Adventures in Education: Major Fail Edition.

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105 Responses

  1. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    You don’t have to cover both sides of an issue when one of the two sides is just plain crap.Report

  2. Avatar Murali says:

    You’re asking 8th graders how to assess historical evidence? Isn’t that a bit too advanced for most grown adults including many of your politicians let alone 14year olds?Report

    • Avatar gingergene in reply to Murali says:

      Not to mention that you’ve already misled them by referring to all the sources as “credible”.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to gingergene says:

        It’s not clear to me that that’s the case – or if the teacher will present some examples of credible sources, and some indications of what to look for as signs of credibility, along with some crackpot articles, pointing out the absence of those signs.Report

      • Avatar Barry in reply to gingergene says:

        And by using the BS phrase ‘many believe’.Report

      • Avatar Maria in reply to gingergene says:

        That was when my eyebrows really went up. I hate the false equivalency that is mistaken as “balance” in the media and in academics, but to refer to anything that would deny that the Holocaust happened as a “credible” source is mind boggling. I used to teach high school and the fact that none of the educators involved were able to see just how stupid this assignment was is a little worrying to me.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Murali says:

      It is – but is that because they weren’t given the opportunity to grow those skills through exercies back in the 8th grade?

      People get into all manner of crackpot theories by highschool age. Mightn’t it be valid to give them practice at recognizing and pulling apart crackpot theories? If nothing else, there might be fewer believers in chemtrails and vaccine conspiracies and whatnot running around highschools.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Murali says:

      Perhaps Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World should be required reading in 8th grade.Report

  3. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    I took a class in critical thinking where this kind of assignment would be appropriate. Of course, that was in grad school, so i’m going to agree with Murali here.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Road Scholar says:

      If we support restricting examination of dubious claims of historicity to grad students, or even undergrads in liberal arts programs, then we have to live with the world that implies.

      That means we don’t get to complain when the babysitter hasn’t been vaccinated against dangerous childhood diseases, the barber won’t shut up about 9/11 being an inside job, and the electrician figures that as a freeman-on-the-land the electrical code needn’t apply.Report

  4. Avatar Damon says:


    Let’s select the hottest lightening rod in the last 100 years and discuss that. Smooth. Hell, why didn’t they just argue about the economic boycott of South Africa and Apartheid? I did a team presentation on that subject in my Ethics class as an undergrad.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Damon says:

      What, there’s a pro-apartheid argument?Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Burt Likko says:

        The Prime Minister of Canada seemed to think so back in the day…Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Burt Likko says:

        (The current PM, that is, before he was even elected to Parliament, but around the time of his first run for election. The PM in the late 80’s, Brian Mulroney, was firmly anti-Apartheid and pro-sanctions, whatever else you might think of his policies)Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Burt Likko says:

        There’s certainly an anti-boycott argument, if not a pro-apartheid one.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko says:

        If your racist scumbag than there are plenty of pro-apartheid arguments you can make. If not, than not so much.

        I think that a lot of “I’m trying not seem like a racist when I defend apartheid” arguments revolved around a lot of red-baiting and the idea that South Africa would go Communist if non-whites were given the vote.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Burt Likko says:

        “What, there’s a pro-apartheid argument?”

        There is an argument that undermining the apartheid government of South Africa in the early to mid 80s would have potentially led to Commies taking over.

        Once Commies were passé by the late 80s, so was this argument. (and formal legal apartheid did go away in short order)Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Does this hold true:
        “If your racist scumbag than there are plenty of pro-apartheid arguments you can make. If not, than not so much.”
        If you’re talking about Greater Israel’s apartheid?

  5. There are plenty of things reasonable people can and do disagree on. You can do this with light subjects (cats are better than dogs. T or F?) or serious ones but for serious subjects, you should probably wait until students are close to college age. Schools do have a responsibility to teach that not all arguments are valid though and some a plain idiotic and batshit insane.

