Is it a bad idea to compare Hilter to a bully? Is it sensible and ethical to equate the worst criminal in history to a playground tormenter?
Should I allow my 5-year-old daughter to embrace the world of Disney, or break Prince Charming’s spell by pointing out that royalty got awesome castles by exploiting poor serfs? Answers to questions like this define a parent’s outlook on what childhood should be like. Despite my exposure to critical gender studies, I generally encourage my daughter to get her politically incorrect princess on. So, imagine my dismay at discovering that her kindergarten class planned to commemorate Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) by discussing a person called “Bully Hitler.”
To be fair, the teachers did their best when comparing the worst criminal in history to a playground tormentor. By combining Chrysanthemum Chrysanthemum, a story about a young girl bullied because of her unusual name, with the forest-animal tale Terrible Things: An Allegory About the Holocaust, no traumatic detail was ever uttered. Nobody mentioned concentration camps filled with emaciated prisoners and flesh incinerating ovens. And that’s a good thing, because 5- and 6-year-olds just can’t grasp the complexity of the Holocaust.
Young children do, however, understand bullying. And since bullying is dangerous and pervasive, kindergartners should be taught how to identify and properly respond to its troubling manifestations. As with “stranger danger” training, promoting safety requires piercing the innocence bubble with some knowledge of potential peril. Indeed, to advocate for a “pure childhood” is to recommend a dangerous naiveté.
Evan Selinger is Associate Professor of Philosophy and MAGIC Center Head of Research Communications, Community & Ethics, both at Rochester Institute of Technology. Evan publishes extensively in the areas of philosophy of technology, privacy, and ethics/policy of science and technology. To enhance public debate about ethics, Evan regularly supplements his peer-reviewed scholarship with outreach articles in places like The Atlantic, Wired, Slate, Forbes,The Wall Street Journal, and The Nation.
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