According to an article in the Times Union on April 13, an unnamed Albany High School educator with an excellent track record was verbally eviscerated and suspended because this educator requested that his/her three English classes write compositions as 1930s German civilians supporting the Nazis and denouncing Jews under the threat of prison or death. The purpose was to feel the terror imposed on the general population.
“Talk is cheap” so requiring a written statement, committing pen to parchment, has a profound psychological and indelible resonance. This tactic is exploited by ruthless regimes as “proof” of the people’s support. As the old Chinese proverb states, “The weakest ink lasts longer than the strongest memory.”
The fact that one of the three classes refused to participate becoming obedient National Socialists in a role play scenario—in a democracy no less—echoes the powerful emotional effect of dictatorships. It’s the fear that to refuse to participate would result in some form of punishment, like mediocre grades, or tepid recommendations for university applications.
These visceral exercises create a powerful empathy for oppressed peoples, internationally and domestically, who are frequently demonized because of their race, ethnicity or religion simply because they may have been forced or coerced under extreme conditions to support a ruthless leadership.
A visceral “you are there” experience always trumps a vicarious one in that students experience and recognize the hidden messages and subtle creeping power and control that governments and corporations apply to eliminate your rights “for your protection.” You must question these proposed new laws like Captain Kirk did in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) who boldly asked, “What does God need with a spaceship?”
Perhaps not as draconian as the Albany affair, we need to apply changes in education to protect our freedoms which many of us take for granted. How can we constructively engage with the world if we refuse to understand how they feel if we refuse experience their daily trials and tribulations?
Amanda Ripley’s book “The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way” debunks the “more money, better product” theory and adds that, “Low expectations are often duly rewarded.”
To paraphrase Joanne Lipman in the September 28 Wall Street Journal article “Tough Teachers Get Results”, “Studies have now shown the benefits of moderate childhood stress, and why grit is a better predictor of success than SAT scores. It’s time to review old-fashioned education.”
Her interviews of now successful middle-aged men and women reveal that “…the best and the brightest were educated by old-fashioned, gruff teachers of the past, though their journey was difficult, they all succeeded far better than their contemporaries who had teachers who taught with kid gloves. A moderate amount of stress in childhood promotes resilience.”
This Albany educator is not alone. There are thousands of extraordinarily creative educators throughout the country who are hesitant to introduce bold methods out of the same fear that the students felt if they refused to participate in that exercise.
Educators have a teacher’s license but politically don’t have a license to teach because they run the gauntlet between a decades-old, provincial-minded, political beast in educational institutions and soft, coddled and entitled students all enabled by mainstream media. Big Education is Big Business when university tuition costs are greater than a down-payment for a condo at One57. Any educational institution that is engaged in “dumbing down” American students should be charged with child abuse.
We face a brutally competitive global environment; without proper education methods American students will sink to greater depths of mediocrity. It’s the execution of providing a good education, not the amount of funding.
—Albert Goldson is an Architectural & Engineering Contract Manager specializing in transportation megaprojects, energy, security and urban planning. An internationalist, he is a long-time Williamsburg resident.