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To deepen your understanding of the ideas in this lesson, read Chapter One in Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior.
A Scene from a Middle School Classroom
WHY teach this material?
This lesson uses a case study of a 7th grade classroom to introduce students to major themes and questions they will address in this unit. Presenting new concepts and vocabulary to students through an engaging and familiar example is an effective way to lay the groundwork for studying the complex history of Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.
The purpose of this lesson is to help students: • Reflect on these guiding question about history and behavior: • What does it mean to have a “range of choices” about how to act? • What factors influence decision making? • Practice these interdisciplinary skills: • Acting • Group work • Vocabulary building • Journal writing • Deepen understanding of these key terms. You might select several terms from this list to focus on in this lesson: • Membership • Belonging • Exclusion • Inclusion • Peer pressure • Conformity • Ostracism • Bystander • Perpetrator • Victim • Bullying (See the main glossary in the unit’s “Introduction” for definitions of these key terms.)
Lesson 2 • 34
WHAT is this lesson about?
The material in this lesson originated in a research project conducted by Facing History and Ourselves between 1996 and 1998.1 During those years, a group of researchers and Facing History staff studied the impact of Facing History on 8th grade students in an urban/suburban community near a major metropolitan area. The 19 students in the class represented a range of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. The study found that Facing History promoted students’ interpersonal awareness, including their ability to understand different perspectives and to develop their own meaning of a situation. Another key finding was that these middle school students used their own peer relationships as a frame of reference for understanding themes relevant to exploring the history of the rise of the Nazis—themes such as membership, conformity, and stereotypes. Based on the results of this study and decades of experience in classrooms, we know that using a real experience from a middle school classroom can serve as an effective way to introduce students to major themes explored in this unit. Adolescents are particularly preoccupied with the task of figuring out where they fit in, how they fit in, and how to balance their own strengthening personal identity with the need to belong to a larger group. In this lesson and throughout this unit, Facing History draws from the issues and concerns of adolescence as a way to increase engagement and develop understanding of history and human behavior.
In Facing History classrooms, students discuss topics relevant to their own lives, such as inclusion, exclusion, and peer pressure.
The material in this lesson draws from “The Ostracism Case Study,” a report on an incident that took place before students took a Facing History course. In this case study, we hear the voices of 8th grade students as they reflect on a particularly poignant social conflict among a group of friends resulting in the ostracism of one of them. [Note: The event itself occurred during 7th grade, although the impact of this event could be felt in the 8th grade as well.] The voices of these students bring us inside their world and provoke questions about issues of inclusion, exclusion, conformity, and belonging in adolescence and beyond. Later in this unit, students will explore how similar issues influenced the choices made by individuals and groups living in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.
Lesson 2 • 35
Related readings from Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior “The In-Group,” pp. 29–31 “Conformity and Identity,” pp. 31–33
HOW can we help students engage with this material?
Duration: one class period Materials
Handouts 1–3: A scene from middle school
In the previous lesson, students developed or reviewed their classroom contract. Agreeing on contracts and rules is one way that people form groups or communities. When everyone signs a classroom contract (and follows its rules) they become members—people who belong to a specific group. Write the following words on the board: membership, belonging, in-group, out-group. Ask students to respond to the following prompt in their journals, “When you see these words, what story or moment comes to mind?” Students can share these stories with a partner. Explain that in this lesson, students will be working with a story about belonging from a middle school classroom.
For this lesson, we have broken down “The Ostracism Case Study” into three parts. First, students will act out the precipitating event. Handout 1 provides a short script with stage direction for students to follow. Performing this skit requires four students: a narrator, Sue, Rhonda, and Jill. After the performance, have students answer the questions below the script, either individually or in small groups. This is an appropriate time to introduce the idea that individuals (and groups) have a range of choices about how to act. You can emphasize this point by having students brainstorm all the possible courses of action available to the girls in this scene. Then, facilitate a class discussion about what students think might happen next, given this range of choices. Next, distribute handout 2 and ask the narrator to read the paragraph at the top of the page. In small groups or individually, students can answer the questions on this page. After students have had some time to respond to these questions, facilitate a whole class conversation where students explain why they think Sue was ostracized by the other students in her class. This conversation provides an opportunity to present vocabulary that will be relevant when students learn about the rise of the Nazis. Students’ comments will likely touch on concepts such as ostracism, conformity, peer pressure, belonging, inclusion, exclusion, membership, bullying, victim, perpetrator, and bystander. Help students develop their vocabulary by labeling their ideas with these terms. For example, if a student suggests that many girls teased Sue because they wanted to “fit in,” you could write the word “conformity” on the board. Students can help you define new vocabulary by referring to evidence from the ostracism case study, as well as their personal experiences and prior knowledge.