    I go back and forth about the part I bolded above. Not that I have ever taught anyone younger than college-aged students, but I do imagine that there’s room for some exploration of controversial issues. But I also agree that some issues might just be beyond the grasp of most young children.

    When it comes to the Holocaust, there actually are historical debates, not about its existence or its general extent. There might be some disagreements over numbers, but the consensus is huge number of people, approaching or exceeding 10 million. But the debates sometimes go over the interpretation: was it something that could have been prevented once certain forces were unleashed? what role did occupied populations play in effecting or resisting the holocaust? what about the “ordinary men” who carried out much the holocaust….how much choice did they have and how did they know what was going on? what are the strengths and weaknesses of the decision to have “war crimes” trials? could the Allies have done more to stop or reduce the number of killings? how did and do local populations “remember” what happened and how do they draw on that memory?

    Of course, those might be too controversial and simply too hard for a lot of 8th graders. They probably would have been too hard for me to grasp while in 8th grade. Maybe I’m wrong, though, and there might be a way to approach those issues with eighth graders.

    Finally, an anecdote. In the early 1980s, when the Ethiopian famine was going on and I was in (I think) 4th grade, we were shown a documentary about the famine. it was a difficult thing to watch and very graphic (for a 4th grader), with the people with distended bellies and scenes of soldiers denying grain to hungry people. My point is, that was probably too young to show us that movie. (To this day, I’m not positive that my memory is not playing tricks on me somewhere. I don’t know why we were shown that movie, and while I’m almost certain it happened, there’s even a part of me that’s not 100% sure I saw everything I remember seeing in the movie. The purpose for showing it seemed like an awareness raising thing. I cannot say for sure, but the idea might have been for us to pressure our parents to donate money (or to give a quarter or whatever. That purpose seems to me, now, inappropriate for 4th graders, especially in a public school. But again, there’s just a lot I don’t know or remember.)Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      I think 8th grade is old enough to teach about the Holocaust but I would say they are still young enough that they should learn about controversies in a very careful manner.

      There is a soft-peddle version of Holocaust denial that says only 1-2 million Jews were murdered instead of 6 million people like this makes the event more acceptable.Report

      • @saul-degraw

        Yes, I agree with all of that. I do think there’s room for some discussion of controversy–like trying to get at the question of how something like that might happen and who’s to blame and what excuses people used–but still, as you say, it needs to be handled with care.Report

  6. Avatar James Hanley says:

    The essay came with materials from …,


    • Avatar StevetheCat in reply to James Hanley says:

      Come on James,
      SEO as a determination of authoritativeness is accepted practice in schools all over this land.
      Why would the same people that accept as a reference not employ it themselves?
      The US education system is fu**ed!Report

    • I tell my students they can’t use Wikipedia as a reference for a formal academic paper. So instead, I get “” as source material. Some can’t even be bothered to identify the actual author whose name is right freaking there! Aaarrrruugh!Report

      • Avatar StevetheCat in reply to Burt Likko says:

        “Some can’t even be bothered to identify the actual author whose name is right freaking there! Aaarrrruugh!”
        Yeah, same here. I had a list of unacceptable references in the syllabus and went through them in the first class, but they appeared nonetheless.
        Only grad students now, Hanley can have fun with the weeding.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Burt Likko says:

        @burt-likko–Those are people who are post-B.A., right? How awful.

        @stevethecat–I’m trying, friend, I’m trying.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Burt Likko says:

        “Have you been citing the computer again? The computer is not an expert witness for any subject under the sun…”Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to James Hanley says:


      More seriously: How do you feel about giving students readings from crackpots like Dr. Death and far-right websites?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        I can see a place for it if the lesson plan is to help them distinguish between high-quality and low-quality sources, but I suspect the lesson would be learned better with less inflammatory sources. Even aside from the public backlash, the students are more likely to be focused on the substance of the claims made than the actual source quality.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        The problem is that Dr. Death’s little rant can easily appear as a “high-quality” source compared to something from or because it looks more inherently scholarly or researched and was presented as credible.Report

  7. Avatar Murali says:

    The principle of charity compels me to offer the following possibility of what might have been going through their heads.

