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Pedagogy of Justin Bieber and the Nazi Hoodies

April 14, 2013

ZombieLaw has already written about the Nazi persuasive argument assignment. The story has now gone viral and the teacher (still unnamed) is apparently placed on leave. The picture running with the story is of the Albany Public Schools superintendent, a black woman. Should it matter what race, gender and religion the teacher was?

The assignment itself (which was to precede readings by Elie Wiesel) seems pretty solid from a curriculum design perspective (to teach persuasive writing and a kind of critical distance) except for the highly offensive “Jews are Evil” subject matter of the assigned position. But arguably in the right context this assignment could be appropriate (?) maybe if it were an advanced college level class? Are sophomores in high school simply too immature to handle such a challenging writing assignment? Or is this kind of assignment always per se wrong? And if so what about zombie curriculum?

Recall one Oregon school banned the zombie classes, while another teacher is building a middle school educational series around them. Both the CDC and US military think zombies are good for disaster training (Recently featured in Wired: “Army’s Disaster Prep Now Includes Tips From the Zombie Apocalypse” by Spencer Ackerman: Max Brooks spoke to the troops about zombie survival — see also Marine Corps Times: “Zombie survival teaches disaster preparedness“)

In the context of this Nazi-education controversy, Justin Bieber is also in the headlines today with Nazi-related news; for his visit to Anne Frank’s house and a comment about how she might have been one of his fan. See TMZ: “Justin Bieber: Anne Frank … She Couldn’t Resist Me“.

Bieber’s PR team is excellent at helping his name go viral with offensive ideas. I don’t even try to pay attention to him at all and still I’ve heard about his Native American tattoo, his ironic slam on LiLo, girls cutting themselves for him and a quarantined monkey at a German airport.

It’s really hard to know what is PR propaganda and what is real. This is the danger of Berlin in the 1930’s; most people simply did not believe the stories of what was happening. How bad does it have to get before the society can even see what’s happening? The mainstream media is full of coded language and self-serving press and there is more and more media each nanosecond. It is impossible to sort it reliably.

Gregory P. Stallworth at Leaf Chronicle writes: “COLUMN: Don’t be a sleepless zombie” appealing an earlier time with less media content, and metaphors of rechargeable batteries and religion, all to encourage more sleep:

the 24-hour availability of Wal-Mart and Walgreens has completely changed our paradigm as consumers. So-called convenience has ironically made sleepless zombies out of the most conservative of us.

But I would say these consumer paradigm shifts are precisely why we, more than ever, need to encourage people to wake up!!! Yet instead of teaching media literacy, we are programming students to fill out bubbles; to frame their thinking as dependent on multiple choice questions – NewObserver: “Our bubble-headed, zombie-creating reliance on high-stakes testing” by Ilina Ewen and Pamela Grundy, related to NoTestingZombies, advocating political change in North Carolina:

How are standardized tests like zombies? They’re mindless, and they just keep coming. For more than a decade, North Carolina schools and students have suffered from an onslaught of high-stakes standardized tests. These zombie tests have invaded our schools, sucking time and money from teaching and learning. They’ve deadened creativity and original thought, squashed imagination, stripped both teachers and students of dignity. Like zombies, these tests just won’t die.

One might argue that these type of testing regimes epitomize the bureaucratic totalitarianism of Nazi-aesthetics (See TVTrope: efficiency of German engineering). But we must risk the occasional politically incorrect teacher lest breed a world of dangerous subhumanization.

We must realize that Justin Bieber is a type of educator. His PR staff create a sort of curriculum. (See also Stepford/Zombie/Kardashians). The controversy is good cross-promotional press for Anne Frank (a major brand in the history market).

Stephen Carter thinks the zombies are a warning to Boomers, then surely the Nazi rhetoric too is something to worry about… But when we start attacking rhetoric, we are attacking creative style and free expressions. Who is to say what is offensive and what is reasonable pedagogic provocation?

What if the teacher’s assignment had Korean propaganda and arguments that Japanese are evil? Is any appeal to some kind of absolute evil, already inherently the problem. As if we could just assume we know who are the good and who are the bad. How can we police these issues without becoming exactly the tyranny we wish to avoid:

USAToday: “Officer accused of having Trayvon Martin targets” by Yamiche Alcindor:

A police officer accused of bringing targets resembling Trayvon Martin to a gun range has been fired … Sgt. Ron King was leading a target practice with two other officers and a civilian when he pulled out the targets

NPR: “Police Sergeant Says Trayvon Martin Shooting Targets Were A Training Aid” by Bill Chappell:

“Whether his act was hatred or stupidity, none is tolerable,” Port Canaveral CEO John Walsh says of former officer Ron King, in a report by local station WFTV

This response can only discourage teacher creativity. While hatred and prejudice should be intolerable, stupidity is a sometimes natural result of failed creativity. That said, I didn’t see the particular “no-shoot training aid” used by the ex-officer, nor what he said to contextualize the lesson. Was it just one of these Hoodie targets reportedly sold online at the time? What if the lesson was about the difficulty and need to resist shooting? What if he instead chose to use a zombie target?

In a world full of propaganda, the only politically correct target is no guns at all; the only politically correct speech, no expression at all. I fear for the children in middle school, particularly the Beliebers.

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