Jordan April and Archer Shurtliff are high school students in Oswego, NY who took a brave stand against injustice despite the stunning moral failure of the adults tasked with educating them.
On February 15, 2017, Oswego County High School teacher Michael DeNobile gave his students an assignment he’s been giving for several years. He divided the class into two parts. One group of teens was assigned to oppose the Nazi genocide of the Jews, the other group was told to advocate for it.
The students assigned to defend the Holocaust were expected to back up their work with sources from Nazi propaganda and modern-day Internet hate sites.
Nobody had ever complained about the assignment before, but Jordan and Archer – neither of whom is Jewish – were deeply offended by the idea of making students justify the genocide of the Jews.
They complained to their teacher, Michael DeNobile, who brusquely dismissed their concerns and insisted they complete the assignment. Archer was supposed to argue for the Holocaust, and Jordan was supposed to argue against.
After DeNobile refused to retract the assignment, the kids approached other educators in their school, who also shut down their concerns.
Jordan and Archer took their complaint all the way to the NY State Commissioner of Education, MaryEllen Elia, who shockingly defended the assignment and told them the purpose was to “understand all sides of the issue.”
Jordan and Archer, only 15 and 17 years old, refused to let it go. Their strong sense of right and wrong would not allow them to participate in an assignment that reeked of dangerous moral relativism.
They contacted the Anti-Defamation League, where they finally encountered adults with a moral compass. The ADL issued a statement condemning the assignment for suggesting there are two equally valid sides to every issue, including genocide.
Even after the ADL’s strong statement against the assignment, Michael DeNobile and MaryEllen Elia continued to defend it, and refused to let the students complete an alternate assignment.
Only after media outlets heard about the story did the morally challenged high school teacher and Commissioner of Education back down.
Jordan and Archer were allowed to do an alternate assignment, which did not involve justifying hatred and violence. Jordan explored America’s response to the AIDS crisis, and Archer wrote about the internment of Japanese-Americans.
Both students’ parents supported them completely, but sadly, many of their classmates criticized them for speaking out. One student said that it was important to “become more sympathetic to everyone and to humanize the Nazis to see their side of the story.” This is the danger of teaching moral relativism to impressionable young people.
Teacher Michael DeNobile and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia finally offered a weak apology, but they have suffered no penalty for their appalling lack of moral sense. Hopefully they will not give an assignment of this nature in the future.
Judaism teaches that we are to hate evil, not justify it.
For bravely pushing back against morally challenged educators, despite community ostracism, we honor Jordan April and Archer Shurtliff as this week’s Thursday Heroes at Accidental Talmudist.
Image courtesy of Syracuse dot com
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