Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Germans facing their history

I must say it’s been an interesting experience this year in my US History class. I have a female German foreign exchange student in my class and we’re getting ready to talk about WWII. We’re actually talking about the Great Depression but connecting it to what is happening in Germany in the 1930s with the rise of Hitler.

Now what I have found most interesting is that as soon as I mentioned Germany and Hitler the other day in class, all the other kids in the class started sneaking glances at her (the German exchange student), as if waiting to see her reaction to the news that we were going to be discussing her “evil” ancestors. I never used the term “evil” but it seemed like kids were already reacting to this history as “evil.” It was interesting to see how my students reacted to her. To be honest, it was almost as if they felt sorry for her—like they wanted to avoid the whole topic. Most of the glances were quick and sympathetic. And she could tell. She seemed to sink a little further in her seat and stare intensely at her paper.

And then what interested me even more was that I began to respond to this. I suddenly felt like I needed to “soften” the history I was teaching. It was almost like I needed to justify the behavior of Germans to make her feel more comfortable. I really can’t describe the sudden, but clearly present, tenseness that overcame the room. I’ll be curious to see what happens as we get further into our WWII unit (I mean we barely even started talking about it!) and to see what happens when we start talking about the Holocaust. Will I find myself avoiding certain topics so she does not feel uncomfortable? Will students continue to steal glances at her, as if checking to see how she is handling, her country’s “ugly truth?” I’m not sure, but if anyone has had similar experiences, I’d be curious to hear them!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Laurel! Rob and I were reading your blog post tonight and he has had many German and East German exchange students in the past at Sumner and SMNW. Some of them came from cities that we bombed the heck out of like Hamburg and Rostock. He says to teach it as you always have but if she is willing and comfortable, have her share her perspective or her family's perspective. I wonder if your American students will sink down in their seats when you talk about lynchings in the South or the My Lai Massacre? Can you think of a country that doesn't have some horrible skeleton in their closet? Heck, at least the Germans have fessed up to their atrocities unlike the Japanese who fail to even put their deeds in their textbooks.