Education is the key to a better world and to end ignorance and racism. However if education does not include an element of critical thinking, it is open to abuse and it can be used to indoctrinate young impressionable minds, or any impressionable mind really.
This blog will refer to the education in the Third Reich, but it also comes with a warning. Nowadays there is education on the far right and far left without any critical thinking being encouraged. There is a great danger in this.
From the 1920s onwards, the Nazi Party targeted German children as a special target audience for its propaganda messages. These messages emphasized that the Party was a movement of youth: dynamic, resilient, forward-looking, and hopeful.
Millions of German youngsters were won over to Nazism in the classroom and through extracurricular activities. In January 1933, the Hitler Youth had approximately 100,000 members, but by the end of the year this figure had increased to more than 2 million. By 1937 membership in the Hitler Youth increased to 5.4 million before it became mandatory in 1939. The German authorities then prohibited or dissolved competing youth organizations.
Soon after the Enabling Act of 1933 had been passed, Jewish teachers and professors were dismissed from German schools and universities. By April 1933, there were no Jewish teachers remaining in schools attended by ‘Aryan’ students, a racial term used by the Nazis to describe the Germanic peoples.
All teachers had to join the Nazi Teachers’ Association, which vetted them for political and racial suitability. By 1939, 97 per cent of teachers belonged to it. Teachers had to go to summer school so they could teach Nazi ideas effectively. Pupils were encouraged to inform the authorities if teachers did not teach and support Nazi ideas.
In the educational system, Jewish children regularly experienced ridicule, from both their peers and teachers. For example, Jewish children would be sent to the back of the classroom to reiterate to the non-Jewish German children the notion that they were inferior to them. Additionally, “teachers would begin to pick out Jewish students in classrooms to use as examples during biology lessons about racial impurity. Jewish children would be told to stand at the front of the class, whilst teachers pointed to their eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and hair, comparing these to characteristics on Nazi propaganda sheets”. Eventually, the Jewish children were completely segregated from the non-Jewish German children in schools.
The lines on the blackboard ,on the picture above translate to “The Jew is our greatest enemy! Beware of the Jew” While 2 Jewish students stand next to the black board.
Textbooks were rewritten, especially in history and biology, to promote Germany’s ‘greatness’, Aryan ‘supremacy’ and anti-Semitism. Children’s Stories and Textbooks were used as Propaganda tools. Young people were even encouraged to act as propagandists for the Third Reich.
Additionally, after-school activities and weekend trips were regularly sponsored by the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls. These activities often acted as recruitment meetings for the participating school children. The Hitler Youth combined sports and physical outdoor activities with Nazi ideologies. Likewise, the League of German Girls emphasized collective athletics such as rhythmic gymnastics, which “German health authorities deemed less strenuous to the female body and better geared to preparing them for motherhood”. This was also used for public display. Authorities wanted these sports and activities to encourage “young men and women to abandon their individuality in favor of the goals of the Aryan collective”.
The Nazis tried to create a global ‘brand’ for the NSDAP. For this they would also children from the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls. They would even go as far as China. The picture below was taken in China in 1935.
The Nazis started in 1933 to introduce their education curriculum. Six years before they started WWII. Six years of creating young willing followers of the Nazi ideology. All of this did not start on the battlefield but in the classrooms. Creating a feeling or sense of belonging to a cause is a powerful and seductive tool.
As I said at the start of the blog, education is key to fight ignorance and racism. But if not done in a proper way and without any critical thinking incorporated in the curriculum, it will do the opposite and create ignorance and racism.
There is a trend in education at the moment where something doesn’t suit a certain narrative it gets cancelled or ridiculed. Especially in reference to history. This is the way the Nazis got a hook into education.
So this is a warning to all educators, unless you are eager to let something like the holocaust again, allow your students to absorb all aspects of history, good and bad. Don’t cancel things that don’t suit you but look at the bigger picture.
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