What can school do about 'Beat the Jew'?

Answer Sheet’s Valerie Strauss thinks La Quinta High School in Palm Springs, California should withhold diplomas from students who played an off-campus game they called “Beat the Jew.”

Students recruited participants online to play Nazis and Jews. (There’s no indication the “Jews” were actually Jewish.) In one version, “Jews” were blindfolded, dumped somewhere  and told to find their way back to school.  In another, “Nazis” in cars chased a “Jew” on foot. Losers were subject to “incineration” or “enslavement.”  It was voluntary. Some students said they didn’t know the game’s name, reported the Desert Sun. Commenters said the game is played at local high schools without the name.

School officials say the game was discussed on campus; seven seniors face some sort of discipline.

Strauss calls it a no-brainer.

Such behavior demonstrates a level of idiocy and mean-spiritedness that shows that these kids haven’t learned enough in school to be awarded a diploma and walk around as representatives of a public school system.

I’d withhold the diploma until they took some history and decency lessons. I wouldn’t be sure that these kids would learn much — the home environment plays a big role in how kids perceive the world — but the education effort should be made nevertheless. Prejudice is learned behavior, and it can be unlearned.

I disagree.  A high school diploma indicates graduates have passed the necessary classes; it is not a guarantee of decency, maturity or sensitivity.  I suspect these kids aren’t prejudiced against Jews.  They wanted to play at being bad.

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  1. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Is prejudice learned behavior? Or does it arise out of feeling comfortable when we perceive those around us to be like us and therefor not threatening. Perhaps the learned behavior is not to be threatened by those who are different.

  2. I suspect these kids aren’t prejudiced against Jews. They wanted to play at being bad.

    Kids doing something specifically to enrage adults. What a shocking departure from stereotypical teenage behavior.

    About the only real danger I can see in this is that the real Nazis, the committed race-haters, will see this as an opportunity to be seized and will actually reach a couple of kids they might otherwise not have reached.

  3. Richard Nieporent says:

    I’d withhold the diploma until they took some history and decency lessons.

    The person in need of a history (and civics) lesson is Strauss. I suggest she start by reading the First Amendment.

  4. Cranberry says:

    After school hours. Not sponsored by the school. Voluntary participation. Free speech. Why does Ms. Strauss think the school has jurisdiction in this matter?

    I could point out any number of nasty people who hold high school diplomas. As far as I know, there’s no requirement that the graduates be nice people, nor that they behave in a politically correct manner.

    The game’s title is tasteless, but I don’t think anyone would believe it was motivated by anti-semitism. “Beat the Huguenot” doesn’t have the same ring, and the spelling would be problematic.

    I suspect that the game may be inspired by video games. There are a number of games set in WWII. That is an interesting question. I’ve noticed some leakage of video game themes and procedures into modern teens’ behavior. It’s fascinating, because it isn’t simple.

  5. I would subject these kids to about a two-hour, graphic lecture on real Nazis and let them go.

  6. Stacy & Conor (13 yo son) says:

    It’s okay for students to be disciplined if they engage in this behavior on school property, but they did not. Their parents are the ones who should be disciplining them, not the school. If they do a good job with their school work they should get their dipolmas.

    If they renamed the game “cops and robbers” would it be as objectionable? While still stupid and dangerous, it wouldn’t have caused such an uproar.

  7. If the only tie to school is that it was talked about at school, the school has no jurisdiction.

  8. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I’m 100% with Darren on this, morally, at least, if not legally. The jurisdiction of schools has gotten fuzzier in case law over the years so I can’t definitively say that the school has no jurisdiction.

    But it oughtn’t to.

  9. Marshall says:

    I wonder how many of them have played “Smear the queer” 😉

    P.S. I agree with Cranberry. Not the school’s concern.

  10. Richard Aubrey says:

    Would cowboys and Indians be the same?
    I mean, if kids were still playing cowboys and Indians at that age.

  11. I heard of a similar game back when I was in college in the mid-90’s but it didn’t have the Jew/Nazi thing. My suspicion is it was a lame attempt at humor by some dumb teen boys akin to the tacky frat party themes one hears about periodically.

  12. I am amazed at how clueless everybody is about gaming. Versions of this game, with different names referring to conflicting groups and rule variations, exist in most childhood cultures. Growing up in Russia, we played “Cossacks and Robbers” and “Russians and Germans” (WWII themed). The first one was more abstract and rule-based, and the second one more open roleplay.

