Search results for: "nazis"

From time to time, a blogger or a commenter compares something to Nazism or to Hitler. As sure as night follows day, there will be outraged comments saying that any invocation of Nazis and Hitler is strictly forbidden, intolerable, unacceptable, verboten.


I disagree. I wrote a book in 2003 called The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn, about efforts to censor what appears in textbooks and on tests. Everybody has some words that they want to ban, some topic they find execrable, some illustrations they can’t abide, some depictions that they consider stereotypes. The publishers are so fearful of controversy that they have written guidelines with long lists of words, topics, and illustrations that may not appear in textbooks or on tests. I learned about these guidelines when I was on the National Assessment Governing Board. That is when I discovered that every education publisher runs their material through a “bias and sensitivity review panel” to make sure that nothing appears that anyone might object to. You will never see an owl mentioned on a standardized test or witches or evolution or stories with disobedient children or any reference to a landlord or a cowboy. You will never see elderly people with a cane or sitting in a rocker. You will never see a mom making dinner. Instead, you might see a drawing of grandpa on the roof nailing in shingles and a female truck driver. You will see no reference to poverty or cancer or roaches or rats or nuclear war or suicide or abortion. No rainbow flags. No anatomically correct cows. Everyone is happy. Everything has been carefully scrubbed to avoid offending anyone, any group.


I don’t like censorship. It is true that I don’t permit certain well-known curse words on this blog, but I am not imposing my views on anyone else.


As for Hitler and Nazis, please see Mel Brooks’ movie “The Producers.” Mel Brooks said that the best way to deal with Hitler today is to laugh at him, to make him a fool, and the movie indeed made him into a butt of Brooks’ jokes. I also suggest the classic comedy “To Be or Not to Be,” with Jack Benny, Carole Lombard, and Robert Stack; it was made in 1942 when Hitler was no joke. But they made him into a laughing stock. The movie was remade in 1983 by Mel Brooks and his wife Anne Bancroft. Brooks turned it into a fabulous musical in 2001, which won multiple awards and was turned into another movie. Brooks told the German publication Spiegel that comedy robs Hitler of his posthumous power. Those who are afraid to speak his name confer power on him.


To those who say, “You can’t say that,” I say “Yes, you can, and so can I.” If you are afraid to use Hitler and Nazis as metaphors, that is your choice. It is not mine. If Jack Benny could do it in 1942, if Mel Brooks could do it in 1968 (To Be or Not to Be) and again in 1983 (The Producers), well, I say, let freedom of speech ring.

John Ogozalek teaches high school in upstate New York. He watched some of the GOP debate last night (his stomach is stronger than mine) and reacted to one of Marco Rubio’s memorable lines.


He writes:


“A great howler from the GOP debate last night:


“We need more welders and less philosophers…” Marco Rubio


Now I wish I could weld. Seriously. 10 years of Upstate New York winters have seriously rotted my car. And, I’ve had plenty of great students who go into trades like welding. I respect people who can do these jobs.


But, c’mon. Can Marco Rubio aim any lower?


Why can’t welders ALSO be philosophers??? (And, vice versa!)


Neil Postman wrote a great piece, a graduation speech, he never had a chance to give. I used it years ago when I taught ninth grade Global Studies.


Postman compares the Athenians, who valued wisdom and art to the Visigoths, who believed that the quest for knowledge is useless if it doesn’t give you power and money. Athenians cherished and respected the written word. In comparison, “A Visigoth’s language aspires to nothing higher than the cliche.”


Postman wrote, “And I must tell you that you do not become an Athenian merely by attending school or accumulating academic degrees. My father-in-law was one of the most committed Athenians I have ever known, and he spent his entire adult life working as a dress cutter on Seventh Avenue in New York City. On the other hand, I know physicians, lawyers, and engineers who are Visigoths of unmistakable persuasion.”


Welders CAN be Athenians. They CAN be philosophers. To say otherwise, is just to further divide our own already damaged polis.


