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With bigotry and hatred on the rise in the United States and politicians like Donald Trump giving everyone the nightmares of an American Hitler and Nazi Party, revisiting history offers us kernels of wisdom in resisting such extremism.
In April 1940, the Nazis invaded Norway and occupied the country. In 1942, as part of an attempt to implement a fascist curriculum in the schools, Minister-President Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian collaborator, disbanded the existing teachers’ union and required all teachers to register with the new Norwegian Teachers’ Union by February 5. Between 8,000-10,000 of Norway’s 12,000 teachers responded by signing a letter of refusal to cooperate. The Quisling government panicked and closed the schools, sending the children home to their parents. 200,000 of these annoyed parents wrote letters of protest to the government. Norwegian teachers began to hold classes in secret, in defiance of orders. The government ordered the arrest of a thousand teachers, five hundred of whom were sent to a prison camp in the Arctic.
As the trainloads of teachers were shipped north, students and families gathered along the tracks, singing and offering food to the teachers as they passed. Once in prison, the teachers formed choirs and offered lectures to one another. The government tried numerous intimidation tactics, but the strike continued. On November 4th, 1942, the Quisling government released all the teachers and abandoned their earlier plans. The Norwegian teachers, through nonviolent resistance, had defended their youth from being subjected to fascist curriculum and protected Norway from sliding into a fascist state.
The Norwegian Teachers’ Defense of Education offers pearls of strategic wisdom for us as we see a rise of bigotry and hatred in the United States. Resist and organize amongst your professional colleagues. It was not an individual’s action that produced such a successful campaign, but rather collective action through an entire profession, supported by students and parents. As we see a rise of fear and hatred, look carefully at the intersection of your profession and cultural indoctrination. Perhaps this is a place where a line of resistance can form. Churches, schools, media, universities, and large institutions are all places to stand and halt this degrading and dangerous slide down a slippery slope toward fear-based bigotry and hatred. Talk with one another, initiate conversations, prepare strategies, share stories like this one, and ideas for how your profession might take a stand for America together. Like the Norwegian teachers, each of us – in our profession and personal lives – forms a line of defense in the heart of our culture. Here we can wage a nonviolent struggle for compassion, respect, equality, and dignity.