‘Soldiers don’t giggle’

Middle school teacher takes students back to Nazi Germany

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

ROCKINGHAM — There was no Facebook back then. No Instagram. No cellphones to text mom or dad if being mistreated.

Life as a student in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and ’40s was nothing like life today for students in classrooms across America. On Wednesday, Rockingham Middle School Social Studies teacher Michelle Usewicz transformed Room 316 from an ordinary modern classroom to a Nazi youth camp training center.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Students work in groups to devise their plans to defend Rockingham Middle School should the Hamlet Red Rams attempt an invasion.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Students work in groups to devise their plans to defend Rockingham Middle School should the Hamlet Red Rams attempt an invasion.

The first task? Plan for a predicted school invasion by the Hamlet Red Rams. “Drill Sergeant” Usewicz wanted nothing but the best from her student-soldiers — a perfect plan in seven minutes or less. 5 minutes and 53 seconds. 4 minute and 48 seconds. 2 minutes and 54 seconds. 50 seconds left. Better hurry.

As the first three-person group presented their map of the defensive perimeter, Usewicz asked the obvious: Where are you weapons? Your food supplies? The questions sent the other student groups silently scurrying.

A variety of answers were accepted. What was not tolerated, however, was talking unless spoken to, slouching or any other action that contracted complete obedience and uniformity. The punishments were quickly doled out — marching in place for a first offense, jogging in place for subsequent mishaps.

A second group indicated their backup power supply was in the form of hidden batteries inside a bunker underneath the gymnasium. Usewicz saw an opening.

“But it’s not drawn on your map,” she challenged.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com "Drill Sergeant" Michelle Usewicz demonstrated how German schools in the 1930s and '40s were used as training centers for new soldiers. Adolf Hitler, Usewicz said, wanted "a massive army."

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
“Drill Sergeant” Michelle Usewicz demonstrated how German schools in the 1930s and ’40s were used as training centers for new soldiers. Adolf Hitler, Usewicz said, wanted “a massive army.”

“‘Cause it’s inside the building,” the student responded.

Usewicz noted that Adolf Hitler wanted a massive army and secretly used schools to train new soldiers. She demonstrated this by having the students march in the hallways — under strict orders to stay in step.

“Knees higher,” Usewicz commanded. “Soldiers don’t giggle. Soldiers don’t fix their hair.”

Usewicz pointed out what German leaders at the time had convinced their citizenry: the best defense is a good offense. The Nazi Party, led by Hitler, told its citizens that Germany had to invade Poland before Poland invaded Germany.

Much of the lesson focused on how people received their information. In World War II era Germany, the government was completely in charge of disseminating all official news. There was no independent press. The impact was swift and powerful.

“One base thing that every person wants is freedom,” Usewicz said.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com If caught breaking the rules, students were forced to march or jog in place for a few seconds.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
If caught breaking the rules, students were forced to march or jog in place for a few seconds.

She had student-soldiers distribute an English translation of a 1939 article from Die Wehrmacht, a Germany military magazine. The students were quick to realize the article was nothing but propaganda that spouted and reinforced the government’s message that it was the Germans who were under attack.

The article, Usewicz summarized, “makes England out to be the bad guys. They’re saying all the things about England that Germany was actually doing. No one in Germany could get outside news. They’re thinking this is all real.”

The exercise was designed to help students understand both sides of the war and each country’s reason for fighting.

“Every side in every war think they’re the ones that are right,” Usewicz said.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com "Drill Sergeant" Michelle Usewicz reviews the rules of the day for her Social Studies class at Rockingham Middle School.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
“Drill Sergeant” Michelle Usewicz reviews the rules of the day for her Social Studies class at Rockingham Middle School.

 

Filed in: Education, Featured News, Latest Headlines, Military and Veterans, News, Rockingham

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  • raiderhayer

    i wonder if she could have taught this lesson without the nazi label. of all the army’s in the world that’s the example she picks to teach the class. Really!?!

    • Kevin Spradlin

      The class is studying imperialism and the World War I and World War II eras. Studying Nazi Germany fits within the curriculum. Lots of lessons to be learned.

  • don

    Kudos to Usewicz for teaching all of history. Unless we learn about history the more likely it will be repeated. I am tired of the liberal educators who taylor history to fit thier ideaology.

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