism world.

Argue in favor of Viking violence or the Inquisition or some such thing instead.

Paddy O said...

"They don't understand that there are legitimate views other than their own."

That is not addressed by this situation. In no possible way is the Nazi justification of genocide a legitimate view.

traditionalguy said...

Enemy recognition is the bottom line issue.

Who are subhuman beings?

One answer is cancer cells. They are human like...sort of a parallel person at war with the formerly healthy person. That is the anti-semite position on Jews.

The only answer to cancer cells is to kill them fast: chemo-poison them or cut them off from life.

Now comes classification time: Who gets worked to death and who gets killed ASAP?

The only rational defense seems to be a part of the Governing Empire as a loyal Party Member/Aristocrat.

That tendency is alive and well in Academia today from Medical Ethicists to Marxist Cults of CO2 energy extermination.

Or we could get a leader and fight back.

Freeman Hunt said...

The point is to teach that persuasive rhetoric is a tool that serves evil as easily as good.

wyo sis said...

When discussing truly evil things a safe rhetorical distance allows us to accept the unacceptable. if only mentally.
Do this enough and there are no more truly evil things, only degrees of rightness or wrongness.
Following a scenario step by step and noting how rhetorical distance distorts things would be much more effective as a lesson in critical thinking.
There really are moral absolutes.

yankeefrost said...

What is critical thinking anyhow? I never got past the point and counterpoint essays of fifth grade. Is that where people use Latin phrases? Is it true that Romans had 100 words for lying?

Political Fodder said...

There is no defensible position for genocide, period. There are many topics that can be used for developing critical thinking skills, this is not one of them. To introduce the idea to students that all positions have another justifiable side is wrong. This is the problem with the current world situation, reality is being bent by people who present differing positions to issues such as climate changes with disastrous effects. There are not two realities there is overwhelming scientific evidence that we are running headlong into disaster because of the propaganda campaign by big energy designed to allow them to continue to profit regardless of the cost to humanity. A better exercise in critical thinking skills would be an assignment that teaches students how to recognize and expose propaganda.

Gene said...

Paddy O: That is not addressed by this situation. In no possible way is the Nazi justification of genocide a legitimate view.

Legitimacy is not the issue. It's teaching students how to accurately state a position with which they disagree.

I personally wouldn't have used the teacher's example (and certainly not in the manner in which she stated it) but the notion of making students argue positions with which they disagree is a terrific exercise. In any earlier day we would have called this walking a mile in someone else's shoes and thought it a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

If the teacher were a little more sophisticated herself she could have simply told her students to explain Hitler's position (or Franklin Roosevelt's position for that matter) with regard to the Jews and no one would have taken offense one way or the other.

Nichevo said...

Hmm, so it is only a Gedankenexperiment. Fine, then instead of a real, loaded pistol, I would bring a loaded paintball gun to class and empty that into the teacher.

Well, I thought of the paintball thing a little later.

But sure, it's a question of whose ox is being gored. If you wanted me to argue that all communists in the United States should be hunted down and killed, or that all non-cooperative Palestinians should be exiled/transferred from greater Israel, yeah, sure. Maybe at the end of the day I wouldn't want to own those views, but yeah, I could see the point.

I have often thought that if Hitler (or Europe, LOL) was right about the Jews being inferior and wicked, that he would have had a point about getting rid of them one way or the other. But we're not inferior, and we're not wicked. So it is really nonsensical. Like being asked to defend phlogistlon theory.

There are different levels of crazy, e.g.:

I'm better than everybody else
I'm a subject of a government conspiracy
I'm God/Napoleon/Justin Bieber
I am a fried egg

Past a point it is just absurd.

Perhaps it is better to depersonalize. I believe in the OPFOR type wargames they play at places like the National Training Center, even back in the Cold War days the enemy was not called the Russians or Soviets, but something fictionalized like the "Krasnovians." Nobody was confused, nobody's feelings got hurt. Maybe if this assignment was necessary, turn it into a parable or allegory, as H. Beam Piper did in Space Viking, where the Jews became the Gilgameshers and Hitler became Zaspar Makann.

BTW the idea of shooting teach with paintballs is of course absurd. Pansy ass stuff. Any self respecting Muslim likewise insulted would of course have cut off his or her head. My people are far too meek.

Nichevo said...

Also I apologize for pulling my punches. Of course all fucking communists should hang, or otherwise be hunted down and killed. Too obvious to debate, really.

I'm a little more unclear on transfer but I have often wondered how did Meir Kahane become such a pariah that he could be murdered by one of the guys who did 9/11 and no justice be done? Hmm, maybe you should ask Kunstler and Kuby about this post, I'm sure they could knock it out of the park. I bet they would have defended Hitler as well as any defense lawyers alive.

Nichevo said...

Oh, I've got one I can hardly regard as debatable: if it is possible, every abortion clinic in the US should simultaneously have its door kicked in by a hair-trigger dog-shooting no-knock sovereign-immune SWAT team and be searched from asshole to appetite for any sign of anything wrong.


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