Comic strip assignment about Hitler's rise raises questions at Gurnee school

A lesson about the rise of fascism in Nazi Germany is stirring controversy among parents at Woodland Middle School in Gurnee.

Students in an eighth-grade language arts class received an assignment Monday called "If You Give a Hitler a Country," a play on the popular children's book "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie," about a difficult-to-satisfy rodent, according to parents.

The students were asked to create a comic strip for children that illustrated Europe's attempts to appease Adolf Hitler in the run-up to World War II.

Kelly Masterton said she came across the assignment when she was reviewing her son's recent work. The cartoon he produced for the class featured a depiction of SpongeBob SquarePants manipulated to look like Hitler, along with several swastikas.

"It took me aback, obviously," Masterton said Wednesday. "Why would you give someone this assignment in this day and age?"

That question is what Woodland Elementary District 50 administrators were trying to answer Wednesday.

Lori Casey, the Gurnee-based district's associate superintendent of education, said school officials pride themselves on their cultural sensitivity and are taking the matter very seriously.

"We're gathering all of the information, we're speaking to the teachers, looking at what they were trying to teach," Casey said.

It is too early to say whether the lesson violated district policy, she said.

The handout for the assignment featured the image of a character from the children's show "My Little Pony" saluting in a Nazi uniform.

Masterton said her son's friend who is Jewish asked to be excused from the assignment, so the teacher let him do his cartoon about a different topic.

She shared the image of the assignment Tuesday night on Facebook, where it got dozens of comments from members of the Woodland Middle School community.

Another district parent, Dan Umansky, emailed the Facebook post to the district staff and the Daily Herald.

"There's got to be a better way to teach our kids about the horrific things Hitler did," Umansky said.

"I'm looking forward to hearing their explanation."

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