Overheard: Hitlerism

Me: Now, what was happening in the 1960s that had a profound impact on all of America, including and especially the rural South?

Devon: 9-11?

Me: No, that was less than ten years ago, remember? Something important was happening in the 1960s that you have been learning about since elementary and middle school. [attempt to reactivate a topic that is arguably OVER-taught in the early grades]

Brian: The Civil War?

Me: Well, that happened MUCH earlier, but you are right to be thinking about issues connected to slavery and its long-term ramifications. [attempt to let student save face and hoping to push thoughts in the right direction in spite of the fact that I KNOW the student is not thinking about these issues]

Luis: Hitlerism?

Me: Nope. And that's still not a word. [attempt to remind student that he has used this non-word in multiple situations, none of which was remotely related to World War II or Nazi Germany]

[During a classroom conversation with sophomores in preparation to read Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird.]

Yes, I know it's a terribly important piece of literature for multiple historical, cultural, social, and literary reasons. But somehow I get the feeling this class may suck dry what is left of my already anemic enthusiasm for the the novel. It's going to be a war of attrition. Can I chip away at their ignorance, apathy, and general hatred of reading more rapidly than they can drain my resolve to show them why this book is worth their time and effort? I remind myself (as I so often remind them) that I get paid the same no matter what, which means I can surrender at any time--resort to worksheets and SparkNotes and showing of the movie--and no one outside our little disfunctional classroom community will find out or even care.

I do a quick gut check, take a deep breath, and begin. Fake it 'til you make it. That's my motto. We will make it to the end of the novel and find things to love about it. And I will make them embrace one of the novel's important messages--that human love and compassion are powerful and influential forces for good and can defeat hatred and intolerance and violence--and they will learn this...even if I have to beat it into them.


ChickenFreak said...

For what it's worth: When I read this book as a relatively young child, It was perfectly obvious to me that the racists were the villains, and I was naive enough to assume that it was perfectly obvious to everyone else.

This meant that that theme didn't need comment, in my mind - it wasn't news any more than "Nazis are the bad guys" is news. Atticus is good, racist townfolks are bad, Tom Robinson is innocent, huge injustice occurs as a result, check. Very little impact on me, because it wasn't news - I knew that things like that happened in the past, and I was, again, naive enough to think that it was confined to the past.

To me, Boo Radley was the point. There was doubt about Boo's nature, so the slow process of revealing what had happened to him, and how he had retained his humanity in spite of it, had much more impact. And I felt like an outsider, so I identified with Boo to some extent.

I guess my point is that maybe your kids will get the message from a direction other than the one that you expect?

Happy Dog said...

ChickenFreak, thanks for reading and commenting! I agree that the themes in the novel are fairly obvious. And trust me: by the time I am done with these kids, they will see them. I guess that I am just constantly amazed at how low I have to go to "meet them where they are" (a little current edu-jargon). Just makes the whole thinga little more tedious--for all of us. And is it wrong to want to beat them into understanding how bad violence is? Can't two wrongs make a right? :)

ChickenFreak said...

Hee. :) Well, don't they say that one last-ditch way to communicate to a toddler that biting hurts, is to bite him back? (Just a little.)

OK, well, maybe all strategies along those lines are bad. (I don't remember _who_ gave that advice.) But I can certainly imagine the temptation.