A D.C. public schools teacher who assigned students homework asking them to compare George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler has prompted a backlash that began with one angry parent and that’s now drawing complaints from a speech writer for the former president.
School system officials said the teacher, who gave the assignment to a sixth-grade class at McKinley Middle School this week, exercised “extremely poor judgment” and would apologize to students.
The school system sent a letter home to parents explaining the incident on Thursday. Schools spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz declined to say whether the teacher in question would receive any additional training or discipline.
“The teacher deeply regrets this mistake, and any suggestion to malign the presidency or make any comparison in this egregious way,” Ms. Salmanowitz said.
Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson late Wednesday tweeted, “No DCPS curriculum says to make these comparisons in any way. A deeply apologetic teacher used poor judgment & will apologize to students.”
But the incident prompted widespread outrage, including from a former speech writer for Mr. Bush.
“I think that anybody who considers that to be an appropriate assignment is irreparably flawed and shouldn’t be teaching,” said Marc Thiessen, who worked for Mr. Bush beginning in 2004 through his second term. “That’s not political bias, that’s just pure stupidity.”
The parent who made the initial complaint, who asked not to be named, said that when he called the school office to complain he was told that the assignment was part of a curriculum unit approved by the school system. He said his sixth-grader’s class had been studying both the Holocaust and the Iraq war.
“I think trying to compare Adolf Hitler to an American president is just not right,” the parent said. “I didn’t agree with Mr. Bush or his policies, but that was over the line.”
Ms. Salmanowitz said readings from which the students were supposed to support their conclusions were among suggested curriculum the school system had previously approved, but that the texts were not meant to be compared in the manner assigned by the teacher.
The text about Hitler is part of the current suggested curriculum from a unit on war and peace and the text about Mr. Bush was part of last year’s curriculum, Ms. Salmanowitz said.
A copy of the curriculum for the school system’s 2013-2014 school year lists both texts as suggested readings in the “war and peace” unit, indicating the texts may have been used side-by-side in the past, though it was unclear in what manner. The text on Mr. Bush, an Associated Press article from 2003, is no longer listed in the 2014-2015 curriculum.
A copy of the assignment, made by the parent who complained, instructs students to draw examples from two texts they were assigned and to fill in a Venn diagram with similarities and differences between Mr. Bush and Hitler.
“Now that we have read about two men of power who abused their power in various ways, we will compare and contrast them and their actions. Please refer to your texts, ‘Fighting Hitler — A Holocaust Story’ and ‘Bush: Iraq War Justified Despite No WMD’ to compare and contrast former President George W. Bush and Hitler. We will use this in class tomorrow for an activity!” reads the text at the top of the assignment.
On the premise of the homework, Mr. Thiessen said it isn’t the first time someone has made the comparison between the 43rd American president and the leader of Nazi Germany.
“But it’s probably the first time in a classroom and not from a nut on the street with a sign,” he said.