    “Exam questions for 8th graders are supposed to have some definite right and wrong answers. We obviously know that the holocaust happened. So, if we give this question, that would give them a strong clue about how to go about the various sources. It would also give markers some clear guidelines.”Report

  8. Avatar dhex says:

    oddly enough, these eighth graders have been taught a really important lesson by what’s followed.Report

  9. Avatar Mo says:

    Charles Cooke at NRO has a well-argued defense of this. While I agree that 8th grade is probably too young and this was clumsily done, I don’t think this sort of thing should be limited to college students or grad students. In my 10th grade honors World History class*, we would do debates on controversial current events that required doing library research and as a senior I had to write a thesis, my selected topic was Bioethics, that used primary and secondary sources. Part of education is learning how facts become facts and leveraging evidence. In elementary school, you can assert the world is round, in high school you can allow students to provide evidence that the earth is (roughly) a sphere. There is value in teaching students that even facts can be questioned and must be proven.

    * This was not in a fancy private school, but in a public school in CAReport

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to Mo says:

      I have no problem with his essay in theory but that is not how it unfolded in practice. Yes we should teach students to weigh sources and credibility but that should be done in the classroom first and not on an exam. The exam version of teaching critical thinking seemed to be the equivalent of teaching someone to swim by throwing them in the middle of a lake and telling them not to drown.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Mo says:

      I absolutely agree with you there – University is not intended to be for everyone. Critical thinking absolutely should be for everyone.

      If you enter the job market right out of highschool, or attend a trade school, should you be denied training in the tools of critical assessment, left to the mercy of hucksters?Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mo says:


      “…we would do debates on controversial current events…”

      The existence of the Holocaust is not a controversy. It is a fact. Full stop.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy I never claimed otherwise. Unfortunately, people are going to encounter arguments against established facts and people need to be armed with the tools and ability to weigh the reliability of sources and evidence to be able to judge and not be fooled by shitty arguments. People are going to encounter these arguments as adults and simply asserting, “This is a fact, full stop,” weakens, rather than enhances the argument. A physics class that provides students with arguments for and against a spherical Earth is not advocating the flat Earth model, but instead arms students with evidence and allows people to discover on their own. When you learn and discover on your own and are can credibly see the weakness in the opposing side, you are far more likely to believe and advocate for a position than if your only reference is, “My teacher told me so.”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        Fair points. All of them. And allow me to apologize if it seemed I was implying that you thought the Holocaust’s happening was controversial. Such was not my intent but I should have been clearer.

        While I agree with what you say here, I do think that educators should be judicious in what examples they use to teach the skills you suggest. Especially if students are at the early stages of learning such critical thinking; at this stage, they are more likely to assume information provided by a teacher is credible. I work with my 4-year-olds on thoughtfully questioning information they are given regardless of the authority of the person giving it; but the stakes are low: insisting a ball that is obviously red is actually blue, appealing to my own authority for why I am right, and goading the children into taking me to task (respectfully).

        As students age, they certainly can take on issues with higher stakes, but 8th grade? An intro lesson? Holocaust denialism? Major fail, as @saul-degraw says.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy I don’t disagree. I did say that 8th grade is probably the wrong age for this. 8th graders should probably be focused on something a bit less fraught and with less baggage. Something like the flat Earth example would bounds or if you want to stick to something historical, whether or not the moon landing was faked. But I don’t think the subject would be out of bounds for 11th or 12th graders. There is value to confronting uncomfortable and disgusting claims with cold fact and evidence.

        On a personal note, when I was a senior in high school, I took a Theory of Knowledge philosophy course and my dad was uncomfortable with some of the subjects and ethical questions the course covered*. He didn’t think that there was anything wrong with the material, he felt it was age inappropriate and better suited for college. The fact that I was in college exactly a year later and taking a weightier philosophy class didn’t seem to occur to him.

