When I was eight years old, I went with a friend behind the school building and we drew on the wall with markers. I was already a little antifa back then, so I drew swastikas with a prohibitory sign. Like, red rim and diagonal red stripe through the middle. But, obviously markers on a wooden wall; you can’t see colour. So a teacher caught us, and figured we were drawing swastikas. We got yelled at, and the teacher told us we had to go home and tell our parents. So I went home and said to my mom: “I drew swastikas on the wall with a “forbidden”-sign” to which my mom said something along the lines of “Well it’s not nice to draw on other people’s wall but it’s sweet you were trying to protest against racism. Just don’t do that again, okay?”
I went back to school and said: “Well my parents said not to do that any more, but they weren’t really angry.” At that point the teacher completely flipped. Probably thinking my mom was a nazi or something. It seriously only occurred to me years and years later what happened. Because at that moment I didn’t realise he hadn’t recognised it as prohibitory signs, and I thought he was just mad I drew on the wall.
The first time I thought about this I felt bad. I didn’t want the teacher to think I was racist, and I seriously contemplated contacting him and explaining it. It was about six years later and I doubt he would still remember it. And if I he would remember he would probably not think of it much. Back then he probably figured I didn’t know the meaning of the symbol and drew it just because I wanted to be cool. He likely didn’t think I was an actual nazi and didn’t think my mom was one. And even if he did, he probably thought I knew better by now.
If I remember that incident now, I feel different about the whole ordeal. Although I have to say my eight year old self wasn’t being very clever at the moment; and my teenage self was obviously being extremely insecure and self conscious, I mostly frown upon the teacher’s actions now. And I think it’s exemplary for the widespread apathetic mentality that so many in the western world suffer from. Which is largely created by the cultural hegemony of capitalism.
Maybe it sounds far fetched to blame capitalism for the qualms of an elementary school teacher, but let’s pick it up from the beginning. A teacher, probably born before the Second World War, paces past two pupils and sees them vandalising a wall (let’s be honest, that’s what it was). He is obviously angry about this, and about the symbols he thinks are swastikas. His task as a teacher is to keep the playground under control and prevent his pupils from doing things that aren’t allowed. He operated from this viewpoint and disciplined us accordingly. A pupil does something that isn’t allowed; you execute punishment and the task is done, box checked, job as a teacher fulfilled.
But what would a teacher do, if they observe the broader context of things? He or she should be triggered by the fact that a young person casually uses a fascist symbol to define themselves as a person. That the meaning of the symbol lost so much impact that it became a meaningless cover for every day bad boy behaviour instead of a political statement. Or if it was a political statement, how did a young uneducated child come to know of it and use it?
In short: why did he not talk to me about it? Why didn’t he pull me aside to the school library and find the swastika in an encyclopaedia? Why didn’t he let me explain what I was drawing and why I drew it? He didn’t allow me the opportunity to explain that it was an anti-fascist symbol rather than a fascist one, and we failed to talk to each other about the meaning of both and learn from it together.
The teacher’s reaction is a combination of cynical apathy and moral laziness which came out of decades working in a system where nothing is expected from him but assembly line classroom teaching. He was, dramatically put, a teacher but not a mentor. A mentor would not get angry when he sees a child scribbling fascist imagery on the wall, but motivated to tackle the subject. An eight year old is not a jaded reactionary suffering from institutionalised racism and his actions are not the result of that. His actions come forth out of unpolished curiosity and is a way of experimenting with the little knowledge he scrambled together.
In a broader perspective I would advocate for children to be educated more and at an earlier stage about historical materialism and the context all their subjects at school fit in. I could have learned at a much younger age about the history of the swastika, its development from religious symbol to fascist appropriation and its status in contemporary culture. I would have been proud to be identified as anti-fascist and learn about my own emotions regarding vandalism and breaking the rules. It would have been of the benefit of everyone.