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At this point, we strongly suggest starting a “word wall” in your classroom. A word wall is an organized collection of words displayed in large letters on a wall or other large display place in the classroom. The word wall is added to on a regular basis, as students learn new words and as they revise their understanding of previous vocabulary words. Word walls can also include images. You might also ask students to experiment with the font and style of writing words on the wall, so that how the word looks actually represents something about its meaning. All vocabulary on the word wall should also be recorded in students’ journals. (See the section “Building Vocabulary” in the introduction for more ideas about how to structure a working dictionary in students’ journals.)
Follow-Through (in class or at home)
Handout 3 includes seven quotations from the ostracism case study. You could assign small groups of students a quotation that they will present to the class. During their presentations, students should read the quotation and suggest what concept/s from the word wall the quotation represents. Or, you could post these quotations around the room on large sheets of paper and ask students to walk around the room, recording the concept that they think that quotation represents as well as any questions or comments the quotation sparks. Finally, you could ask students to select one quotation from this page that especially interests them. Students could write a journal entry where they respond to the student who made that remark. What would they want to say to that student? In what ways can they identify with these words? You might use this moment to highlight that throughout this unit, students will be learning about particular events, such as this specific episode in a 7th grade classroom, as well as about universal themes that apply to many situations across time periods and geographic locations. Students can reflect on these two dimensions by dividing a page of their journals in half. Students can label one side “history” or “the past.” On that side they can respond to the question, “What are three things you will remember about this event from a 7th grade classroom?” On the other side, students can write the heading “universal” or “ourselves.” On that side, they can respond to the question, “What ideas about human behavior—why people do what they do—have been raised by this situation in a 7th grade classroom?”
The depth and breadth of your word wall can be used to measure students’ understanding of new concepts as well as a way to keep track of which themes you have addressed in detail, and what words or themes you will need to cover in another lesson. For example, in this lesson you may be able to define conformity and belonging, but your class may not get to the concept of bystander. The lessons in this unit provide multiple opportunities to address the same themes. So, any idea you did not get to cover in depth in this lesson, you can explore more fully in a future lesson. Collecting the handouts from this lesson or reading students’ journals will provide you with a sense of how individual students are making sense of this material.
Facing History and Ourselves uses particular language to help students understand the different ways that people experience and respond to injustice:
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• Perpetrator: an individual or group who chooses to act in ways that are unjust • Victim: an individual or group who is wronged or who receives unjust treatment • Bystander: an individual or group who is aware that injustice is occurring but chooses not to intervene; someone who “stands by” while injustice happens • Upstander: an individual or group who chooses to act in ways to prevent or stop unjust or violent acts (Note: The definitions provided here are working definitions. You or your students might find other language to define these terms.) “The Ostracism Case Study” used in this lesson provides an opportunity to introduce students to these terms. Drawing from the material in all three handouts, you can ask small groups to decide which individuals they would put under each category. Encourage students to think creatively as they go about this task. It is possible that someone could fall under more than one category. In “The Ostracism Case Study,” students might have a hard time finding someone who acts as an upstander. You can ask students to consider why this is the case. What would it have looked like if someone behaved as an upstander? Why do students believe nobody made this choice? (Remind students that this material is drawn from a real event.)
