By way of a Providence Journal article about resources for teachers to address racism and the turmoil in Charlottesville, I came across this, in an NPR article on the same topic, which includes a mention of the improbably named* Derek Weimar:
Weimer says he taught Fields in three classes at Cooper High School in Union, Ky. As NPR reported, he told member station WVXU reporter Bill Rinehart:
Weimer says Fields was intelligent and didn’t cause trouble. But he says the quiet boy was also deeply into Adolf Hitler and white supremacy. Weimer says he did his best to steer Fields away from those interests and thought he had succeeded in doing so. On hearing about the incident in Charlottesville, Weimer said he felt that he failed as a teacher.
For 40 years, the nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves has been training teachers to confront racism and bigotry. By studying the moral decisions facing people at historical moments, from Reconstruction to Kristallnacht to the civil rights era, they hope “to empower students to work against bigotry and injustice or improper uses of power,” says Roger Brooks, president and CEO. “We sum everything up by saying people make choices and choices make history.”
We certainly can’t blame a single teacher, especially one who did his best to turn his student in a better direction. One wonders, though, whether he addressed the bad ideas that Fields was courting as serious ideas. I don’t mean to suggest that Hitler’s ideas actually possess intellectual seriousness, but treating them as if they did would help to get at the underlying reason a student might find them attractive.
This may be a blind spot in how our society deals with this sort of thing. The last paragraph of the blockquote above should shine a light on the risk of moralistic lessons that seek to “empower students.” After all, history is fluid, and the Devil can switch sides. “Intelligent” students will figure that out and apply lessons in ways that the moralists might not anticipate.
Fields, for instance, probably thinks he was fighting against “improper uses of power” by attending the racist rally… exactly as he was taught to want to do. If that was the case, then his deadly driving might appear to white supremacists to be in the same category of action as the “punch a Nazi” suggestion that some progressives tolerate.
Unfortunately, the leading lights of our society appear not to have learned that the Devil can switch sides and have therefore undermined the Judeo-Christian and Enlightenment values that offer the most sure guidance for spotting and negating his works.
* I say “improbable” because the Weimar Republic was the period in German history leading up to the Nazi era, and “Derek” means “people’s ruler.” The teacher’s name would be moderately clever were this unfortunate story not reality, but a fictional creation.