Students will be able to use their persuasive skills to convince an undecided person of their views.
Friday was our big debate, and despite my trepidation, I think they did very well. Thursday I assigned them to one of the four biggest parties in the Reichstag elections of 1932 (KPD – Communists; NASPD – Nazis; Center party – Christians; or the SPD, the social democrats). Then, I gave them summaries of the other parties and a more in-depth view of their own party’s views and programs. They were to work with a group of 3-5 students to create a 5 minute oral presentation to deliver as part of Friday’s panel discussion.
I had a few that totally goofed off during the planning; I heard things like, “Well, I can’t find anything on my party!” or “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing!” Ignore the fact that the instructions were on the BOARD, on a sheet of paper handed to EVERY student, and explained – out loud – TWICE, or that I gave no fewer than three suggestions for how to divide the work, as well as three different sources of information.
The rest read carefully and knew their party platforms pretty well. Their biggest struggle was attempting to promote programs they didn’t agree with – for example, legalizing abortion under all circumstances, or halting military spending. I had to change our discussion a few times as students got stuck debating the morality of abortion. I printed off a list of popular German boys and girls’ names from the period, so if Andrew struggled to defend it, perhaps a German named Ingo could do it. They enjoyed picking new names, and called themselves that for the rest of class.
I’ll admit, I was nervous about Friday. I had invited my principal to stop by for an observation, and I did not want to my kids to look foolish in front of him. However, they pulled it off. It was a little awkward at the beginning: I put all my desks into a giant rectangle facing inward, and assigned the different parties a side. One corner consisted of the “undecided voters.” These were students who either didn’t fit into the groups or were absent; they each had a persona and had prepared questions to ask the different parties. While ,u classes didn’t impress me with their amount of planning, where they did shine was in their questions, both from the undecided voters and from party to party. Rather than ask “easy” questions like, “What do you think of Jews?” they listened to the programs and asked tough questions, such as:
– “You say you’re going to raise tariffs. How will this help Germans feed their families if you make food more expensive?”
– “How will increasing military spending help us if the Treaty of Versailles says we can’t have a big army?”
– “My husband’s mother is Jewish. Since your party is anti-Semitic, what will this mean for my family?”
Most of my students couldn’t answer these questions based on their limited knowledge of their party which they were representing, but I was so impressed with the level of the questions they asked each other. These are the kids who usually answer with emotions like “bad” or “sad” when I ask how Germans felt after WWI. They really demonstrated what they had learned about Germany post-WWI, as well as some of the persuasive skills we’d talked about in class. I saw pathos, logos, and ethos being put into action. Although I had them set up in a more informal, seated panel, some students jumped up and paced the room in excitement. One shook all the undecided voters’ hands and thanked them for being there. As I imagine any political rally in Germany in 1932 looked, they shouted and threatened physical violence (they were only allowed to threaten) and accused each other of causing Germany’s downturn. At the end, they really wanted to know who won their debate, even though the NSDAP won in real life. I received a kind email from a parent over the weekend telling me how much her daughter enjoyed my class. My students are under the impression that I am illegally teaching them history, and that makes them want to learn it more. In reality, I’m using the English standards for teaching oral presentation skills, persuasion, and group work but using history content, but apparently feeling like they’re learning illicitly is sexier.
One student went so far as to translate phrases into German he could shout at the other parties. They included “Wir sind die beste Gruppe fur Deutschland!” (We are the best group for Germany), “Sie irren sich!” (You are wrong), and “Die KPD ist ein Bundel von unwissend toricht barbaren” (The Communist party is a bunch of ignorant foolish barbarians).