Actually, Nazis hate teaching, period.

All of you teachers have been here. You want to get discussion going in the classroom, because that’s a really valuable way to get students involved and thinking, and you want all the students to participate. But what usually happens is that a small number of vocal, confident students dominate. That’s good for them, and you want to encourage that enthusiastic participation, but there’s always that larger group of quiet students who don’t speak up, and you want them to join in. So what do you do?

There are lots of pedagogical techniques out there. You can ignore the waving hands and call on people directly. You can have rules: once a person gets a chance to speak, they have to wait until 3 other people have spoken before they get to raise their hand again. Or maybe you’ve heard of the talking stick, where a token is passed around the room, and only the people holding it get to speak. There are lots of simple tricks like that where we try to get fair representation of all points of view, and get a better sampling of students, and get around the tyranny of the majority, or worse, the tyranny of the loudest.

One of these pedagogical tricks is called the progressive stack. You prioritize the students so that minority views are expressed first, and representatives of the majority have to wait and listen before they can express themselves. It’s a good way to flip the dominance hierarchy and get new voices to set the tenor of the discussion; it means minority views don’t get swallowed up and ignored. It doesn’t silence the majority, but it does force them to consider what others say.

I’ve rarely had to use it in my classes, because students usually don’t have strong opinions on matters of science — they just accept them and my authority. But there have been a few occasions when creationists have been in my introductory courses (they tend not to make it to the more advanced courses, or learn to keep their views totally silent, so I don’t even know they hold them), where I’ve used a version of the progressive stack. If there’s some point the creationist student urgently wants to discuss, let them go first, make their position clear, then ask if any other student wants to agree, and those students go next, and then I have to leash all the baying hounds of the majority and make them address the claims calmly and with evidence. In the humanities and social sciences, it’s got to be trickier — there are valid views by students with concerns about race and sexuality, for instance, and so you use something like the progressive stack to make sure they aren’t drowned out by all the white heterosexuals who are the majority in the class.

To my surprise, this morning I learned that Nazis are aware of this pedagogical strategy, and they hate it. Really hate it. I suspect part of it is knee-jerk idiocy at the word “progressive”, but once they learn about it, they are convinced that it’s part of liberal’s plan to commit White Genocide. The resentment is deep. I went looking for the views of non-educators on the subject, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s a lot of ignoramuses raging about the conspiracy to undermine their privilege. One of the top links returned is a video by Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, explaining the progressive stack, and he gets it all wrong. This is how they figure out who is more oppressed than other people, he claims, and how they determine that white middle class heterosexual men are scum. He’s a fucking moron. He actively misrepresents the subject.

No, no competent instructor is going to decide that half their class are scum who need to be silenced, and the progressive stack is not a technique to silence anyone. It’s about giving everyone an opportunity to speak, and not prioritizing a majority who already have advantages in dominating a discussion. It’s not about figuring out who is more oppressed, either — although the asshole right loves to imagine the Left holding Oppression Olympics. It’s more a matter of recognizing structural barriers that are staring you right in the face, and trying to help students get around them. It’s only a problem for people who either want to pretend the barriers are nonexistent, or want to reinforce them.

Like Nazis.

The usual crowd of internet Nazis has been casting about for more targets, and some of them have latched onto the “progressive stack” as an obvious SJW evil, and are campaigning to silence teachers who use it (I know, they’re so in favor of “free speech”, except when that speech is about equal opportunity for people who aren’t white men). One target is Stephanie McKellop, a graduate student who teaches history at the University of Pennsylvania. Here are her interests:

I am a historian of marriage and the family, with interests intersecting in areas of gender, sexuality, the body, and race. I work primarily on “vast early America,” a conceptualization which moves beyond traditional Anglophone-speaking peoples and regions into the broader, multi-empire continental landscape. I am particularly interested in popular and deviant forms of marriage and divorce; in my research on the practice of wife-selling, I focus on the blurred lines between love matches and economic bargains, the notion of slavery and race in gender dynamics, and how human trafficking and prostitution manifested within matrimonial realms. My current project looks at how popular and folk methods of marriage and divorce clashed with church and state authorities in colonial Carolina.

In the past, I have studied the history of “family history” in early America, seeking to explore how different cultures practiced and understood family through disciplines of history, competitve notions of “blood,” and gendered productions of what we have come to call genealogy, as well as issues of racial blame, immigration, and nationalism in marriage debates during the Progressive Era. Currently, I am working on several smaller projects regarding widowhood in early America as well as how folk and customary marriages informed cultural interactions in the colonial and revolutionary period. I am also working on a side project regarding trauma in history and how historians treat traumatized subjects.

