What are some good resources to help my kid answer back Ben Shapiro fans
March 23, 2019 9:35 PM   Subscribe

My beloved kid is an 8th grader who identifies as non-binary. They have several classmates, especially one in particular, who like to pick political fights and get a lot of their information from Ben Shapiro and his ilk. What are some good resources, youtube channels, podcasts, books, etc... that would help them answer this sort of challenge?

The most recent incidents with the particular classmate of my kid involved their classmate using the name "Ben Shapiro" in an in-class online multiplayer trivia game (Kahoot!) and another day bad mouthing the Women's March as anti-Semitic and challenging various classmates over whether they supported the Women's March and generally doubting the existence of sexism in society.

My kid is very bright, and has some interest in politics and social justice, but is generally not up on the news and current controversies. Overall they'd usually prefer to be focusing on their own interests in science and writing and making the world a better place, and not getting into political debates.

Unfortunately there seems to be a certain type of person who feels to the need to impose their views on everyone around them, and my kid stands out for several reasons: they're non-binary, they're consistently one of the top academic performers in their classes, and they're, in their own soft-spoken modest way, willing to speak up for what they believe in.

They have expressed some frustration and annoyance to me about this situation and I want to help them have a resource for building up good answers to these sorts of intellectual bullies. These kids are getting fed info from one side and I'd like my kid to have a good resource for countering it.
posted by Reverend John to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
The most recent incidents with the particular classmate of my kid involved their classmate using the name "Ben Shapiro" in an in-class online multiplayer trivia game (Kahoot!) and another day bad mouthing the Women's March as anti-Semitic and challenging various classmates over whether they supported the Women's March and generally doubting the existence of sexism in society.

This is something your kid should be taking screenshots of to share with their teacher.
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:38 PM on March 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

Just to clarify, these incidents happened in class, and only the Kahoot game was on a screen, and I offered to my kid to contact their teacher. Kid requested I at least wait until after spring break.
posted by Reverend John at 9:46 PM on March 23, 2019

As a teacher, yeah, kids do stupid, racist crap like this (definitely not excusing it!) sometimes to get a rise out of others, or the thrill of 'getting away with it' - I wasn't aware of Ben Shapiro until now (I'm in Australia though.)

My point is that teachers sometimes aren't up on the latest internet offensive thing. There is a way to switch on a kahoot name generator so the kids spin up a name, which are all adjective+animal like amazingPenguin or purplePig.

The teacher needs to be made aware, in my opinion.
posted by freethefeet at 10:21 PM on March 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

It's a bit long, but this article in Current Affairs from 2015 is pretty good. The author takes a couple of paragraphs to go over Shapiro's views and argumentative style in terms of trans folk, which can equally be used for talking about being non-binary. It's just about in the middle, if you search for "transgender" you'll find it.
posted by Hactar at 10:50 PM on March 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

The place I'm familiar with Ben Shapiro from is the videos of Natalie Wynn (ContraPoints on youtube) a trans woman who speaks about many of the same topics very intelligently and with a great sense of humor.
posted by XMLicious at 11:26 PM on March 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

I seriously doubt an 8th grade Shapiro fan would be interested or even responsive to logical counterarguments. It's all about the abrasive "fuck your feelings" trolling.

If your kid does want to respond directly, IMHO the most effective way to do it would be with anti-Shapiro memes that (truthfully) undercut the too-cool edgelord "FACTS and LOGIC" reputation his fans try to cultivate. I.e.:

Despite portraying himself as pro-science, he's allergic to the expert consensus on transgender people

For all his smugness, he lacks even the most basic understanding of the Constitution

Contrary to the independent self-made man talk, he's entirely patronized by some oil industry billionaires who bought him a website (The Daily Wire) to regularly write about how cool and funny he is

AOC lives rent-free inside his head

He attacks Ilhan Omar for anti-semitism while spouting shit like this

He's also infamous for unironically tweeting "cool" slang that was already insufferably cringeworthy ten years ago.

There's an entire active subreddit for memes dunking on Turning Point USA, which is a right-wing media org heavily associated with Shapiro.

