Was Eugenics Science or Racism?

Reviewing my exams at the end of my WWII unit made me realize that my students didn’t really understand why Hitler easily rose to power in Weimar Germany. They had no inkling how he used popular science to advance many of his racial theories, nor that Hitler stole most of his theories on racial purity from American scientists in the eugenics movement. These students did not understand that eugenics was the 1900s equivalent to climate change, widely accepted by the mainstream, but vilified by extremist groups.  I blame this, not on my usual frantic sprinting along the historical coverage treadmill, but on our textbook, which doesn’t even mention the word eugenics anywhere in its 793 pages. Instead of re-teaching all of WWII, I put together a quick three-day unit and argumentative writing assignment on eugenics, starting with this wonderful lecture from 15 Minute History.

The next day, my students opened class with a Do Now: (quick write) that asked: Did the eugenics movement benefit or harm society? Then, I gave a short demonstration on how to use a Vee Diagram when writing an argument. After writing their initial argument, the students participated a gallery walk where they collected at least six pieces of evidence. The idea of the gallery walk was to see if their minds changed after examining the evidence. All of the materials in the gallery walk were collected from the Eugenics Archive.

American Eugenics Movement

For their Exit Ticket, students discussed which pieces of evidence they had collected with an elbow partner and described how the evidence supported their claims. That night for homework, they were asked to fill out their chicken foot and organize their evidence, so they could write their essay in class the next day.

Chickenfoot

For their in-class essay, students were asked: Was the eugenics movement positive or negative? They were asked to include a brief background on eugenics, as well as their definition of eugenics, and instructed to write in the third person. Lastly, I asked them to use MEAL paragraphs to explain how their evidence supports their claim.  Click here for additional information on MEAL paragraphs.

M – Main Idea: Topic sentence

E – Evidence: Proof found in research

A – Analysis: Describe how the evidence proves the main idea

L – Link: Explain how the paragraph fits into what the paper is trying to argue.

The students (N=142) who completed this task, wrote an average of 292 words with 2.7 claims and 1.6 counter claims. At this point in the year, they should be writing between 300-400 words in a class period. To my horror, I discovered many examples of the Jane Schaffer method thriving in my class after a whole semester of trying to break them of the habit. I suppose I should be grateful that they had some writing instruction in middle school, but in high school and in college this type of writing doesn’t work.

Jane Schaffer Method

My next post will show students how to use the third person and help them learn how to turn bad writing into good writing.

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