ADDED 01/10/2019

Haverhill High students’ assignment on Trump and fascism creates uproar; principal apologizes

FROM  | The Eagle-Tribune

BY Mike LaBella

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A debate among members of the community has erupted on Facebook over a Haverhill High history class assignment in which students were asked to debate whether characteristics of fascism are exhibited by President Donald Trump.

The postings on Facebook ranged from “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with it but at the same time our kids need to grow their own minds” to “why would they encourage the kids to ‘decide’ that our president is a fascist? Why weren’t the kids allowed to choose a world leader, past or present?” to “this lesson was a blatant attempt at brainwashing, their poor crack at an apology means nothing.”

Haverhill High Principal Glenn Burns has issued a letter apologizing for the assignment being given to students. In the letter, Burns said the assignment may have “missed the mark” or “skewed” the debate over Trump, or that it may have “provided the perception that we were looking for scholars to prove Donald Trump was a fascist.”

“This was not the intention of the assignment and we apologize to those that felt that was the experience we were trying to create,” Burns said in his letter. “Our team discussed at length how to provide a more balanced prompt that could enrich this topic and discussion.”

The assignment included a column listing 14 characteristics of fascism as defined in an article published in “Free Inquiry” magazine in 2003. “Free Inquiry” magazine is published quarterly by the Council for Secular Humanism.

In the assignment, Haverhill High students were asked to demonstrate “Evidence that Mr. Trump talks/behaves like a Fascist” and “Evidence Mr. Trump does not behave like a Fascist.”

The assignment did not list characteristics of non-fascist behaviors.

According to parent Helen Zbitnoff, who posted the assignment on Facebook, the assignment was handed out to students last Friday and was turned in on Monday.

The principal’s letter said that in the future, teachers and school officials will not avoid assignments involving controversial issues.

“We will continue to provide our scholars opportunities to debate and engage in controversial topics,” the letter said, “because this is at the heart of how positive change and innovation happens.”

A complete report will appear in Friday’s print edition of The Eagle-Tribune and at eagletribune.com.

HAVERHILL HIGH PRINCIPAL’S LETTER

Here is Principal Glenn Burns’ letter of response, in its entirety:

This weekend it was brought to my attention that some of our community members became concerned over a World History II assignment asking scholars to apply their knowledge of fascism to a current world leader. I understand this concern and assure you that these concerns of political bias are taken seriously.

The Haverhill High School History Department works diligently to engage scholars in relevant and thought-provoking tasks and sometimes when developing these lessons “hot-button” issues are discussed. As we support the thinkers and problems solvers of tomorrow we believe it is imperative that our scholars are supported to grapple with and debate these topics in a safe space. With that being said, not every lesson is developed perfectly and feedback is necessary to bring to our attention that we missed the mark and have created a learning opportunity that skews the thinking of our scholars. I recognize that there is a balance that must be found when discussing current issues and we will continue to work to find this balance while providing our scholars relevant and engaging learning experiences.

The assignment that was brought to my attention this week was developed to assess scholars’ ability to apply correctly Dr. Britt’s 14 characteristics of a fascist leader. At the time of development, it was believed scholars would be highly interested and engaged in debating what, if any of these, characteristics Donald Trump exhibited. The scholars were provided a graphic organizer for each characteristic and a place to write evidence from the texts they read as to why or why not Trump demonstrated that characteristic. Scholars were provided multiple texts to read which were from noted conservative, liberal and neutral news organizations so that scholars could see for themselves evidence of bias.

Upon reflecting with a team from the History Department on the assignment, “Some People Claim that Donald Trump is a Fascist: Time to check it Out!” it was evident to us that the prompt may have skewed the debate or provided the perception that we were looking for scholars to prove Donald Trump was a fascist. This was not the intention of the assignment and we apologize to those that felt that was the experience we were trying to create. Our team discussed at length how to provide a more balanced prompt that could enrich this topic and discussion.

I believe that debate and discussion grounded in research and facts is imperative to providing our scholars the tools and skills necessary to be successful in our ever-changing world. We will continue to provide our scholars opportunities to debate and engage in controversial topics because this is at the heart of how positive change and innovation happens. We will take better notice of the development and delivery of lessons to make sure that the outcomes of the assignment are not skewed by the prompts of the lesson.

As we move forward, I believe that for Haverhill High School to reach the goals we have set we will need to strengthen our home-school communication. With that said, I encourage all members of our community to reach out directly to Haverhill High School staff or myself to discuss any matters of concern or celebration. This type of open dialogue will strengthen our school community and ability to support all learners in reaching their potential.

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