        * Basic, Ethics 101 stuff like the fat man and the trolley.Report

  10. Avatar zic says:

    Well, the big problem to me seems is the suggestion that the sources are equally ‘credible,’ and I’d wonder what sort of classroom debate followed on about skepticism of sources.

    I do think most comments do injustice to the ability of 8th graders to think a reason; and fail to consider just how strongly a sense of fairness and justice figure into one’s reasoning at this age.Report

  11. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    How much of this is related to the common core philosophy? I heard a panel on NPR yesterday all chirping away happily at how the common core teaches critical thinking at an early age. Given that in my observation, two out of three graduate students are incapable of critical thinking, I was skeptical. But if these grade school teachers are awash in “get-your-fourth-graders-to-think-critically” propaganda, that may have contributed to the fiasco.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Burt Likko says:

      My experience with the concept of critical thinking at the frosh/soph level is that it’s non-existent. Those first and second year kids really do seem to view the reasons for beliefs, and systems of beliefs, and the reasoning underlying them, as so much useless bullshit. Even the kids that were smart enough to intellectually grasp the distinction in play were resistant to the idea and had seemingly never applied the concept in any way whatsoever. I accounted for this back when I was teaching as resulting from a general lack of intellectual curiosity about the world they live in and the beliefs they and others do and might hold.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Well, “non-existent” is too strong. I’d say more like upwards of 85% of the kids wouldn’t recognize critical thinking if it kicked em right in the belief box.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to Burt Likko says:


      I’ve also seen people speculate or say that this is related to common core and imparting critical reading and thinking skills. The problems here are:

      1. The question is extremely loaded and the history of anti-Semitism is riff with hoaxes and forgeries like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The idea of the Holocaust as a hoax to make the world feel guilty and for financial gain is both old and new.

      2. The sources were all labeled in a neutral or credible manner. The Holocaust denying ones happen to be from sources so far on the fringe that the teachers seem to feel compelled to raise their stature.

      3. Doubling down and immediate PR spin seems to be a real problem in America. Our innate response seems to any criticism seems to be to unleash the PR hounds and not step back and analyze whether something went wrong or not and deserves an apology. We should probably study this phenomenon and there is a part of me that wants a genie wish to get rid of all PR people.

      4. Did anyone point out that this was a bad idea? Where did all the fail safes go? As fails go, this is a pretty spectacular one and worthy of intense psychological study.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Burt Likko says:

      So it’s bad they can’t think critically think by grad school, but the notion that starting to try to teach them how to do it in fourth grade isn’t too early can’t be anything but propaganda?Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Michael Drew says:

        I’m with Michael on this one. being terrible at critical thinking isn’t an automatic natural state of humanity. It’s an obvious symptom of creating educational institutions where the primary instructional goals are to prepare students for multiple-choice tests.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Michael Drew says:


        Actually, while I’ll defer to @chris on this, to quote Neil DeGrasse Tyson,

        “I am convinced that the act of thinking logically cannot possibly be natural to the human mind. If it were, then mathematics would be everybody’s easiest course at school and our species would not have taken several millennia to figure out the scientific method.” Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Michael Drew says:

        @murali , what’s weird about that is that it’s essentially a non-sequitur. He might as well have said, “I am convinced that the act of thinking logically cannot possibly be natural to the human mind. If it were, we’d have discovered fried twinkies earlier.”Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Michael Drew says:

        Well, the kind of thing I think he was getting at is that the practice of setting up our reasons in argumentative form and breaking them down into simpler components and checking to see if the conclusion follows from the premises and further looking over each premise to see if each premise is true is not the sort of thing that comes naturally to us. It seems, at least from over here in my armchair, that we are just not wired that way. You work in cog-sci right? Have you come across anything that suggests that it is our culture that is making us sheeple and not that we have to be acculturated and prodded into critical thinking?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Michael Drew says:

        @murali , to be honest, I’m not quite sure what the claim is. I mean, the notions behind modern science are pretty old, and the rules for formal arguments are, for the most part, thousands of years old. And while it’s undoubtedly true that most people don’t actively think that way, it’s pretty clear that in both cases, the formal, culturally-developed processes are built on top of pretty natural human capabilities. I mean, modus ponens seems to be a very basic part of human reasoning (while modus tollens is not, because it’s not as straightforward), and the sorts of counterfactual processes that essentially underlie scientific reasoning are ubiquitous in human causal reasoning. So what are we claiming? That everyday reasoning is not as rigorous as careful scientific reasoning? Duh, but that says very little about how natural it is.

