The following post popped up in the ‘On this Day’ Share Your Memories feature on my Facebook page this morning, reminding me that I’d posted it seven years ago.
I’d forgotten all about it, but, after reading through it again, I thought it was worth re-posting here.
This story originally appeared in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on February 24th, 2010.
Follow the rules, comrades … or else.
by David Ball
Correspondent Stephany Fournier, an 11th-grader at Pine View School, did not want to punish her fellow classmates, but it had to be done. They defied the law.
“I’m normally a nice person, but I have to be really firm with these people,” Stephany said. “They must come in, sit down and write this line on paper, front and back.”
The line: “I will serve the glorious East German state better.”
The students copied it repeatedly after watching a propaganda film depicting the evils of Western culture.
The drill was part of a history lesson taken to an elaborate level Tuesday at Pine View, where Stephany and the rest of the 2,000 students participated in an interactive lesson commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago.
“This was a project of the history club, and their idea was that students should really have an idea of what it was like to live in a communist state,” said social studies teacher Patricia Johnston, who helped organize the project and served as the lead “comrade.”
Students, with the help of a local landscaping company, erected a nearly 100-foot paper replica of the Berlin wall, complete with graffiti. It stood across the middle of the campus to mimic the concrete wall that separated communist East Germany from capitalist West Germany from 1961 to the end of 1989.
On the west side, students could walk around, socialize and behave as they normally do.
But on the east side, students could only walk on sidewalks, wear approved clothing (no hats, for instance) and had to behave in an orderly, controlled fashion.
Propaganda posters with phrases like “technology is unnecessary and degrades intelligence” lined the hallways, and gazebos and other recreation areas were marked as “unnecessary installations.”
Teachers on the East German side taught lessons from a communist perspective.
As an East German general, Stephany gathered intelligence from other officers and handed out punishment to enemies of the state.
She looked the part, wearing a black business suit and black stockings, heels and dark eyeliner. Hundreds of other students wore military jackets — and sometimes complete uniforms — with red arm bands signifying their communist allegiance.
“I looked up ‘communist women’s fashions of the day’ online,” Stephany said. “The women all had pale faces and red lipstick. You had to look cold and imposing.”
Most of the day’s activities were at the wall itself and the five checkpoints where students could cross.
Students were given passports that were stamped as they crossed; illegal crossings and other disobedience was recorded in the passports.
“Although we really can’t show them exactly what it was like, we want to show that the east was more strict,” said student Marine Robbins, who commanded a checkpoint. “We’ve had quite a few people that have been belligerent and just don’t agree at all with the simulation.”
Marine said some students protested the project, including setting up Facebook pages to rally the opposition. But Marine said the protests actually simulated similar efforts during the real German struggle and made the entire exercise more authentic.
Most students followed protocol and said they learned more than in a regular classroom assignment. Ninth-grader Joe Polarr was arrested several times for walking on the grass, wearing a hat and not pulling back his long hair — basically just being Joe Polarr on a normal school day.
“I’m not trying to get arrested, really. I’m just trying to get lunch,” Polarr said. East Germany would not have been a great place to live in, he said.