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Lesson 2: Handout 1
A scene from middle school
Narrator: In December of 7th grade in a public school, Sue and Rhonda considered each other best friends. They belonged to a popular group of girls, including Jill. Sue [while writing a note]: Hey Rhonda, What’s up? Nothing much here. Did you hear about Jill? I can’t believe it. She is breaking up with Travis. How could she break up with him? His mom just died. I think she’s being really stupid. What do you think? Gotta go, Sue. P.S. Don’t say anything to Jill about this. I haven’t told her yet that I think she is stupid for breaking up with Travis. [Sue hands note to Rhonda and walks away. Rhonda reads note. Then Jill walks by.] Jill: Hey, Rhonda. What’s up? Rhonda: I was just reading a note from Sue. Jill: What she’d say? Rhonda: Well, she asked me not to tell you. I probably shouldn’t say. But, you are my friend and you should know. Jill: What is it? Rhonda: Sue said you are stupid to break up with Travis. Questions: What do you think will happen next? 1. What could Jill do next? (List 3–5 possibilities.)
What should she do?
2. What could Rhonda do next? (List 3–5 possibilities.)
What should she do?
3. What could Sue do next? (List 3–5 possibilities.)
What should she do?
4. What do you predict will happen next? Do you think this event will affect any other students in the class or school?
Purpose: To deepen understanding of inclusion and exclusion within social groups. • 39
Lesson 2: Handout 2
A scene from middle school
Narrator: When Jill found out about Sue’s note, she confronted Sue after school, and they argued in front of a crowd of students. School staff heard the argument and broke it up. After this argument between Jill and Sue, Rhonda sided with Jill, and they influenced other girls to do the same. For the rest of 7th grade and almost all of 8th grade, these girls excluded Sue from her former group of friends, teased and put her down, avoided and ignored her, spread rumors about her, wrote hurtful letters, and made prank telephone calls to her home. Other students, including some boys who were not originally involved, joined in. Most students, if they did not participate directly, kept Sue at a distance and did not stand up for her. Sue went from being a very strong student to getting poor grades and not wanting to go to school. Questions: 1. Why do you think this even turned out this way? How can you explain the actions of the girls and boys in this situation?
2. What about this situation, if anything, feels familiar to you?
3. Do you think this is a real story or a made-up story? Explain your answer.
Purpose: To deepen understanding of inclusion and exclusion within social groups. • 40
Lesson 2: Handout 3
A scene from middle school
Emily: It’s sort of weird, ‘cause you’d never expect somebody who was as popular as she was to, like, be sort of like, shunned from the group by everyone else, but we sort of like we all just went against her. She talked about people behind their back . . . but I think other people did that, too. . . . I really don’t know . . . why we were so willing to jump on her and attack her more than anyone else. Ashley: It sort of seemed like it was a cool thing to do . . . to be mean to her. And I guess it felt good to be able to get your anger out on a person regardless of whether or not they really deserved to be the person. . . . It sort of seemed like sort of exciting, like it was something you could talk about. Erika: There’s a lot of pressure to act a certain way, to be a certain way. . . . You’re like afraid to say things. . . . Sara: It seemed like when one or two people decided they didn’t like her, then everybody else was like, “OK, we don’t like her either,” regardless. And I think a lot of people didn’t have reasons to dislike her. They just wanted to do it because their friends were doing it also. Sue: I think the fact that I am Asian has a lot, actually, to do with it. Not why I was being picked on, it was more to do with why the fight got as big as it did. I think, I mean, because I was a minority it was easier for them to pick on me. Lorna: I saw something happen to another girl in the school that I didn’t really approve of. I have an idea of who was doing it . . . [but I did not try to stop them.] I didn’t really know her, so I, like, kind of stayed away from her. . . . I just wasn’t a part of it. Jill: I know it had a lot to do with me, and there was a lot of teasing that went on that I was involved with, and I don’t think that was right. She [Sue] was put out, outcasted, and I don’t think that was right at all. And I know I was teasing her . . . to fit in, but I also did not feel comfortable saying, “Oh, I’m not going to tease her.” . . . Once we had started, it was sort of like, you couldn’t stop. It builds and builds until the point where you can’t . . . turn back and say we’re not going to do this anymore.
Purpose: To deepen understanding of inclusion and exclusion within social groups. • 41
Dennis Barr, Jennifer Bender, Melinda Fine, Lynn Hickey Schultz, Terry Tollefson, and Robert Selman. “A Case Study of Facing History and Ourselves in an Eighth Grade Classroom: A Thematic and Developmental Approach to the Study of Inter-group Relations in a Programmatic Context.” (Brookline: Facing History and Ourselves, unpublished manuscript).
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