That sounds interesting and relevant, but it also pushes a few alt-right buttons, obviously. So the internet Nazis have been baying for her blood, and they’ve been bombarding the university with accusations and demands. You’d think, though, that a university would pay no attention to Nazis, but noooo…you have to remember that we’re dealing with administrators who know nothing about teaching and often have little knowledge of the subjects their professors are discussing, but do have power over them, and are more likely to listen to howling yahoos and Republicans (but I repeat myself) than the employees they are supposed to represent. So the University of Pennsylvania is about to condemn McKellop, and apparently, reject a widely used teaching technique. They cancelled her classes! They’re issuing a condemnation!


Here’s a template you can use to support McKellop.

Dear Prof. [Holquist/Brown/Wenger/Troutt Powell],

It has come to my attention that Stephanie McKellop, a PhD student in UPenn’s History Department, has come under attack from white supremacists for the pedagogical approaches Stephanie uses in the classroom to support underrepresented students in class discussion. I was incredibly disappointed to hear that the university has not only refused to support a student in the face of this attack, but that the UPenn administration is preparing a statement condemning Stephanie.

I urge you to speak to your administration on Stephanie’s behalf. It’s exactly cases like these – where instructors are targeted and vilified – that require the defense of academic freedom.
I hope you will do the right thing, and lend your voice and position to defend a vulnerable member of our community.

I also highly recommend that everyone read this essay on how to support scholars. It’s going to be increasingly necessary. Remember, first they’re going to go after gender studies, then racial minorities, then sociology as a whole, and eventually, they’ll go after the biologists, because that’s what fucking Nazis do.


  1. doubtthat says

    Businesses, Universities, large entities of all kinds need to learn the difference between an actual groundswell of opposition to a decision they make and an internet hissy fit.

    This just happens over and over. It’s so easy to make 25 doofuses on the internet look like hundreds of people.

    Seems like a decent opening for a consulting agency that can analyze the traffic and determine the source – if an entity doesn’t want to staff full time.

    This shit is just absurd. It’s so fucking random (well, other than the woman part). A grad student at a university? Holy hell. It’s obviously an attempt to attack someone incapable of responding with similar force.

    I eagerly await Carlgon’s explanation of how this was satire at the next skeptic conference.

  2. ajbjasus says

    @ # 4

    Meanwhile, at Cleveland State, the administration is defending the right of fascists to advocate killing LGBTQ people. WARNING: the link contains very disturbing content. (The flier was removed, but only because the people who put it up didn’t follow proper procedures.)

    That flier is weird – if it wasn’t for the fascists logo, at first sight I would have thought it was drawing attention to the plight of those folks which drives them to suicide?

  3. cartomancer says

    Funnily enough in the kinds of classes I end up teaching it’s generally the LGBT and minority students (such as there ever are in the overwhelmingly ethnically homogenous areas I’ve taught in) that I have to reign in a bit so everyone else gets a chance to participate. They’re the ones who tend to be more interested in, aware of and knowledgeable about the kinds of social issues that come up. The majority tend to be more apathetic and unaware, and need coaxing to engage with issues at all. Which is probably a better problem to have than a situation where the ones who know the least feel entitled to say the most.

  4. octopod says

    Wow, goddamn! The administration is condemning her for using a teaching technique? What do you want to bet this move is being made by a bunch of admins who’ve never heard of it either, and are therefore willing to take the Nazis’ word for what it means?

    OT: I’m interested in this technique, but I’m also a science teacher and therefore definitely recognize the silently-acquiescent-students problem that PZ describes, and also science classes are rather likely to throw up discussion topics where visible axes of privilege might not line up with divisions of opinion. It occurs to me that there might be a way to modify this technique to prioritize minority *opinions* on such topics: you could take a quick hands-up straw poll on the discussion topic and then ask people to explain their view starting with the smallest group. Has anyone here tried something like this?

  5. says

    As I mentioned, I’ve done it with creationists that demand time for their concerns, but it’s not strictly comparable to race/gender discussions, since the creationists are simply full of shit and need to have their errors explained to them.