I could only stomach part of the GOP debate. But what I saw indicated how far our nation’s ability to have a mature, civil discourse has fallen. What happened to the days when the League of Women Voters hosted serious debates in which booing and hissing was not tolerated? And, remember when Gerald Ford slipped up about communist domination of Eastern Europe, and his feet were held to the fire for the mistake? Nowadays a buffoon like Donald Trump can say anything regardless of the facts…..and his political life thrives.


No, Marco Rubio is just this year’s model…..a faster, trimmer more high tech version of the age old Visigoth pattern. Do anything for power and money even if it means dividing the people you profess to lead.


By the way…..I’m sitting here at home writing on this blog, with a day off from school. But, of course, this day is really meant to honor our veterans, past and present. It’s those veterans who deserve the credit for defending our nation against Visigoths like the Nazis. We honor them by standing up for the “better angels of our nature” -not by rolling in the political mud.


Reading Neil Postman’s great speech is one of the best ways I can honor our vets and our country. Taking part in this blog, “a site to discuss better education for all,” is another.”

George N. Schmidt reminds us of the meaning of Memorial Day:

Every Memorial Day and Veterans Day I would give my students the same assignment throughout the final decades of the 20th Century (the bloodiest in history): Make a spreadsheet of all the wars of the 20th Century and all the countries that were involved in those wars and then list all the casualties… As far as they could go.

Or they could visit someone in a VA hospital, preferably a World War II vet who had been there “forever.”

Then they had to discuss what they had learned…

It helped my students understand the need for the poppies and respectful silence on some days. That work ended when Paul Vallas fired and blacklisted me for test resistance in 2000… But I continue remembering all those lessons and what the “kids” would talk about.

Both my mother and my father served in the United States Army during World War II. For Memorial Day, we would wear the poppies (which I think my Dad would distributed from his VFW Post in Clark New Jersey; we lived in Linden) and visit a few graves. I don’t think anyone in our family said “Happy Memorial Day,” because there was nothing to be happy about.

My Dad, Neil Schmidt, served as an infantryman with the 44th Division from the coast of France to the Austrian Alps from 1944 to 1945. After he and his millions of brothers (and some sisters) had “won” against the Nazis in May 1945, my Mom was just beginning the worst of the hell she would experience — Okinawa. Mary Lanigan Schmidt was an Army nurse in a field hospital on the island of Okinawa during those weeks after, for many in the USA, the war was “over.” Both my parents taught me a lot about silence and not discussing what it was all about. Both were proud of their “service,” but silent about the details of what it involved.

My Dad would only say about the Bronze Star he brought home (“for courage in the face on the enemy during the Rhineland Campaign, February 1945”), “I got lost one night and I got lucky.” When he accidentally told me, very late in life, that he had been first into one of the “smaller” concentration camps (Struhof) I was stunned. I asked him why he had never talked about it with the family: “There is some evil for which there are no words.” I asked him what he remembered of driving his colonel into that liberated camp: “The silence and the smell. The smell never goes away…”

Both came home and by 1946 were fulfilling the dream that had kept them going throughout the war (they were already married by the time of Pearl Harbor, and Dad was in the Army). They were going to work hard and have a family, at least two children (they wound up with four), a home, and all that stuff.

But it wasn’t that easy. Because of their commitment to having a family, my Dad didn’t go to college, but returned to the “service” in the Elizabeth Post Office. He never missed a day of work until he retired, having learned during the Depression that a job was precious and not to be trifled with. He taught all of us the same thing.

My Mom slowly sunk into greater and greater depression and nightmares as time went on, and only after her early death (in 1985) did I begin to understand how the very word “Okinawa” made people who know the history shudder — to this day.

Yes, this is a day to mark with silence, perhaps a poppy (if you still live in a community where old men distribute them), and some attempt to clarify what the word “WAR” means.

Reacting to the news that testing corporations are “monitoring” the social media accounts of children during and after testing, and forbidding even verbal discussions of the tests, retired educator Frank Breslin is outraged. He wrote to me:

“Pearson is encouraging educators to spy on their students’ privacy, thereby trying to undermine the integrity of the relationship that students have with their teachers. This is vitiating the entire tradition of student/teacher trust that has been a sacred tradition between them for thousands of years. They’re making educators complicit in this illegal and immoral spying on children, so that teachers are becoming adjuncts of a Police State.

“This is what the Nazis did to teachers during the Reich — having teachers spying on parents by having children report back to them what parents were saying against the Reich. This is diabolical! ”

I know that some readers object to any analogy that references Nazis, but Breslin might just as well have referred to the Stasi in East Germany or any other police state in which teachers are expected to inform the Authorities about the private communications of their students, and family members are expected to inform on each other.

Jon Zimmerman is a colleague of mine at New York University and a fellow historian of education. He uses his deep knowledge of history to write on many topics. He is amazingly prolific.

Zimmerman writes:


April 16, 2014

Brandeis Betrays its Educational Mission

Jonathan Zimmerman

In 1949, Wayne State University president David Henry blocked an invited speaker from appearing on campus. The speaker was Herbert Phillips, a well-known philosophy professor. And the reason was simple: Phillips was a Communist.

“It is now clear that the Communist is to be regarded not as an ordinary citizen but as an enemy of national welfare,” Henry explained. “I cannot believe that the university is under any obligation in the name of education, to give him an audience.”

I thought of this episode—and many similar ones–as I read about Brandeis University’s decision to withdraw its offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the prominent women’s rights activist who was slated to appear at its commencement exercises in May. Citing Ali’s controversial remarks about Islam, Brandeis said these comments were “inconsistent” with its “core values.”

But the core value of the university is—or should be—open dialogue and discussion. And it was Brandeis—not Ali—who who violated it, just as universities did by keeping out Communist and other left-leaning speakers during the McCarthy era.

A Somalian native who fled a forced marriage, Ali moved to Holland and was eventually elected to its Parliament. She also wrote the screenplay for a 2004 film about the treatment of Muslim women, which earned her death threats and led her to move to the United States.

And in a 2007 interview, Ali called Islam “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death”; later that year, she told another interviewer that “there is no moderate Islam” and that it must be “defeated.”

Over the top? Definitely. Offensive? I think so. But Ali’s comments hardly put her in the same category as Nazis or white supremacists, as several critics have recently charged. Unlike fascist ideologues, who stressed the second-class status of women and their duty to reproduce for the fatherland, Ali has spent her life fighting for female independence and equality.

She has also been at the center of an ongoing debate about the degree to which Islam has enhanced or inhibited women’s rights. I was appalled by her blanket condemnation of the religion, which contains much more diversity than Ali allowed. But she has raised utterly legitimate questions, and the university should be in the business of exploring rather than quashing them.

Ditto for Communists in the 1940s and 1950s, who raised tough issues about the morality of capitalism and its role in promoting imperialism. Some American Communists went to absurd lengths in apologizing for murderous behavior by the Soviet Union, to be sure, and a small number of them actually spied for the USSR. But they also had important things to say about economic and international affairs, if Americans cared to listen.

At nearly all of our colleges and universities, they didn’t. Communist novelist Howard Fast was banned from speaking at Columbia and at my own institution, New York University. Likewise, the German Communist Gerhart Eisler was barred from the University of Michigan and several other schools.

And it wasn’t just Communists who were kept out; so was anyone suspected of sympathizing with them. So Miner Teachers College—a historically black school in Washington, D.C.—blocked the writer Pearl Buck from speaking; another teachers’ college in California banned Carey McWilliams, editor of the Nation; and Ohio State University turned away Cecil Hinshaw, a leading Quaker pacifist.

Each situation was different, but the rationale was always the same: Communists (and their “fellow travelers”) were supposedly inimical to the essential mission of the institution. And it’s also what protesters at Notre Dame said in 2009, when the university tapped President Obama as its graduation speaker.

Over 300,000 people signed a petition urging Notre Dame to revoke the invitation to Obama, a long-standing supporter of abortion rights. In hosting the President, the petition said, the institution was “betraying its Catholic mission.”

But turning away Obama would have betrayed the university’s academic mission: to promote dialogue and understanding across our myriad differences. Fortunately, Notre Dame held firm to its invitation. Obama gave his address, and hundreds of graduates demonstrated their opposition to his abortion views by affixing pictures of baby feet to their motor boards.

That brings us back to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who won’t have the opportunity to address the Brandeis graduation next month. More to the point, though, students won’t have the chance to challenge and debate her. That’s the core value of the university, and also of a liberal society. Too bad that Brandies—and its avowedly liberal defenders—seem to have forgotten it.

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University. His most recent book is “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory” (Yale University Press).

Peter Greene, an English teacher and blogger in Pennsylvania, reviewed the wild and wacky video made by the staff at the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Apparently the kids there wanted the world to see them as fun-loving buddies who can laugh at themselves, but Greene thinks it didn’t work. Despite the high production values, there is something unfunny about Fordham’s policy ideas (no to smaller classes, yes to Common Core).

Greene, you will note, updated his post at a time when he was teaching William Faulkner’s Light in August to high school students, a task we may assume is as valuable (more valuable?) to society than having a desk job in Washington and telling the nation’s teachers what they ought to be doing.

He writes:

“Final effect? People making wacky shenanigans out of policy ideas that are being used to destroy public education? It’s a hard thing to parse– how would “Springtime for Hitler” have come across if it had been staged by the Nazis themselves? I am not meaning to suggest that Fordham = Nazis, but I do wonder what we’re to make of people making themselves look more ridiculous that we could make them look on purpose.

“It is part of the tone deafness problem. I want to shake them and say, “Did you not see this? Do you not know how you look, both awkward and opposite-of-cool, while making jokes about policies being used to destroy peoples’ careers?” Somehow while shooting for cool and relaxed and with it, they’ve hit uncool and callous, thereby suggesting that they are imbued with so much hubris and arrogance that they either can’t see or don’t care (because only unimportant people will be bothered, and they don’t matter). This is the education industry equivalent of those bankers’ videos of obscenely wealthy parties, the Christmas cards from wealthy apartments, the total lack of understanding of what things are like out there on the street, because the street is just for the commoners who don’t matter.

“It’s an oddly fascinating train wreck. Is it awesomely funny because it’s so awful, or is it too awful to be funny. Whatever the case, it gives a strong 2:20 feel for what sort of attitude permeates Fordham, and it is just as bad as we ever imagined. maybe worse.”

A few days ago, I received an email from the Anti-Defamation League of New York City saying that it had received “several complaints regarding references and analogies to Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust that appear in the comments section of your blog.”

It went on:

In researching the complaint, we see that  you defended the postings on free speech grounds. As a staunch supporter of free speech and the First Amendment, ADL has historically fought hate and offensive comments not by censoring, but by fighting bad speech with good speech. While you certainly have the right to leave the material up, we believe you have an opportunity here to address the insensitivity of the comments with your respected voice, rather than allowing them to go unaddressed.”

“We urge you to use your speech–as an educator and blog moderator–to address the hurtful analogies, and encourage readers to think about the impact of their words.”


I was surprised when I read this as I am very sensitive to hate speech. In addition, I am Jewish. Members of my mother’s family were annihilated in the death camps in Hitler’s time. None survived.

I couldn’t think of what he was referring to. Last Sunday, when I first saw the email, I responded and asked if he might point me to specific examples, but I have heard nothing more.

Using the search function, I scanned the comments, and the only exchange that I could find was in the discussion following a post called “For the Children?”

When someone complained in that exchange about a reference to Nazis, I replied:

“Commenters exercise freedom of speech.
So do I.
So do you.”

I will not tolerate hate speech on the blog. I have the power to delete comments. I have deleted comments that I thought were beyond the bounds of civility. And I am not going to spell out the rules beyond that, because this is my blog and I will delete whatever offends me.

But having said that, I think that historical analogies are acceptable, even if they are overstated.

The supreme irony here is that in 2003, I published a book called The Language Police, which was a plea against censorship in schools, textbooks, and tests.

The book ended with these words:

“Let us, at last, fire the language police. We don’t need them. Let them return to the precincts where speech is rationed, thought is imprisoned, and humor is punished.”

“As John Adams memorably wrote in 1765, ‘Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write…Let every sluice of knowledge be opened and set a-flowing.'”

I believe that.

So, dear readers, consider yourself informed of my views about the importance of free speech and the free exchange of ideas.



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