        Have you come across anything that suggests that it is our culture that is making us sheeple and not that we have to be acculturated and prodded into critical thinking?

        No, but “critical thinking” isn’t doing anything unnatural. It’s just using basic human capabilities but paying closer attention.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Michael Drew says:


        Don’t we normally just accept new information so long as we’ve got some place to put it into our existing schema? And don’t we resist this impulse to just squeeze everything in when we try to think critically? Thinking critically at least seems to involve resisting some bad mental habits. Are those mental habits that we have to resist cultural or more innate? Or even if they are cultural, are the habits they replace any closer to the thing we are supposed to be doing when we are doing critical thinking?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Michael Drew says:

        @murali , our brains are basically designed to avoid thinking if at all possible, and to automatize anything we can, because conscious deliberation takes up a lot of time and resources that, in most cases, aren’t necessary. However, we are naturally capable of evaluating information critically, if we feel like we need to, by giving it sufficient conscious attention and cognitive resources. We have the abilities.

        The reason science works is because it abstracts from a bunch of people with partial information and a bunch of potentially biasing priors. That’s not unnatural, that’s just a refined cultural process.Report

  12. Avatar veronica dire says:

    But why did this happen?

    Just, why tho? How?Report

  13. Avatar Kazzy says:

    “The school district tried to defend the essay prompt as a way of teaching critical reading and thinking skills and being able to discern real evidence from fakery and BS. This fails and there are many other ways to teach students about fakery and BS that are useful and non-controversial. For example, teaching them how to avoid infomercial hucksters and e-mail scams, advertising claims that are too good to be true about.”

    Nailed it. In my high school history class, we would put Columbus on trial. Even that was arguably ripe for controversy and/or offense, but was still light years better than this crap.

    “The question on my tongue is how did public educators fail to see that this essay prompt was a really bad idea. This is one of those stories that causes head-desk and deserves to be labeled epic fail. The universal reaction on the Internet and in the media seems to be “How can anyone in the world think that this is a good idea?” There do not seem to be any Holocaust deniers or anti-Semitic teachers and administrators in the school district.”

    My first question would be: How many Jewish people were involved in making this decision? If the answer is zero, well, there ya go.

    And that helps point out why programs like affirmative action or other efforts at encouraging diversity in schools are not just about the candidates themselves, but also making sure all bases are covered when such decisions are being considered.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to Kazzy says:

      I was hoping you would chime in.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        This is not dissimilar from the school a few years back that gave it’s mostly black student population math word problems involving slaves. “If Master Jim owned 13 slaves and 8 ran away, how many slaves does he own?” I shit you not. The idea was A) to cross disciplines and B) tap into the children’s cultures… both laudable goals. The only problem was, they chose the absolute worst way to do it.

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        I’ve a friend who had to put together word problems for math classes and the rules he had to deal with were absolutely byzantine.

        For example, since he might have some rural kids in his class, he couldn’t use problems that used city blocks (“If Bobby walks 4 blocks in 20 minutes, how many blocks will he walk in 30?”), but because he might have some urban kids in his class, he couldn’t use problems that used farming chores (“If there are 20 chickens per henhouse and each chicken lays an average of one egg every two days, how long will it take to get 40 eggs from one henhouse?”). Oh, and he couldn’t use examples of stuff like Bobby riding his bike, because the kids in the classroom might not be able to afford bikes.

        Now, when I look back at my schooling, I remember a preponderance of examples that had marbles inside of Grecian urns.

