So, one of the ways I like to teach my students about history is through little roleplaying exercises. For instance, today we’re doing the Black Death, so I started out by asking them to imagine that they were physicians or members of a city government in 1348. I told them about the symptoms of this strange new disease and asked them to suggest its possible causes and some solutions we might use.
It took some people a little while to get into character.
Me: So what could be causing this illness?
Student: It’s fleas.
Me: What are you talking about? How could fleas spread a disease?
Student: Well, the bacteria …
Me: The what? Stop making up words!
Student (getting it): Maybe God is angry with us?
Me: Oooh! Good point, that could totally be it.
And that is how I wound up writing a list headed SOLUTIONS on the whiteboard, beneath which I wrote in a fine, clear hand in green dry-erase marker KILL THE JEWS. I have to tell you, that is not how I envisioned spending ten seconds of my life at any point, but I can’t deny it’s relevant. We actually had a pretty good brief discussion about medieval European antisemitism and, basically, what the hell that was all about, sparked by a student question. So in the end it was a good thing, but definitely a weird and awkward one.