Conform or Resist: Responses to Authoritarian Regimes

Middle schoolers investigate responses to three authoritarian regimes—Chile under Pinochet, China’s Cultural Revolution under Mao, and Germany under Adolph Hitler. As students investigate memoirs, testimonies, propaganda, and informational text, they compare and contrast individual choices to conform or resist oppression across time periods and cultures. Throughout, students explore art, music, and poetry as forms of resistance, looking closely at the Chilean women’s arpillera (quilting) and nueva troba (new song) movements, as well forms of musical resistance at the Nazi concentration camp in Terezin.

The Composition, Antonio Skarmenta’s suspenseful story about a young Chilean boy faced with a chilling choice during the Pinochet regime, launches the expedition and frames the issues of conformity and resistance from a child’s point of view. As students listen to the interactive read-aloud, they begin to consider what it is like to live, as a child, under a dictatorship, including issues of family loyalty, obedience and disobedience, and the consequences of resistance. During ELA, students read Red Scarf Girl, a memoir that chronicles a young girl’s evolving choices during the dramatic events of the Cultural Revolution in China, and raises profound questions about individual and group identity, acceptance and rejection, conformity and resistance, and injustice. In literature circles, students make text-to-text and text-to-world connections as they read and discuss Holocaust novels, each featuring a form of resistance.

Lesson plans draw on Facing History and Ourselves study guides: “Teaching Red Scarf Girl,” and “Holocaust and Human Behavior.”

Fieldwork: Students investigate Chinese art and art as a means of personal expression at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem.

Visiting Experts:
Sergio Reyes, Chilean folksinger and former political prisoner under the Pinochet regime
Juan Cristobal Aliaga, Chilean musician
Mark Ludwig, Executive Director, Terezin Music Foundation, Boston, MA

Grade Level: 6
Subjects: Social Studies, ELA, Visual Art, Music

How do dictators come to and maintain their power?
What are the consequences for individuals and groups who are considered outside of a society’s “universe of responsibility?”
What choices do we have to conform or to resist oppression? What are the consequences of our choices?
How have art, music, and literature been used to promote both conformity and resistance to oppression?
What is the role of the artist and the musician in society?

Mark Ludwig


Students with Sergio Reyes

Students at the Peabody Essex Museum

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