Students will be able to make comparisons between WWII Germany and the United States’ views on treatment of “feared” races.
This was kind of a strange week. We are approaching the end of the year, so the kids are antsy. We had some weird weather; Tuesday it was 82, Thursday we had huge thunderstorms, and this morning it was in the 40s. Between the bombings in Boston and the explosion in West, Texas, America has taken a beating. I feel like I was fighting my students all week to get anything done. It reminded me of those little plastic balls that have suction cups on the ends that you throw at a wall and watch it “walk” its way down. I feel like I had a good toss everyday, but watched as my awesome lessons kind of rolled down the wall…I hope some of the knowledge stuck.
We began this week looking at the Nuremberg Trials. Tuesday I assigned each student one of the 21 defendants and had them spend a class researching him before writing a 1-page summarized biography. Wednesday we watched a History Channel documentary, and they watched for their defendant. I could ask “Whose defendant was hanged?” and half the hands would go up. “Who was charged for war crimes?” and different hands would go up. They compared their defendants’ IQ scores: “Haha, my guy’s smarter than yours!” This all gave them more involvement in what could be a dry documentary. At the end of the film you see rather graphic images of the hangings and the corpses of the executed. Some of my kids had the nerve to fall asleep. I went off – “Hanging Nazis is too boring for you?!” I felt my little ball falling off the wall.
Yesterday we talked about some of the ways to explain the Nazi mentality and answer the question the world asked after Nuremberg: How could any human being do what the Nazis did? We talked about Josef Mengele, the bystander effect, the Milgram study, and the Stanford Prison Experiment. They were really interested, especially in the last two. They kept trying to tell me they would never have done what the study participants did. It’s hard to convince some very stubborn teenagers otherwise, and I really hope they’re right.
Having gone to college in Boston, I’ve been watching this weeks’ news extra closely. I was listening to one of the local talk radio hosts while driving home last night, and he was talking about the pictures released by the FBI of the culprits of the Boston Marathon bombing. One caller called in insisting they were Middle Eastern; the talk show host said there was, “No way we can know that. It’s a kid in sunglasses and a baseball cap. He could be any college student. Italian. Mexican. How can we know?” Other callers abused him for being too politically correct. When it was released this morning that they were not Middle Eastern but Chechen, and here legally on student visas, I heard morning commuters complain on that we need to do away with student visas, or not allow anyone from that part of the world enter the country.
It frightened me how quickly we seem to go to extremes following a crisis. The tragedy in Newtown means that either everyone or no one should possess guns. Two Russians pull a stupid, cowardly terrorist act and suddenly we shouldn’t allow anyone here who might be vaguely connected with a country that might have people who dislike us.
I shared these thoughts with my students because they pertained especially to our reading today, an excerpt from Jeanne Watkasuki Houston’s Farewell to Manzanar. I asked them to be careful to think through people’s rhetoric, because many times in our history has a government abused a group of people because of misconceptions about background. Hitler blamed the Jews and used German prejudice to carry out the Holocaust. Because Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, FDR signed an order allowing 120,000 Japanese Americans (most US-born citizens) to be put into ill-constructed, poorly managed camps for the duration of the war. Two cowardly twenty-somethings planting backpack bombs does not mean that we suddenly need to contain all Muslims or not allow talented, well-meaning individuals into our country. While I explained that Manzanar was absolutely not the same as Auschwitz, both locations were inspired by the same fear of a race of people, and both resulted in extreme loss of dignity and basic rights we have as human beings.
I didn’t want to push a political agenda on my students, but I can’t bear the thought of hearing from them what one student said today. I told them that, while most terrorist attacks committed in the world are by Muslims, that doesn’t mean that most Muslims are terrorists. As horrific as 9/11 and Monday’s bombings are, it doesn’t give us leave to discriminate against an entire group of people. A student said, “Well, Muslims have attacked us before. That’s two too many times. Something has to be done.” I tried a different tact: “If a white guy robs a bank, does that mean all white people are bank robbers?” “Well no.” “So if two Muslims place bombs in Boston, does that mean all Muslims are bombers?” Fewer kids answered that question. I want to desperately emphasize to them that they are part of the future, and if they grow up with the same type of fears of another group of people, then history will repeat itself.
|Manzanar – http://www.owensvalleyhistory.com/our_world1/page14a.html|