        I wonder if that would be allowable today.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        the best math problems involve penguins. and frictionless ice.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul DeGraw says:


        Who made those rules? Were they real rules? Or suggestions cobbled together from various sources?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        Real rules? I am afraid that the conversation I had was a long, long time ago but I’m pretty sure that I remember him saying that he was told that he shouldn’t use city examples because of the rural kids in his class (and vice-versa) and that he shouldn’t use examples with bikes because of the poorer kids in class.

        I don’t know if these were written down on a piece of paper and handed to him or merely mentioned gently in a meeting.

        He’s on my facebook. I’ll ask him tonight.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        Sometimes, in schools, one teacher will say to another teacher, “You shouldn’t do this,” or “You shouldn’t do that.” This shouldn’t be disregarded out of hand but should be taken with a grain of salt, especially absent a thoughtful rationale.

        I’d be surprised if the rules were formal. But I’ve seen dumber things done before (see: this post).

        Arguments can be made for both making examples culturally neutral and for making them culturally specific… And the demos of the group matter. But a thoughtful teachef can probably make any examples work. (Which isn’t to say your friend isn’t/wasn’t thoughtful. He was handcuffed by bad advice/rules.)Report

      • Avatar Matty in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        @kazzy Is the answer zero because you cannot legally own any slaves?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul DeGraw says:


        They were trying to connect their social studies/history curriculum with math. So these were historical word problems. Again, not a bad thing. Actually, probably a good thing… if done properly! This was not that.Report

      • Avatar Matty in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        Thinking back I do remember a maths text book that had every single character used in the examples of a different ethnicity in the hope no one felt excluded.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        That is one of the oft-cited ways to make curriculum more inclusive. It generally carries little risk (so long as you avoid stereotyping) and can actually mean a lot to students even if it seems silly to adults.

        Mr. and Mrs. Smith can just as easily be Mr. and Mrs. Lee or Mr. and Mr. Thompson.

        You run into trouble if a question requires a certain cultural understanding that may not be universally held. So it surprises me that Jaybird’s friend was told not to use chickens or city blocks because one doesn’t really need to know anything about chickens or city blocks to answer the question. However, if you were to say, “Farmer Brown has 10 cows. How many total udders are there?” you hit a problem because you are assuming children know how many udders a single cow has. If you don’t provide that info, you’ve put some kids at a disadvantage.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        And the stereotyping thing can be tricky as well. Having Mr. and Mrs. Martinez selling empanadas instead of apples isn’t inherently bad. But if Mr. and Mrs. Smith get to sell everything under the sun but Mr. and Mrs. Martinez are always selling empanadas or tacos or pinatas, you’ve probably crossed the line.

        Again, a little bit of thoughtfulness and attention to detail go a long way.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        When I was in junior high, we had a word problem that had an error in it. There was a character named Miss Jane, but just one time in the thing she was referred to as Miss Cary. Our instructor had a theory about that, which y’all can probably guess.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        He told me that I remembered the story wrong. He was telling a story about people who were following rules for making word problems for statewide tests.

        Which isn’t as bad.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        I’m not getting it. I’d understand Miss Joyce and Miss Cary.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that statewide tests have rules, and possibly goofy ones, given the wide range of students they cover.

        Again, any standardized test aimed at assessing math skills should contain all relevant information. You’re not testing cultural understanding; your testing math.Report

  14. Avatar Kolohe says:

    This may (I stress may) be appropriate for an AP world history course assignment, but no earlier.

    (though doing something similar on the Kennedy assassination may be appropriate for the AP US history course)Report

  15. Avatar Shazbot9 says:

    Great post, Saul.

    I might have been okay with an assignment telling them Holocaust denial is absurd and very pernicious and then asking them to criticize the reasoning of the deniers.

    But that is still not appropriate for 8th graders. Maybe 11th grade.Report

  16. Avatar Sierra Nevada says:

    I am going to say that I find this kind of selective outrage tiresome. One can find examples of the genre all over places like FOX news.

