Updated Tuesday with statement from Anti-Defamation League:
This is one of those explosive stories that will get a lot of national attention before it is clear what went on and why.
A middle school teacher in South Carolina has been accused of dragging a student under a table during class, telling the boy “this is what the Nazis do to Jews,” police said Monday.
The 12-year-old student said he got up to sharpen a pencil at Bluffton Middle School on Wednesday when Patricia Mulholland grabbed him by his collar and said, “come here, Jew,” police said. The teacher then dragged him 10 feet under a table and made the comment about Nazis, according to police.
The seventh-grade teacher claims she was trying to teach the students a lesson about the Holocaust. The social studies teacher had a lesson on the Holocaust the day before. “What was a demonstrative attempt to teach about World War II and the Holocaust has been taken to mean an anti-Semitic rant and it was nothing like that,” said her attorney, Robert Ferguson.
Mulholland was arrested and faces charges of assault and battery and public disorderly conduct, Bluffton Police spokesman Lt. Joe Babkiewicz said.
Ferguson said Mulholland is a well-regarded teacher and hasn’t had any problems during her 23-year career with Beaufort County schools. “This is such a sensitive topic. But what do you determine is instructive teaching? Where is that line?” Ferguson said.
School district officials said Mulholland was placed on administrative leave Thursday. The district is sharing any information it has with police and will conduct its own investigation once the criminal probe is finished.
Police would not identify the student and refused to say whether he was Jewish.
Here is what we don’t know:
–Did this incident occur during social studies?
–Was this a scripted lesson or something the teacher decided to demonstrate at the spur of the moment so the students were shocked by her comments and actions?
–If scripted, had the teacher explained to the students that they would be assuming the roles of Jews and Nazis that day? Had she explained that the table would serve as a concentration camp or that kids would be yanked from their every day school activities and arrested as occurred in Nazi Germany?
–With something as emotionally wrenching as the Holocaust or slavery, are schools ever on safe ground with role playing? My children’s social studies teacher role played a lesson on apartheid a few weeks ago. The teacher separated kids who wore certain sneakers or shirt colors and gave them preferential treatment for a short period of class. I had no problem with it, but not sure how much is learned by such exercises.
–Specific to this South Carolina incident, why were the police involved and assault and disorderly conduct charges brought? I am assuming that the parents made that choice but am unclear how this escalated to a police matter.
Before we know the answers to these questions, I think we ought to withhold any judgment on this specific incident.
I am open to responses on the efficacy of role playing.
Here is the statement from the ADL:
“While the attorney for the teacher claims that Patricia Mulholland was trying to teach a lesson about the Holocaust, there is no justification for using students to make a point about the brutality of the Nazi regime’ said Bill Nigut, Southeast Regional Director of ADL. “We oppose classroom role playing games involving the Holocaust because they trivialize the true horror of the mass extermination of Jews, including many hundreds of thousands or more children who were rounded up and murdered by the Nazis,” Nigut said. “What’s more, these exercises can terrify students and in some extreme cases give students wrong-headed ideas about wielding power over weaker and more vulnerable students,” Nigut said.
ADL opposes other similar classroom role-playing games, including slavery lessons in which students are asked to recreate the relationship between masters and slaves.
Nigut said that ADL is pleased that Bluffton Middle School officials expressed strong objections to the exercise, but added that without additional facts, ADL could not comment on the teacher’s arrest on charges of assault and battery.
As a result of the incident, ADL will contact the Beaufort, South Carolina, school system and offer to train teachers on using ADL’s highly-respected Echoes and Reflections Holocaust Education curriculum. Echoes and Reflections was developed by ADL, Yad Vashem – Israel’s Holocaust remembrance center – and the Shoah Foundation.
“We would welcome the opportunity to go to offer our curriculum to the Beaufort County schools to give them tools to teach the important subject of the Holocaust in the most effective and appropriate way,” Nigut said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog