Using Hitler to Teach Writing

July 22nd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Disclaimer: I am not a Nazi nor have I ever been one. I find Hitler and Nazism disgusting and wholly despicable.

This past semester in my Comp 2 course I gave out weekly essay readings to my students on which they were expected to respond and participate during our discussion days. I routinely asked my students whether or not they liked the essay we read for whatever week and why they liked or disliked it. For those writing teachers out there, you know that to ask a student whether they liked or disliked something can be a discussion killer because those types of questions usually elicit one word responses (e.g.Yes and No). But, I don’t mind prodding my students a little for more descriptive response so it works out eventually.

One piece we read over this past semester was a chapter (Ch. 6 “War Propaganda”) from Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. I originally got the piece out of a book examining academic discourse titled Texts to Text: Mastering Academic Discourse by George H. Jensen. In the excerpt from Mein Kampf, Hitler discusses how Germany can regain it’s glory and how propaganda is essential to Germany’s potential success. It is a logical and easy to understand argument. My students found this reading one of the best over the entire semester.

During our post-reading discussion, one of my students said he wasn’t sure if it was okay to say what he was thinking. I told him to go ahead because my classroom is a safe place for constructive ideas. My student said he thought that Hitler’s argument “made sense.” Well, the rest of my class just stared at him. I smiled and told him that Hitler had just achieved one of his goals as a writer.

He made my student agree with him to some extent. Now, my student was not a Nazi or racist, but Hitler’s argument, taken out of context of course, does make sense. He uses writing to logically construct an argument for nationalism. We all agreed that Hitler was an insane psychopath bent on world domination through the destruction of parts of the human race; however, that does not mean Hitler was not a talented writer and orator.

So, I used that piece to illustrate how writing can be used for good and for evil. How writing and message is influenced by the author and how the author is responsible for his or her message.

My students loved the reading and the discussion afterward was some of the best all semester.

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