A few weeks ago, in a fit of pique, I posted a
message at the Celestial Teacher's
Lounge (a.k.a. the Teacher Leaders Network Forum) describing a particularly
vociferous and opinionated group of education bloggers and commenters as ____ Nazis. As in--the Soup Nazi, so
entertainingly depicted on Seinfeld.
peace-loving friend and uber-blogger Ken Bernstein gently chided me for
careless use of a pretty hard-core epithet, pointing out that such name-calling
is not an invitation to thoughtful dialogue. It took me about five
chastised-but-bristling minutes to admit that he was right: He who uses the
most vile and inflammatory language is not the most influential. Loudest, perhaps--but
not the most truthful or accurate.
since that exchange, the nation has had the opportunity to hear a whole lot of
illogical, incoherent blah-blah about Hitler and health care--hunh?--and
witness Shepard Fairey's iconic poster of Obama adorned with a toothbrush
is this...wrong? Does it mean that Jon Stewart should never do pointed satire
on Hitler-mustache stickers (available for images of all the people you
currently dislike)? Was Barney Frank out of bounds, when he compared a
discussing the health care bill with the town-hall "Nazi policy" protester
to talking with his dining room table? As a person who includes The Producers among her favorite movies,
should I be embarrassed by my reaction
every time I see Springtime for Hitler:
uncontrollable giggles? Is it possible to let satire and post-modern irony dull
us to the fact that some things are always immoral?
it ever OK to pull out what Jon Meacham calls the Hitler card? And is it also worth
considering that one person's evil incarnate is another person's private hero?
few years ago, my 8th graders went on a kick where everything and everyone they
didn't care for at the moment became "gay." He's so gay, her shirt is
gay, everyone who plays in the band is gay, the principal is really, really
gay. And so on. One day, I called out some hapless kid who used the word in
class, leading to one of those moments when the room goes breathlessly silent
and everyone's focused on the exchange:
Please don't use the word gay as a pejorative--a nasty label. Not in this
Unh. Everyone else says it (defensively).
(silence, meeting his eyes--letting the inanity of that remark hang there)
Well, they do.
And how do you feel when kids say that being in the band is gay--using that
word to mean that you and the other 65 people here in this room are uncool
I don't care (even more defensive).
I can only speak for myself, but I care very much about that. And I see this room as a safe space for everyone who wants to take band. If we start
calling each other names, we won't care as much about each other. The class
won't be as much fun, and the music will suffer.
But what if someone really is gay?
Then that person needs to know that they're definitely welcome in the band
lunch, one of my colleagues said "I hear you had the gay talk in second
hour today. I'm sick of hearing the word, too--good for you. I hope you don't
get any phone calls." I didn't--but I wasn't worried about it. I doubted if
any parent could muster much of an argument.
is right. We attach monstrous labels to people with whom we disagree at our own
peril, running the risk of weakening our resolve to see and resist evil--and
muddying distinctions between right and wrong. Those of us who work with
children, whose filters for irony, sarcasm and paradox are not fully developed,
should be especially careful.
visited Dachau concentration camp in 1977, the day before I flew home from a summer spent
backpacking in Europe. It was a drizzly, gray day and I had the place nearly to
myself--so perhaps that's why it was possible to stand in the empty yard and
hear, plain as day, faint but chilling echoes of the shouting and the screams. The
word that came to mind, in that terrible place, was sacrifice. A word whose
roots mean: to make sacred.
Image: David Farrington, Flickr Creative Commons