    My spouse teaches at a rural high school with a large fundy xtian cohort. She struggles with critical thinking assignments, because left to their own devices, many of these kids will choose topics and argue positions very much like the holocaust denial one. Or they will defend slavery because Leviticus, and so on. But if she gives them a reasonably framed prompt, she gets complaints from parents about “politicizing” her students.

    Yes, this prompt is seriously flawed, @saul-degraw. Teaching critical thinking is tough work. Some populations are hard to reach, and some prompts are fails.

    I am not going to try to defend a flawed prompt, because I don’t know what that teacher was trying to accomplish or what population was being addressed. But I won’t join in your armchair quarterbacking, for the same reason.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Sierra Nevada says:

      How is “this is bloody offensive” armchair quarterbacking?
      In my high school, we had a debate (in class) about whether gay people should be allowed to adopt kids. [note: this was a long time ago, when this was far from a “duh” sort of question.]Report

      • Avatar Sierra Nevada in reply to Kim says:

        @kim “How is “this is bloody offensive” armchair quarterbacking?”

        The essence of armchair quarterbacking is outrage directed at those actually playing the game. Who knows, maybe Saul is a classroom educator, and has actually struggled with how to teach the holocaust to kids with anti Semitic parents.

        But based on the facile outrage being sold in the post, I doubt it.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

        On behalf of all the educators who have actually struggled with that situation, let me say “yes, this damn exercise is offensive.”
        [teaching the holocaust to kids with anti-semitic parents is nearly all of my teaching experience in a classroom, mind. But I do have it, courtesy of a history teacher that was willing to concede that I knew the subject matter better and that I’d teach it better than he would.]Report

      • Avatar Sierra Nevada in reply to Kim says:

        @kim You are able to be outraged on behalf of “all” educators in such a difficult and controversial situation.

        Impressive. But not in a good way.

        For my part, I am grateful to you for what you do in education, and if any of your lesson plans turn out to be “fails”, I will still be grateful to you for your efforts.Report

  17. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I’m going to be what I’m guessing is the lone dissenter here. “Did the Holocaust happen of not” strikes me as a substantially different kind of argument than, say, should gay people be allowed to get married. In my mind it’s far closer to “is the Earth flat” or “did Stanley Kubrick fake the moon landing.”

    Not knowing all the details of the assignment, this strikes me as a potentially useful thing to have a kid research, come back to class, and use as a rather black and white learning opportunity for how to tell fact from urban myth.

    Is it possible that some student might think there’s something to the denial? Yeah, but saying the class caused that belief is like saying teenagers get pregnant because they teach sex education.

    In fact, all the reasons I can think of for avoiding this topic seem akin to reasons people make for not teaching evolution in public school.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      I think the one way in which this assignment – as stated – could have possible worked if it was meant as a ruse. Say the students had spent some time learning about how to identify specious sources and pull out facts critically; then the teacher presents them with a project where all of the sources are given equal credence; students are forced to use their newly-acquired skills to pull out the truth from the BS; the teacher then leads a lesson where the discredible sources are properly debunked and the critical-thinking process is described.

      I remember a high-school English teacher who lead an interpretation full of incorrect information (unbeknownst to the class) and then had us debunk it. It was light-hearted and her point was not to put too much faith in interpretations stated as fact, but she still had to be quite careful in letting people know that this was a one-off and she wasn’t going to keep punking us in future classes. Obviously the history of the Holocaust is a whole different story, but that’s one frame in which I can see this assignment sort of being justified. Anyway, all for naught since it doesn’t look like that was the case here anyway.Report

  18. Avatar Shazbot9 says:

    “Did the Holocaust happen of not” strikes me … far closer to “is the Earth flat” or “did Stanley Kubrick fake the moon landing.”

