This kind of makes us cringe. Justin Bieber stopped by the Anne Frank House on Friday (April 12), touring the Amsterdam hiding place of the young Holocaust victim and diarist.
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And the other story of the day was that of the of the New York teacher who had students pretend to be Jew-hating Nazi's who had to "write a letter trying to convince an official of the Third Reich "that Jews are evil and the source of our problems." (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/13/nazi-jew-assignment_n_3078288.html)
The description of the teacher's actual assignment leads me to assume that the ntent was probably well-intended, however the teacher's thoughtlessness may well equal that of the self-centered naivete behind Justin Bieber's thoughtlessness.
In thinking about the coincidence of the timing of these two stories, I began to wonder how I might turn the Bieber story into an effective learning experience and the teacher story into an opportunity for at least some introspective professional development.
In Bieber's case, it might be just as thoughtless as the probable well-intended thoughtlessness of the teacher's writing assignment to throw the ignorance (in the purest sense of the word meaning "not knowing" rather than in the ill-informed sense of the word as if it were a synonym for "stupid") in the faces of students who may well be as uninformed about the magnitude of the tragedy of the holocaust as Bieber.
One need not excuse Bieber's thoughtlessness because it resulted from his youthful self-centered obliviousness any more than one need not excuse the teacher's thoughtlessness because it resulted from a well-intended wish to connect students' personal connection to the real world tragedy of the holocaust to the pending reading of Elie Wiesel's Night.
It might be an interesting learning experience to devote some class time to a discussion of "regret" rather than to a condemnation of Bieber's remark. First of all because Bieber is not a representation of the lack of empathy of "kids these days," but rather an example of someone who has done on a vastly larger scale because of his fame, something that we might hope he will soon feel enormous regret, so much so that he might actually soon issue a sincere and heartfelt apology in hopes of modeling for his fan base the importance of humility.
We all have, including the teacher who gave the Nazi writing assignment, regrets. Again, this is not offered as an excuse, but as an example of the truth that we all are capable of occasional poor judgment. The opportunity is ripe for addressing the way good people respond to the negative impact of our occasional poor judgment so that the inevitable poor judgment does not become "frequent" poor judgment because we did not take the opportunity to reflect on our actions and thereby to take to heart the thoughtful effort to "Prevent Regrets" of thoughtlessness in the future.
Does learning from our thoughtlessness undo the damage our thoughtlessness has done? Of course not, but reducing our own contribution to the damage caused by thoughtlessness is certainly a chagrin caused to all of us by the thoughtlessness of others and ourselves.
By the way, this article sharing some of Bieber's fan's comments about the Anne Frank story may also be of "interest."
It's clear that many of his fans recognize the thoughtlessness while many thinking, as Bieber did, only of their own interest in being entertaining, take the opportunity to make jokes rather than to think about the lesson Bieber's comments might spur.
Bieber, still young, still marinating in the dillusional power of wealth and fame, is at a crossroad. Will he step up and do the right thing or not?
Will his handlers gather in intense discussions as to how to choreograph a damage control strategy designed to "control the damage" Bieber might have done to his own marketability?
Or will they too step up and help the young performer to see the damage he has done to others and then take responsibility for helping him to model for his millions of fans the "justness" of doing the right thing?
These are issues his teen fanbase can engage in, because every one of them has engaged in behaviors that were ill-thought out and for which they too found themselves having to decide what the right thing to do might be.
How different is the situation that the teacher and Justin find themselves in?
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