After a few years of teaching all 8th grade U.S. History, I am teaching all 7th Grade Medieval World History this year. It's not my first choice, but that's more because of the age and relative lack of maturity of the students than the subject matter. I actually rather enjoy the 7th Grade History standards, what with the Roman Empire, the birth of Islam (where I inject a few painful truths that inevitably piss off at least one of my Muslim students), Feudal Europe, the Crusades (where, once again I inject a few more painful truths that inevitable piss of at least one my Muslim students!).
Any-hoo, at the beginning of the school year, I conduct a few standard generic lessons that address certain questions and issues that come up during every school year, so several years ago, I just began addressing those questions and issues proactively.
For instance, I present a lesson that answers the question I inevitably receive every year, and that is, "How do we know that all this stuff you are teaching us really happened?" So I show the students examples of ancient paintings, old journals and letters, artifacts, photos, government documents, newspapers, and even receipts and invoices.
Another lesson I give is on historical fallacies that my students often commit, such as presentism, where my students tend to declare people from the past as evil for doing certain things (like slavery, for example) when those people from the past didn't necessarily consider what they were doing to be bad, even though we know in our own time that it is bad.
Some of the other parts of my Fallacies lesson are more reminders than fallacies, like reminding my students that just because the photo is grainy and in black and white, doesn't mean the world looked that way when the photo was taken. Then I show them some color photography from World War I era (yes, it does exist), and I have to convince my students that they are looking at actual soldiers from that era, and not actors on a movie set.
The final installment of my Fallacies lesson is a reminder to them that there are certain people from history for which people will have opposing opinions. A good example is Genghis Khan. To today's Chinese, he is the devil incarnate for killing 30 million or so Chinese. But to the modern-day country of Mongolia, that same Genghis Khan is a national hero who is plastered all over their money!
I begin that installment with a couple people from history for whom, unlike Genghis Khan, there is little to no argument about that person's capacity for evil. I begin by telling my students that I am going to project a photo of someone on the screen, and if you recognize him, yell out his name. I click a button, and a big photo of Adolf Hitler appears. Of course, all my students know who he is and there is a resounding yell of "Hitler!" Because, duh, who doesn't know who that guy is?
I then tell my students to yell out the name of the next person, and I tell them with a wry tone that makes it seem like the next person will be as easy to identify as Hitler was. I then project up a photo of Josef Stalin. When that picture appears, instead of a resounding, "Stalin!" from my students, I get mostly quizzical grunts and silence. I then point out how interesting it is that they wouldn't instantly recognize Stalin (or have even heard of him), seeing as how Stalin was responsible for roughly twice the deaths attributed to Hitler.
I do this lesson every year, but this time, just two months ago, I got a disturbing response from an otherwise very intelligent student in my first period class. After expressing my indignation to my students that they would all instantly know of Hitler, but not Stalin, my student's response was, "But Hitler was racist!"
"Wait a minute," I told him, "You mean to tell me that its racism that makes Hitler's 20 million dead worse than Stalin's 40 million dead?"
"Yeah, I think so," he said.
Here is where things really got disturbing.
"So let me ask you this," I said to the student, "What is worse? A racist who has never harmed anyone, or a non-racist who has killed millions of people?"
Guess what folks? This student couldn't decide. He began thinking it over, not able to discern which of those is truly worse. So many of our young 'uns today have been so thoroughly marinated in political correctness that this is the end result.
Don't forget, in just a few years, this kid will vote!