    Here the skeptical position, the conspiracy theorist here, is anti-semitic. That complicates the issue. If a kid thinks -erroneously- that “Hey, this is a real controversy where both sides are plausible” that may make the kid more anti-semitic. And if some kid advocates for the conspiracy theory, that might make Jewish kids, or kids with Jewish family or friends, really uncomfortable in a way not appropriate for 8th graders.


    • Avatar zic in reply to Shazbot9 says:

      If a kid thinks -erroneously- that “Hey, this is a real controversy where both sides are plausible” that may make the kid more anti-semitic.

      forgive me if I’m wrong, but somehow, this seems to suggest that exposure to the horrors of the holocaust should make kids not be antisemitic, instead of recognizing that you shouldn’t be antisemitic because Jewish people are people. The value in learning about the holocaust, to me, would be learning about the human capacity for inflicting horror and cruelty so that we don’t need to constantly repeat that horror and cruelty to learn the lesson afresh.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to zic says:

        The value in learning about the Holocaust is contained in the simple words “Never Again.”

        that is to say, there’s no fucking value in learning about the holocaust, because we don’t learn the lessons there are to take from it.

        Genocides still happen, and we still do nothing.

        /on the bitter-buss.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic says:

        we’re obviously slow learners.

        /wishing for a short bus ride.Report

    • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Shazbot9 says:

      my thinking exactly, Shazbot.Report

    • Avatar Sierra Nevada in reply to Shazbot9 says:

      @shazbot9 “Here the skeptical position, the conspiracy theorist here, is anti-semitic.”

      Nope. Stop right there.

      Conflating two different things and then treating them as categorically identical is a “major fail” in critical thinking.

      A skeptical position with respect to any given question and a biased position with respect to the answer to that question are very different things. A skeptical position is a provisional stance that is a necessary prior to the examination of evidence. A conspiracy theory is a prior bias in the interpretation of evidence. A skeptical position w/o the Holocaust prior to looking at the historical record is not anti semitic, but a conspiricy theory view of that evidence almost certainly is anti semitic.

      This is an important distinction. “Did the Holocaust really happen?” is a flawed, but perhaps necessary skeptical position to take when dealing with a anti semitic student population (never forget that they have parents at home feeding them crap). Because then the evidence can be examined, and if a teacher is worth a damn, the answer “Hell yes it did” can be arrived at via a process that is transparent. Seeds of doubt about the anti semitism they are being fed at home can be sowed among the students.Report

  19. Avatar Barry says:

    “How many people would need to be in one the conspiracy to fake the moon landing? Hundreds if not thousands.”

    And many would have been in the USSR (assuming that they were tracking the spacecraft with radar and telescopes). Many would have had to be in Australia and other places helping to fake the ground tracking effort, but those could be explained away by the SEATO Treaty cabal……Report

  20. Avatar Stephen says:

    This assignment was misguided. Sure, it’s a great idea to have 8th graders use their critical thinking skills to evaluate published points of view and propaganda. But, they are only 13 years old! Most 13 year olds aren’t up to this task and many (maybe, most) won’t recognize that the Holocaust deniers are delusional and/or racist. Many 13 year olds are apt to assume equal credibility of boths points of view.

    Having taught in a graduate college of education, I have sadly learned that you could never underestimate the intelligence of educators (including my fellow professors). You have to remember that education in the USA is such a huge enterprise, that it would be impossible to fill all the teaching and administrative positions with high calibre personnel. There simply aren’t enough potential applicants who fall on the right side of the median in the normal distribution of human talents. The Greater LA schools are no exception, so they really blew it on this assignment. I suspect that this happens every day in every school district across our poorly educated land.Report

  21. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    The lure of conspiracy theories seems to be that you can’t really disprove them. They’re basically two related arguments:
    1. There was a major crime or fraud committed.
    2. A large and powerful conspiracy has successfully covered up that crime or fraud.
    No matter what evidence you offer to disprove #1, it only reinforces #2. In fact, the stronger your argument against #1, the more this shows how powerful and successful the conspiracy has been. At this point, the conspiracy theorist usually calls you one of the “sheeple”.Report