Friday, May 13, 2011

"Strength Through Discipline"

One of the difficult aspects of teaching middle class, mid-America high school students about movements like fascism and communism was making real how such ideologies could appeal to ordinary people — much less how such people could become implicated in the crimes associated with the resulting regimes. I recall using a film titled The Wave in the '80's. It was based on a classroom experiment that proved altogether too effective. This article, "Experiment in Fascism at an American High School," describes the real events on which that film was based and about which a new documentary has been produced:
One day in 1967, a Palo Alto high school student asks his history teacher how the German people could have missed the signs of the ongoing genocide being perpetrated by the Nazis. This innocent question ignites an idea, and teacher Ron Jones launches a classroom “simulation,” or experiment, to illustrate how good Germans — how anyone — could fall prey to totalitarian thinking. ....

Jones reorganized his classroom that week into a simulation of a prototypical fascist youth group. He enforced physical discipline and uniformity in the students’ posture and speech per his first-day dictum, “Strength Through Discipline.” He meant it to end there, he now avers, but students were eager for more. He added more simplistic, effective sloganeering on the following days: strength through community, through action, through unity and finally through pride. Strength through Community meant, for instance, that students were to share grades. Top students helped the lower students. ....

On day 5, when he finally exposed the movement as a lesson meant to teach the students that they were no better or worse than the Germans, the young students fell apart in a fog of betrayal and emotional panic. .... [more]
Experiment in Fascism at an American High School: The Lesson Plan @ The Newport Beach Film Festival » LFM: Libertas Film Magazine