The Game of Death

Well you might have heard the ruckus all the way from France, but a live French TV show (“The Game of Death”) just used the basis of the Milgram experiment for a reality show.  They asked members of the audience to flip switches to pulse electricity through a man who needed to be “punished” until the actor (though no one knew this) appeared dead.  This has started a hot debate – are humans programed to listen to “experts” and act out on others or do they understand the artifice of the tv context and they are playing out fantasies because they must know it can’t be real?

Activity:

  1. Ask students to read one of the articles (and or listen to the NPR story) and after reviewing the comprehension around the story, have them do a four corner exercise (put a label at each of the four corners of the room – in this case “Strongly agree” “agree” “disagree” and “strongly disagree” – and present a question to them such as “How would you rate your reaction to the statement – I believe that this television show confirms that human beings are morally flawed.” After the class divides up and comes back together (I would tally it on the board) and then begin a conversation/debate defending their positions.  (I might also have students write the “why” their position before entering into the debate.

Resources:

The WonderYou Blog Overview of the Milgram Experiment

Enciendalo!

All Summer in a Day

“A thousand forests had been crushed under the rain and grown up a thousand times to be crushed again.  And this was the way life was forever on the planet Venus, and this was the schoolroom of the children of the rocket men and women who had come to a raining world to set up civilization and live out their lives.”

“All Summer in a Day” is one of my favorite short stories that I had a chance to teach recently.  It is short (less than four pages), has 9 years olds as the central characters, creates vivid characters and a poignant scene, and a deals with issues of group membership, how groups deal with difference, prejudice, and bullying. The characters, setting and theme create an safe topic for conversations of behaviors that may be common to students.

Activities:

  • Have students do a quickwrite activity framed in the discussion you want to explore: (This one is to look at how groups treat difference.) “Have you ever been in the company of a group of which you were clearly not a member?  What was the circumstance?  How did you act?  How were you treated?”  Pair share, then report out.
  • Read aloud with students – check for understanding and have students pick out words they are not familiar with.
  • There are many activities to do with this story (and a few guiding sheets in the resources section).  One interesting discussion might be to have students discuss who should be held responsible for Margot’s treatment and then discuss what those people might have chosen to do which would have led to a positive outcome.

Resources:

Enciendalo!

The Milgram Experiment

What does it mean when we say something is “human nature”?  I love these broad questions – are we basically good (thanks Locke) or evil (shout out Hobbes)?  Do we have the capacity for altruism?  Who are we at our worst moments?  Stanley Milgram, a social scientist in the 60’s, pushed the limits of experimentation about one area of human nature – our obedient responses to authority.  Milgram was filled with questions that sprouted initially from Nazis in WWII.  How could a baker or college professor become a guard at a Nazi death camp? Didn’t they feel a sense of responsibility?  Why didn’t they stand up?  His research came up with one answer, an answer that also comments about our nature.

Activities:

  1. Prior knowledge – ask students to write or talk in pairs about the response to the following, “Think about a time that you did something you that you were uncomfortable about because a person you perceived as an authority told you to. Describe the situation, the people involved, and the outcome. What happened? Who was the authority? Why? Why were you uncomfortable?”  Help students share responses and tell them they will learn about an experiment that probes how humans react to the authority.
  2. Depending on your access – either read the NYTimes article or watch one of the video’s below (each is about 8 minutes) that reviews the Milgram experiment. (Ideally – watch the video in advisory and discuss and use the short article for homework).
  3. Encourage students to take notes on the basics:
    1. Who are the participants?
    2. Which of these people are actors?
    3. What is the machine that the “teacher” is using?
    4. What is the experiment testing?
    5. What “Pressures” were put on the teacher when they began to feel uncomfortable? (list quotes if you can).
    6. What are the results of the experiment?
    7. What do you think from these events?
  4. Discuss the Milgram Experiment and the dark side of authority and obedience (and shedding responsibility).
  5. Why do you think they use roles like “teacher”, “experimenter”, and “student” instead of names?  What do you think this means?
  6. Does authority have to be a “guy in a white coat”.  What are other ways we might think about authority? How have you seen people respond to this?

