Students will be able to list qualities of the four major parties in Germany’s 1932 Reichstag elections.
One of the teachers that works with a lot of kids with discipline issues emails out these thoughts today, and I guess has spent a lot of time explaining to kids why they get in trouble or seem to get “picked on” by the administration for dress code infractions and the like. I wanted to share her words:
“Sometimes the kids don’t understand why someone might have already made up their mind about them before they actually get to know them. It’s because more than likely they are just like or very similar to the company they keep.
I always tell the kids that the friends they keep are a part of the foundation of the person you want to be. Every person they keep close has a quality they admire or want to have for themselves. The friends they surround themselves say more about them as people more than their own actions at times. “
I thought her words were very helpful, and funnily enough, fit in with one of our week’s theme: judging each other. Today we examined further splits in the Weimar government, hyperinflation caused by overprinting money (I photocopied 1920s Deutschmarks and we made it rain), and how before the Nazis came to power, people were literally beating each other up in the streets. They are really engaged and asking really good questions. For example, after I explained hyperinflation and then how the US called Germany’s loans after the stock market crash, one athlete wanted to know, “If the currency wasn’t worth anything, how did they pay reparations? Gold?” I didn’t have the answer for him, but I was thrilled that a kid who usually plays with his phone or sleeps made that complex connection.
|German kids playing with blocks of currency during hyperinflation…because they’re worth less than real blocks. In order to make my lesson more “English-y,” we talked about the prefixes hyper– and hypo-|
One way we attempt to teach kids history is by inviting them to set foot in the shoes of someone who is there. “Pretend you were on the Oregon Trail” or “Let’s say you were drafted to fight in a country you knew nothing about.” The tough thing about learning about the Nazi party views is that I can’t ask them to pretend they are Hitler-Jungen (Hitler youth), because they can’t. They cannot conceive what it’s like growing up with some of the mindsets the German had. They are particularly baffled by the ease with which many Germans were willing to blame the Jews for Germany’s WWI loss.
I have seen WWII documentaries that interview former German soldiers who worked at concentration camps and murdered Jews; even in the 1990s, when these guys are well into their 70s and 80s, they can look at the camera and state that they have no regrets because they don’t view Jews as humans. I attempted to compare the Germans’ mindsets with that of some of the characters in To Kill a Mockingbird from earlier this year. Many of the white characters had terrible things to say about the blacks in the town, even when they had never had any negative experiences with a black person. They were just raised to think that way; any problem in the town was automatically assumed to be rooted in its black population. This comparison seemed to help my students a little, and I had the satisfaction of comparing history to another text we’ve read. We also brought in current events. For example, after the unification of Germany, Germany started building a navy, claiming it was to protect their colonies abroad. Great Britain assumed it was in preparation for war. This is similar to Iran’s buildup of nuclear capabilities; they claim it’s for research or energy, but the western world fears differently. Also, the Wiemar Republic faced many of the same financial and political issues as the US today; they needed money when their economy was bad. One party refused to raised taxes, the other refused to allow any spending cuts for social problems. The kids thought this all sounded very familiar. I talked about how some people find it really easy to blame Bush or Obama or Wall Street for all our financial problems; as they learn more about Germany they are recognizing that all these issues are much more layered than that. I’m so proud of their work this week. Now to figure out what this debate is going to look like!
Judging a book by its cover…
I have two boys who have been spending before and after school with me for clock hours. Both boys I had previously assumed hated my class; it seems I was mistaken. Both are failing my class, but I assigned them book reports to complete this week do up their grades. Surprisingly, they went down to the library without a fuss to choose a book. One read steadily for the next hour – he seemed to really enjoy his book, and I know he’s not a reader. The other tried both books that he grabbed “for the covers” and asked if I would choose a book for him. Instead of wandering around the library, I dug through some of the English department books. I pulled The Outsiders and The Great Gatsby for him to try. While we looked, he told me most of his life story – about his siblings (he really cares about his family; I wouldn’t have guessed that), how he used to be in choir in middle school and loved it (also a surprise), and how he likes when people pick books for him (he loved To Kill a Mockingbird and asked when we would read another book in class!). I walked away feeling terribly guilty for judging him as hastily as I have done all year. Yes, he has serious attendance and motivation issues, but he seems to be making a willing turnaround – and that is what ultimately matters.