Can Your Students Spot a Fascist?

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Listen to “James Sturtevant Hacking Engagement” on Spreaker.

If you’ve taught a humanities class, you’ve probably recognized how frequently Adolf Hitler comes up. Unfortunately, many kid’s understanding of Hitler and Fascism doesn’t expand much past the Holocaust, and some students can’t spot a Fascist from across the room.

In fairness to kids, though, lots of adults also struggle with this, because, like students, they haven’t been exposed to the characteristics of a Fascist (see list below).

Scott Elliott teaches 9th Grade World History with me. Right before Christmas Break, we were yakking about how we could teach Fascism, our first unit in January, in a more engaging and impactful way.

Scott found a wonderful resource which formed the backbone of the assignment. The article is by Laurence W. Britt and is entitled Fascism Anyone.

The assignment we created challenged kids to rate WWII leaders on the 14 Characteristics Britt articulates and also to apply them to current leaders with authoritarian traits. Here’s a link to the Hyperdoc we posted on Google Classroom.

Britt’s list of 14 Fascist Characteristics

  1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism
  2. Disdain for the importance of human rights
  3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause
  4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism
  5. Rampant sexism
  6. A controlled mass media
  7. Obsession with national security. Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite
  8. Religion and ruling elite tied together
  9. Power of corporations protected
  10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated
  11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts
  12. Obsession with crime and punishment
  13. Rampant cronyism and corruption
  14. Fraudulent elections

This turned into a solid activity in our World History class, but the lesson can be applied outside of the humanities.

Perhaps, there are misunderstandings about important concepts in other subjects. I can certainly think of examples in science.

Applying the Hack Learning model

The Problem

Students freely use words like Fascist, Nazi, and Hitler with limited knowledge of these label’s broader meanings.

The Solution

Expose kids to what Fascism is and then challenge them to apply it, and challenge them to apply agreed-upon standards to a set of contentious circumstances.

What you can do Tomorrow

  • If you teach a humanities course and Fascism is a topic, please steal our lesson and morph it to fit your needs.
  • If you teach a non-humanities class, take a controversial or misunderstood topic, expose students to some agreed-upon standards and then challenge them to apply that knowledge.

Please inspire your kids to pursue objective truth relentlessly. Assignments such as this will nurture this essential disposition!

Author: James Sturtevant

James Alan Sturtevant has taught in Delaware County, in Central Ohio, for over three decades. His first book, You’ve Gotta Connect, details how teachers can build essential relationships with students. He has appeared on many popular podcasts and authored guest posts on Edutopia, the Huffington Post, and Principal Leadership. Sturtevant remains committed to helping teachers forge strong relationships with kids, but his true passion is student engagement. With his new book and podcast, Hacking Engagement, he helps educators create classrooms and schools that captivate kids and empower them to learn.

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