    The game, as described, is fully consensual. Games of that sort help participants cope with difficult ideas such as war, and actually prevent and dissipate bullying. People work out the ethics as they play the game. As a child, roleplaying WWII (including being concentration camp victim) helped me to process the horrors of so many of my Jewish family perishing there.

    I wish adults, instead of being heavy-handed with prohibitions and punishments, worked toward UNDERSTANDING. Educators could provide guidance of playing the game respectfully and making it even more interesting.

  13. I have actually multiple experiences playing this game, Beat the Jew. I never was a willing participant, nor was I ever asked to choose a role. Most of the time, when there were 2-3 players, I was able to hold my own. With more guys, I was often given a memorable historic lesson. Partially, for this reason, I am revolted at the association.

    Losers were subject to “incineration” or “enslavement.” The kids appear to have learned some historic facts. They have not internalized them yet. At least, there is room for hope that they have not. The original article does not provide sufficient information to pass a judgement.

    But words have weight. I just finished reading Neighbors by Jan T. Gross. This is the story of how 1500 Jews have been murdered in a single day of 1941 in a small Polish town by their Polish neighbors. They started in the morning killing the Jews one by one, but soon realized they could not manage fast enough. They therefore herded the Jews into a barn and set it to fire. The event has effectively ended a 300 years long Jewish presence in that town. The only Polish family that saved 7 Jews was so ostracized after the war, they emigrated to the US. Apparently the neighbors blamed the Jewish for murdering the Christ and using children’s blood for Passover maztos. They had been taught about these matters by their catholic priest. The words do have weight.

    It is probably illegal and certainly senseless to withhold highschool diplomas. Inmates get them all the time along with college degrees.

    The kids do need thoughtful adult assistance to help them see the big picture. As I already said, we do not have enough information as to what they were doing. We may only speculate. Still, I’d be more comfortable if they switched to some other kind of entertainment than made this one more interesting.

  14. *If* it’s the school’s business at all, make them do book reports on Schindler’s List. The book, not the DVD…

  15. I think children need conversations about the topics we raised here, and more, with trusted adults. I will be reading this thread to my daughter! An excellent example of such a conversation is the recent incident at Sudbury Valley involving a kid wearing swastika, described by Peter Gray: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201006/freedom-bullying-how-school-can-be-moral-community Note the level of mutual respect in the exchanges, the depth of conversation, and the lack of administrative threats from the participating adults. Peter hosted the Math 2.0 webinar this week, by the way: http://mathfuture.wikispaces.com/Freedom+to+Learn

    “Words have weight” is a key idea here for me. Labeling games appropriately should be a part of culture. In particular, I would like to introduce some gamer vocabulary here, to clarify our conversation and to offer these terms as a framework for students:

    – Game elements in life events, e.g. workplace competitions. Alexander, you provide an example of this in this phrase: “I have actually multiple experiences playing this game, Beat the Jew. I never was a willing participant, nor was I ever asked to choose a role.” Kids who harassed you may have been playing tag as a part of the experience, but it does not make the whole experience a game overall.

    – “Serious games” – games played as a part of the preparation program for life events. I would categorize “Gaza children playing shahids” as such a game. Reference: http://www.pmw.org.il/ask%20for%20death.htm

    – Historical recreations – not games in the strict sense of the word, these events faithfully recreate a historical event, often including authentic costumes and props. This is closer to theater. Children do that spontaneously sometimes, at the level accessible to them, and using favorite fiction rather than historical documents as their sources.

    – Roleplaying games – games assigning roles and settings, and letting participants create events as the game unfolds. I think “Nazis and Jews” is this sort of a game, though I don’t know for sure from the short article. I doubt this is a “serious game” for them – a part of the culture and future plans, like the shahid game or the preachings of the Polish priest you mentioned.

    There is a huge body of literature and public debate about roleplaying games and their boundaries. In particular, the magic game “Dungeons and Dragons” raised strong objections of US Christians because kids roleplayed warlocks and witches. More recently, “Grand Theft Auto” is a center of a huge debate about people, including kids, roleplaying criminals.

    Yesterday, I watched a live translation from “Eve Online” annual PvP (player vs. player) tournament http://www.eveonline.com/events/alliances/tournament/t8/viewersd.asp while piloting my space frigate on a mercenary mission and chatting with an in-game acquaintance. In everyday life, he’s a systems analyst, but in-game he leads an alliance producing and distributing highly illegal military body enhancement drugs used to provide advantage in space battles. In real life, I am deeply pacifistic. Making boundaries separating roleplay from daily life, and yet integrating lessons from roleplay into personal development, should be discussed here.


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