Unfortunate rush to judgment on writing assignment about Jews
I would like to comment on the April 13 story [“Anti-Semitic essay assignment draws fury”] about the Albany teacher who assigned a persuasive writing exercise to convince a Nazi government official of their loyalty by arguing that Jews were a source of Germany’s problems.
As a Jew myself, I’m very sensitive to treatment of the Holocaust. Yet, I suspect that much has been left out of the story, including the rationale for the assignment and the educational lessons that were sought.
My father was a World War II veteran and spent the first year after the war as part of the occupying army in Germany. He returned to the United States convinced that the German people weren’t much different than Americans. Most wanted to live their lives with their families and had little interest in politics. Yet, they were caught up in the events that surrounded them, and very few were wise enough or bold enough to oppose those events. He felt that under the right circumstances, similar atrocities could happen here. That lesson has stayed with me for my entire life.
The Albany teacher may have been teaching about the power of propaganda, the difficulty in opposing it, and the moral dilemmas that face people who have to make terrible decisions in order to survive. The teacher may have also been encouraging the students to review the Nazi propaganda and to compare it to propaganda that surrounds us every day. The teacher may have been using such an abominable writing task to get the students to think about ways in which modern societies, including our own, scapegoat people, and how easy it is to label those who do not go along with modern day propaganda as traitors.
After the rapid rush to judgment, the superintendent [Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard] stated that “we will not tolerate lessons designed this way.” Yet it is quite conceivable that the lesson was designed to foster tolerance by making students come face to face with intolerance.
If that is the case, then the superintendent’s comments are truly ironic. I fully suspect that we don’t have the full story, and that we should not be jumping to conclusions.
Republican Party on the road to irrelevance
The Republican National Committee’s autopsy of the Republican Party’s failed effort to win the presidency in 2012 cited a weak message and non-inclusiveness as major factors in that loss. Remedying those problems as well as improving the quality of its candidates are not simple tasks.
The GOP is currently a right-wing primarily regional party dominated by social and fiscal conservatives whose message has failed to resonate with the majority of voters in recent presidential elections. It has lost four out of the last six of those elections and the popular vote in five out of six of them. In 2012, Mitt Romney was badly beaten in a contest in which President Obama was extremely vulnerable.
Many Republican leaders have recognized that the party’s presidential candidates were weak. Romney, the best of the bunch, was a man without a political core, a chameleon on controversial issues, lacking in charisma and basically a rich guy who never seemed to get it. His competitors were overall a pathetic bunch. Herman Cain, for example, impressed me as more fit for Comedy Central than the White House. And the party should have recognized that congressional candidates like Todd Aiken, Richard Mourdock and Allen West, all of whom managed to leap all credibility barriers, would lose and plunge into oblivion.
In addition, the party’s message was negative, anti-inclusive, lacking in substance and blind to a concern for the common good. Judging from its post-election tactics, the GOP has rejected change through welcoming moderate Republicans into the tent and others who share many of their core views.
Furthermore, the party appears so backward and ideological that it has no real ability to move to where the voters are. Yet remaining where it is or moving farther right means ultimately its irrelevance as a national party because Americans are a tolerant and enlightened people looking to make a better future.
The nation needs a competitive Republican Party but seems unlikely to get one.
Bravo for Saratoga school board’s stance on testing
Thank you for your April 10 front-page article [“Schools reject reliance on tests”] on the New York state standardized tests.
Bravo to the Saratoga Springs Board of Education and superintendent for having the insight and courage to confront the state Education Department’s overreliance on these tests to the detriment of students and schools.
As a recently retired middle school principal, it is refreshing to see the Gazette spotlight a school district where the leadership is truly focused on the best interests of educating the students and assessing them with a much more balanced approach.
I would encourage other school districts to follow Saratoga’s lead and speak out to advocate for their students rather than simply comply with the state Education Department’s politically motivated mandates.
Hard to stop drug dealing when police won’t come
Have [the] Schenectady police given up on drug dealers? I think so. Several neighbors have called the Police Department to complain about a neighbor who has moved onto our street and is dealing drugs every night.
We have called the detective division and been told to contact the special operations division. Several of us have called that number at different times during the day and evening, only to get a recorded message that someone would get back to us. No one has ever called any of us back.
These people have just moved into our neighborhood within the last month and set up shop on their first day. We have taxis pulling up at all hours of the day; the lady comes out, they exchange items and off they go. During the night, under darkness, their clients pull up on both corners of our block and wait for them to come to them and trade their money for drugs.
Last night [April 11] was the last straw: Their clients pulled up in front of my home and sat there waiting for the transfer. After the transfer was made, the girl and the guy in the car then traded sex for what I can only guess was the drugs.
My block is mostly retired folks and we keep our property nice with flowers and such. Now when we go outside, all we find are little tiny baggies all over the place. This is not what we want on our street.
So, come on, “special operations” of the Police Department, call us back so we can get this stopped. My neighbor wanted to go out and start writing down plate numbers, but what good will it do if Schenectady police won’t do anything.
Hunting deer with spears, slingshots a foolish idea
Re April 8 letter by Dave Leonard, “Modern deer hunting not enough of a challenge”: Really, spears and slingshots? I’ll say this, it takes great stealth to sneak up on a deer, much less a mature buck.
This is not ancient times: With far less habitat and many more people, deer are easily spooked. We have taken most of the whitetails’ range. Though they have adapted very well, becoming mostly nocturnal, bedding down close to houses, barns, sheds, this is not the Congo, but New York state. Deer herds need to be kept in check for many reasons, including health of herd, car accidents, property damage. [With spears and slingshots] success rates would greatly drop, resulting in deer dying due to starvation, more car accidents, disease.
Indians ganged up on big game once one was hit. How many clean, swift kills would happen with a “hurled spear” or slingshots? Do you know how far a deer is going run with a “hurled spear” (not hitting it in a vital) while you chase it with a knife? Inhumane, period.
I’m certain, sir, the Department of Environmental Conservation has their hands full with increased poaching due to the economy. Get real.
Early-instruction benefits not limited to arts, music
Re April 11 article, “Spring: $522K for arts, libraries,” on Schenectady School District’s budget meeting, I never said that “early instruction — before 8 — was key to developing strong artists and musicians.”
While this statement is true, my statement was not about students becoming artists and musicians. It was about brain development in all children. Early fine arts instruction creates neural pathways used for many processes in every child, not just those pursuing art and music.
The writer is a licensed Kindermusik educator and former school board member.
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