    It’s harder to do with science topics — they aren’t really well-informed enough to express their opinions on the chemiosmotic theory, for instance. I can do it with understanding, though. In fact, I’m planning a review session tomorrow where I’m going to ask students to explain what they don’t understand about photosynthesis and give me questions, and then I’m going to turn to the cocky ones who think they understand it all and have them explain it. So I guess, in a way, I’m prioritizing the students who understand it least.

  6. unperson says

    Interesting technique. I’m not familiar with it, though I’ve admittedly never studied pedagogy. But won’t it only work well when membership in a relevant minority is obvious or the moderator knows the body *really* well? If your relevant minorities are based on race, then that’s usually fairly obvious. Religion is somewhat less obvious (quick: spot the jew and the atheist in the bible-belt town), sexual orientation even less so, and philosophical positions may be impossible to discern until a person actually speaks on a topic (and trust me, there are classrooms in the US where people in favour of firearms restrictions or income redistribution are a persecuted minority regardless of ethnicity). Or is the technique solely focused on racial minorities as opposed to a more general “let people with minority viewpoints speak first”?

  7. says

    Yeah, it’s difficult when it’s not an apparent difference. It doesn’t always work with race, either — that’s not always obvious. We have a high percentage of American Indians in my school, and they don’t necessarily have brown skins and they might have a German last name. It definitely doesn’t work with religion, because I’m scrupulous about not asking students about their faith at all.

    It’s context-dependent. If you’re in a class discussing the history of racial oppression in the US, you’ll get lots of students who will straight up announce to the class where they fit in the subject. When you’re discussing enzyme kinetics, it just doesn’t come up and is irrelevant, even if it is relevant in determining who takes the class, which university they attend, their willingness to speak up to a white male professor, etc.

  8. says

    Funny how “freedom of speech” only ever runs in one direction.

    BTW, another easy method to get students to participate is “Think-Pair-Share”, especially with younger students.
    First they think for themselves, then they talk to a neighbour, then they share with the class.
    This works best for initial opinions, but you can also stop the flow of a discussion and do one for 2 minutes on a point that was raised.

  9. doubter says

    I’ve been to university, but I’m hardly an expert in academic politics. Also, I know basically nothing about UPenn. So let me ask a question:

    University administrations seem to very (perhaps overly) sensitive to the desires of their donors. Does UPenn have any major progressive donors who could be alerted to this situation? If so, would they help to motivate the administration to listen to the better angels of their nature?

  10. kaleberg says

    The only quibble I might have with the progressive stack is that, used incorrectly, it could force people to have to speak for their “kind”. If you are the only X in the room, you might wind up having to speak up for X all the time which could be a burden. When I’m the only Jew in a room, I don’t want to always have to give the Jewish point of view, whatever it is. The progressive stack could provide some great opportunities, but, like every teaching technique, it works best with teachers who know how to use it.

    P.S. Do they use progressive JPEG encoding for images on Nazi web sites? I can just imagine some asshole web site designer refusing to click the little progressive option box in the save format dialog lest his site be tainted.

  11. says

    Intelligence is largely hereditary. Get over it. When she loses her job you’ll know (a) the Nazis in the sense you use the term, won again as they did in Nov and (b) they are and will take steps to ensure they remain the majority.

  12. Taemon says

    Please use her last name in the template, as is the properly respectful method to address a teacher.

  13. neilschipper says

    This post was the longest on this site in weeks. The post elides the precise tweet that elicited angry reaction.

    None of the regulars comment on this or appear to notice: “Problematic.”

  14. says

    Oh. I see the internet nazis have come back.

    Define “largely hereditary”. That is a nonsensical distinction — you cannot separate the genetic and environmental components that produce the complex epiphenomenon we call “intelligence”. You are full of shit.

    The “precise tweet” was actually hidden by the author in the face of the clueless onslaught. I don’t find it problematic at all. In any discussion of the problem of race in America the victims should be called on first, since they’ll have the most informed and necessary perspective on the issue.

  15. Ichthyic says

    they are and will take steps to ensure they remain the majority.

    there is a world of difference between “being in power”, and “being the majority”.

    something you asshats will doubtless learn soon enough.

  16. Ichthyic says

    “I will always call on my black women students first. Other [people of color] get second-tier priority. [White women] come next. And, if I have to, white men.”

    *scrolls up to where PZ explains context dependence”

    ah, that’s right, the terminally stupid can’t be bothered to do anything but cherry pick quotes out of context.

    yes, that’s right neilschipper, you’re terminally stupid.