Editorial from the Manchester Union Leader, NH

ON FRIDAY, the same day we published an editorial suggesting there could come a day when any mention of religion in a public school, no matter the context, would be banned, the Concord Monitor reported that some eighth-graders in Pittsfield objected on religious grounds to an English assignment based upon the “Diary of Anne Frank.”

English teacher Harry Mitchell had created a brilliant assignment for helping his students understand Anne Frank’s plight. His students were to wear yellow stars, like those the Nazis made Jews wear during the Holocaust.

“My intention with the star was to get them to have some empathy and the feeling of what it was like to have to identify yourself with a symbol,” Mitchell said. “If you’re not wearing it, you’re not getting the full awareness of Anne and her family.”

But some students didn’t see it that way. They refused to wear the star because, they said, they weren’t Jewish. And of course, that was the whole point of the lesson.

Appropriately, Mitchell gave students who did not wear the star lower grades. Obviously they failed to grasp the not very difficult concept he creatively tried to teach. Also appropriately, principal Karen Erlandson supported her teacher.

This episode makes us wonder: Have we Americans become so touchy about religion, so absorbed in our own self-identity, and so obsessed with perpetual self-expression that our children are turning incapable of stepping outside of themselves, or of even accepting the idea that momentarily stepping outside of themselves to see the world from another’s point of view could be valuable?

Surely we have not reached that mark of self-absorption quite yet.