If you’ve been teaching for more than a year, then you almost certainly know what “a difficult student” is… but what about an extreme one? Or, more to the point, what about an extremist student?
Ok, I’ve not personally taught any ISIS members or Al-Qaeda types, but I have dealt with several full-blown Nazis. This might seem like a weird topic but I thought I would share my experiences in case anyone else has had the same problem.
Dealing with Nazi students
Across Asia, Nazism is surprisingly popular. Never mind the fact that Hitler was perhaps history’s most famous racist and would not had liked the idea of millions of Asian people adoring him… for some reason, he is beloved in this odd part of the world.
In Korea and China, Hitler is a symbol of authoritarian power… and that is something they respect immensely. The loyalty he inspired in his followers and the whole rigmarole of uniforms and marches and whatnot is also pretty appealing to people in this part of the world.
As such, you will quite often meet lovely, bubbly, friendly people in Asia who say, “Hi, my name is Hitler Chang!” or “Hey, do you love Hitler? I think he’s the best!”
One other thing to consider is that it is not like an ironic veneration of Chairman Mao the likes of which you might see on Western campuses. Nope, in this case it is 100% sincere and 100% naivety.
Why is Hitler so popular in Asia?
Aside from the uniforms and marches and authority, Asian people love Hitler because they are not taught that much about World War II. To put it another way: They just don’t know.
In South Korea, they know about the evils of the Japanese empire, and in Japan they are taught “people did bad things on both sides; let’s just forget it.” Meanwhile, in China the history books are re-written each year according to the latest government propaganda, but basically the rule is: “All foreigners are bad but some are worse.”
Most Asian people know about the horrors of Japanese war crimes (that’s a Wikipedia article but proceed with caution nonetheless), and in Japan they learn some things about the nastiness of war. However, very few people have heard of a thing called the Holocaust.
As amazing as it may seem, most of Asia is blissfully unaware of the monstrous evils that occurred in Europe in the thirties and forties. They know that there was a war but to them it was a bunch of stupid white people fighting another bunch of stupid white people. They don’t get taught about concentration camps or anything like that.
There are various reasons for this:
- Most people in the world naturally want to know about their own history first
- Asians are notoriously racist and so it’s just not that important to them
- Anti-Semitism is weirdly common in East Asia
Anyway, the end result is that most Asian people simply don’t know or don’t care about the insanely terrible things that Hitler and his Nazis did during those tragic years. As such, they see a guy who led his country, lost a war, and killed himself. It makes him a pretty appealing figure.
How to handle Nazi students
In 2011, I had a student called Fred. (Ok, his name wasn’t Fred but I don’t want to name and shame him, despite everything.) Fred was from rural China and he had various weird quirks. He was not a popular kid. He was extremely intense and driven, but not smart. He freaked people out, to put it mildly.
Fred liked to tell people that he admired Hitler. Chinese people would nod and go, “Ok, yes. He was a good man.” However, most Westerners would stare at him in horror. He did not seem to realise this.
Fred went on and on and on about his love for Hitler and most of us foreign teachers would just tell him to shut up and say it was inappropriate, but this gave Fred a bit of a complex. He got more determined to spread the Nazi message. Eventually he took the opportunity of a speaking competition to regale the school of Hitler’s triumphs: great man, nice clothes, good orator, very disciplined, tragic end, etc.
I stood up, escorted him out of the room, and sat him in a chair.
“Listen, Fred,” I said. “I know you love Hitler and the Nazis and everyone has a right to choose their own interests, but let’s talk for a while…”
I asked him first of all what the Japanese did to the Chinese. Like all good Chinese, he had these at the forefront of his mind and could reel off statistics about Japanese evils. I then turned this around:
“Yeah, that’s all true. The Japanese killed millions of Chinese through torture and cold-blooded murder. That’s exactly what Hitler did, too.”
I then told him about the concentration camps, the purges, the unbridled racism. I reminded him of the obvious: Hitler was allied with the Japanese and supported their genocide in China.
As I spoke, Fred’s eyes moistened and then the tears came. He cried a lot and then blubbered his apologies. “I didn’t know; I didn’t know,” he said.
“I know,” I told him. Yes, it might have been a fairly willful ignorance, but for some reason the poor kid had managed to learn all about Hitler and completely avoid all the evil stuff. That’s not easy but he managed it. People do it all the time.
If you have Nazi kids in your class, I’d advise you to sit and talk frankly with them. If translation is an issue, find a worldly and competent translator to help you. Sometimes people with “evil” views are just sorely misguided and in need of a push in the right direction.