Resources:

  1. The original 1960’s experiment (10 Min Video) (You can fast forward to get the basics).
  2. The a recreation of the experiment
  3. NY Times Article “Decades Later I would Pull the Switch”
    1. Related Discussion Questions
  4. Wikipedia Overview of the Experiment

Update: (3.28): Well you might have heard the ruckus all the way from France, but a live French TV show (“The Game of Death”) just used the basis of the Milgram experiment for a reality show.  They asked members of the audience to flip switches to pulse electricity through a man who needed to be “punished” until the actor (though no one knew this) appeared dead.  This has started a hot debate – are humans programed to listen to “experts” and act out on others or do they understand the artifice of the tv context and they are playing out fantasies because they must know it can’t be real?

Extensions:

  • This experiment has obvious relations to the behavior of Nazis in World War II.  Many asked, how could a whole country, usually common working people become part of a discriminatory murder machine?  Consider reviewing Facing History and Ourselves materials on Obedience and Conformity specifically in the context of the Holocaust.
  • As a reflection from this experiment – assuming this is true, what safeguards do we need to put in place to make sure that people don’t shed their responsibility and act (in some cases) barbarically?

Enciendalo!

Identity and Community

I was thinking about some of the early social reasoning and community building that we do in schools and with groups and had few ideas that you could explore about identity and community. They can fit in with who am I work as well as continuing to look at individual and group beliefs.  Just some partially random thoughts.

1.Identity and Community Overview:
There are some excellent activities at Facing History and Ourselves.  Here is a link to some of the curriculum – It says that it is 6th grade, but it can be used for any grade as an intro into considering identity and community issues.  In an advisory setting, this is very important.  They do the same initial community and identity work with all ages (and adults).  If you look at some of the early lessons (such as the identity chart) – these can be good general getting to know you activities, but can develop into even deeper work.
2.Universe of Obligation
Another concept in exploring identity and community is that of Universe of Obligation. It is a particularly helpful frame for people to explore what the roles and responsibilities are of a society and people in it.  What should they be in your school?  Your advisory? Should they mirror that of our society?  Be a laboratory for change or exploration?
These can both be done in some great depth exploring this concept in history as well, but it can also  start with an initial series of conversations.
3. Film and Fiction: Alienation
  • A lot of people are out there seeing District 9– if you haven’t seen it, it is a very interesting sci-fi allegory about alienation (literally) on the macro level  (aparthied) and on the micro level (personal disaffection).  Advisory trip anyone?
    Review and connection with apartheid
  • Materials to explore Apartheid:
    In a slightly less abstract level, Ray Bradbury’s short story, “All Summer in a Day” explores the cost of our actions, empathy (and lack thereof) in a school setting (on Venus).  A possible companion to that.
  • One You Tube (in three sections) – An old Twilight Zone episode, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” explores human impulses to make meaning and assumptions and act on them with little or no empiricism.  The tendency to scapegoat, blame and resort to violence and the will of a mob play prominent roles with a great twist ending.
4.The Book Thief
Read a great book for a book group.  It is long (500 pages) but very good.  – The Book Thief – a German Girl in 1930’s, 40’s Germany – narrated by Death.  Has a lot of powerful openings to talk about the issues in the Holocaust.  (Krystallnacht, Nuremberg Laws, the nuances of Aryan Germans who were not Nazis but made choices that were different from themselves.)  Highly recommend tis one.  I have a lot of resources on background material as well.
5. A random democracy note
In a recent New Yorker comment The States We’re In, Hendrick Hertzberg writes about a movement in California called Repair California that is pushing to scrap California’s entire existing government and constitution, bring together a lottery selected group of citizens, who with the input of any consultant they ask for, will draft a new constitution and develop a new system for democratic government as sees fit for California.  It is an amazing idea and moment. Something that could (and sometimes is) done in schools – but people in a state are now hip to the reality that the state doesn’t work and needs to be changed.