How to Teach Kids About Fascism

Kids are working on their notes in the classroom.
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Some upper-level elementary and middle school teachers teach basic facts about fascism to help children understand its significance, especially as it relates to World War II. Lessons should cover the definition of fascism, its influence during World War II and its shortcomings as a political, social and economic ideology. You might discuss fascism during your social studies unit on World War II.

1 Definition of Fascism

Explain to students the definition of fascism -- a totalitarian form of government that requires individuals to submit to the governing powers. A fascist government is led by a charismatic leader who serves as dictator of the country and typically supports aggressive nationalism and often racism. The government controls nearly all aspects of life, including the military, press, culture, industry, commerce and schools. You should explain the difference between fascism and communism; fascists allow private property and free enterprise with often severe restrictions, while communists do not allow private ownership of property or free enterprise. Fascist leaders often use violence, intimidation and propaganda to promote their ideas. Explain to students the definition of propaganda and show them examples from World War II, such as posters and slogans, designed to intimidate citizens.

2 Fascism and World War II

Explain fascism's emergence after World War I. Italy, Germany and Spain suffered economically after World War I, and fascism emerged as a way to encourage nationalism and recover economically. Dictators of those countries -- Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler and Francisco Franco, respectively -- organized strong military forces to police the streets and seize control of their national governments. Show your students images of Mussolini, Hitler and Franco, forced labor camps and oppressed people.

3 Disadvantages of Fascism

You could discuss the drawbacks of fascism with your students. Explain to students that fascism suppresses individual rights. Point out that even though fascist leaders wanted to help their countries recover after World War I, they used violence and intimidation to control their people. Ask your students how they would feel if they weren't allowed to read certain books in school or to have a school newspaper. You might also ask them how they would feel if the government determined where they worked, how they dressed and how they could use their property.

4 Fascism Versus Democracy

Compare fascist governments with democratic governments, such as the United States' system. Explain to children that some countries and organizations, such as Iran and the Islamic State (ISIS), still support elements of fascist ideology. Make a T-chart on your blackboard or white board and label the columns "Fascism" and "Democracy." List words and phrases under the first column, such as "limited or no human rights," "fearful of outsiders," "intimidation," "control of the media," "forced labor," "political prisoners," "disrespect for free expression," "fraudulent elections," "unjust legal system" and "supreme police control." Under the second, list "free speech," "freedom of press," "no dictator," "freedom to use property as desired," "fair elections," "no forced labor camps" and "fair legal system."

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.