KIEV, Ukraine (JTA) – Kieran Shinkins, a 10th-grade teacher at the prestigious Pechersk international school here, gave his students a homework assignment in history class to design a Nazi election poster for Germany’s July 1932 vote.
Shinkins in his assignment a couple of weeks ago provided the students with some questions to guide their designs: “What were the favorite kinds of images and slogans for the National Socialists? Who were the main targets/enemies of the National Socialists? How would the election poster attack these enemies effectively and economically?”
The students went home and came up with vivid posters, which were hung around the elite school favored by the children of Kiev’s diplomatic corps, expatriates, business titans and politicians, including the children of Ukraine’s president.
The posters read: “Choose/Elect Hitler!” “Bread. Job. Motherland.” “We will create a great Germany!” “Elect Hitler!”
Leaflets with swastikas also appeared inside classrooms, according to the Ukrainian newspaper Segodnya.
The incident, which came to light last week, has generated an uproar in Ukraine.
“I disagree with such methods of teaching,” said Garik Korogodsky, a businessman whose daughter, Liza Korogodskaya, refused to do the homework assignment.
At least one set of parents withdrew their child from the school following the incident.
School administrators said Shinkins’ project, while unorthodox, was part of a larger lesson about Nazism.
“The goal of the assignment was to show the dangers of propaganda in a democracy using the historic example of Nazi Germany,” the school said in a statement. “The assignment was given as part of the history of Europe, including the development of totalitarianism in the democratic societies of Europe in the 1930s.”
As part of the lesson, the teacher also asked students to write a 600-word essay on the question, “How effective was Nazi propaganda in the 1932 election, and what was the effect intended by students’ posters?”
“In a month,” the administrators said, “the teacher will explain to their students that propaganda of Nazi ideas is bad.”
That explanation has not satisfied critics.
“This is unacceptable,” said Josef Zissels, head of the Association of Jewish Communities and Organizations in Ukraine, or Vaad. “Every teacher should observe political correctness.”
“Disgusting!” declared Ilya Levitas, a leader of Jewish Council of Ukraine. “If that wasn’t provocation, the school threw down the challenge to President Yuschenko.”
Boris Zhebrivsky, a deputy minister at Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science, said he is appointing a commission to investigate the case.
President Viktor Yuschenko has two daughters in the posh school, where tuition costs $12,000 and lunches come from a French restaurant. A son is slated to enter the school’s kindergarten.
The UNIAN news agency reported that the Yuschenkos picked the school because it offers a wide choice of foreign-language instruction and is a haven of “European living standards.”
Pechersk, the school’s Web site says, provides “a truly international education, helping prepare its students for the modern world.” The school has students from 46 countries and teachers from 11. Shinkins hails from Ireland.
Ukraine’s first lady, Kateryna Yuschenko, condemned Shinkins’ teaching methods in a statement published in the UNIAN report.
“To demand from students to reconstruct Nazi symbols is absolutely unacceptable, despite any educational intentions,” she said.