A scandal is brewing in New York state's education system following revelations that students in one school were instructed to defend Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and justify his plan to slaughter millions of Jews.
A high school teacher in Oswego County is facing backlash after instructing students to adopt the Nazi leader's views and defend Hitler's Final Solution, or the systematic murder of more than six million Jews across Europe.
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The assignment only became public when some students objected to participating in it, saying they were concerned the lesson was anti-Semitic and offensive.
State lawmakers are now calling for the resignation of New York Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who initially defended the assignment in a public forum last week, describing it as an exercise in critical thinking.
"I think it's certainly a question where you want students to think on both sides and analyze … which position a person is taking," Elia was quoted as saying by the Syracuse news organization. "That idea of being able to identify the perspective an article has or a writer has is a very important skill."
"The concept of having students identify a particular position is pretty critical, whether they can analyze a position, and then decide whether to agree or not," Elia said.
A spokesman for the New York State Education Department told the Free Beacon on Tuesday that Elia was not familiar with the assignment when first questioned about it last week. Since that time, Elia called the school district in question.
"Since first learning of the assignment, I've done my homework to determine the facts in this situation," Elia said in a statement provided to the Free Beacon. "I spoke with district officials about this serious matter. We agree the assignment should not have been given. The teacher apologized and the assignment will not be used in the future."
Elia is no stranger to controversy in the Jewish community. She recently came under fire for allowing the state education department to include an anti-Israel cartoon in a Regents examination. The department issued a public apology for using the cartoon.
State Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D.), who represents Brooklyn, is calling for Elia's resignation. Hikind told the Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday that the state education department is not moving quickly enough to hold accountable those responsible for the assignment.
"For the commissioner to initially defend it and say it's a healthy assignment for kids to ‘think critically,' something is terribly wrong," Hikind said, expressing further concern that anti-Semitism inside the state's schools is not being addressed properly.
"It's beyond outrageous," Hikind said. "Can you imagine taking a high school class and literally dividing the class, where half of the people are going to support the extermination of the Jewish people? It's beyond insanity. It's sickening. It really, to me, mocks the Holocaust."
"Can you imagine if this had been done about slavery?" Hikind asked, speculating that public outrage over such an assignment would dwarf the outcry over the Hitler assignment.
"I'm doing whatever I can to bring attention to this," Hikind said, questioning why the media has not covered the issue. "I don't know what it is when it comes to the Jewish people, not everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. Imagine if this was about slavery. Everyone would be jumping in. There should be repercussions, but whether there will be" is still an open question.
"It's a sad commentary of the state of education, especially here in New York," Hikind said.
Hikind added he is contacting the secretary of education about the matter.
"When I first saw the story, I thought it was a joke. I have never in all my years heard of anything like this."
The Anti-Defamation League also condemned the assignment as anti-Semitic and concerning.