Also, here's YouTuber TekSyndicate demolishing his anti-net neutrality position. The right-wing consumer-hostile position on this particular issue is radioactive to the younger crowd that live and breathe the internet.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:36 PM on March 23, 2019 [27 favorites]

Honestly, this sounds like the kind of thing where the teacher and administration in general should be made aware not for the purposes of specifically scolding a kid or two (though there is certainly a place for that). Humanism, civil rights, and the things that different groups of people experience on a day-to-day basis - as well as general internet literacy - are things that should be on the curriculum, things students should be hearing about from their teachers and outside speakers, and things they should all be doing their own research projects about throughout their education. Is that happening at your school?
posted by trig at 12:53 AM on March 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

As an FYI, Contrapoints has a habit of saying things that are quite contentious in trans spaces because her view of the trans experience doesn't always generalize that well. She's in "watch with your kid" territory when your kid is a non-binary eighth grader.
posted by hoyland at 4:04 AM on March 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

Yeah, logic won't help as much as mockery or teacher intervention here. Your kid doesn't have the power to change their harasser's minds, but they can make it clear that alt-right crap is boring, annoying and unwanted. A targeted "Are you still talking about that? Ew/Yikes/Oh my god/Why are you so obsessed with this?" will shut things down more than any kind of intellectual argument, which would both legitimize his ideas as something worthy of debate and bog your kid down in a morass of bullshit.

No alt-right middle schooler is going to argue in good faith, so your kid's job isn't to challenge this asshole but to gather their friends and allies, focus on their own life, and generally ensure that they devote as little brainspace to this guy as possible. Maybe practice dismissing arguments a little with them: like, when he gets into "but whyyyyy won't you debate me, are you scared because I'm right?" territory, they can respond with "No, it's just boring." and turn away. If they want to change the political tenor of the class, starting a club that educates kids in general on social issues with a teacher who's tough on disruption as the advisor would help raise awareness among kids who are not actively hostile.

You, on the other hand, should go to the administration with some clips of Ben Shapiro's worst quotes and state your concern about bad influences from Youtube. Your kid may have an idea of which teacher would be most sympathetic and helpful. There are two separate issues here: protecting the kids as a whole from alt-right influence, and these kids' harassment of your kid in particular. #1 is something you can only raise awareness of, but #2 is actionable. Have your kid document anything Shapiro kid has done to them, especially anything in writing, and when you have enough absolutely go to administration with it. Escalate it to the principal if you have to.
posted by storytam at 6:55 AM on March 24, 2019 [10 favorites]

I appreciate your advice and info so far, dear friends, and I agree that the teacher and school should be made aware of the situation. We're likely to do that after spring break, though I want my kid to be comfortable with the process.

My kid, however, doesn't like to be caught off-guard by at least superficially plausible sounding arguments about topics of which they were previously unaware, and would like to at least have some basis of knowledge for answering back if they choose to. So if anyone has suggestions for resources which respond to alt-right propaganda and generally present a more inclusive worldview at the level of a fairly bright 8th grader they would be very welcome.
posted by Reverend John at 8:32 AM on March 24, 2019

Googling the Womens’ March anti-semitism controversy (which I hadn’t heard of before) I see non-dismissive articles on that story in Newsweek and the NYT and that it was even discussed on The View. This seems therefore a pretty mainstream thing to talk about at school, and not as weird as it sounded on the surface.
posted by w0mbat at 8:55 AM on March 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

Although Teen Vogue has ceased print publication and is now online-only it has gained repute in the past several years as a source of quality journalism on political topics and a more inclusive worldview. Some example MeFi FPPs: digital blackface, “Most Women You Know Are Angry — and That’s Alright”, NSFW body acceptance, sexual assault against women at music festivals, SISTERH>>D, “White Male Terrorists Are an Issue We Should Discuss”
posted by XMLicious at 11:44 AM on March 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ooog, not to thread-sit, sorry friends, but I definitely don't mean to imply that it's impossible to fairly criticize the Women's March for instance, but that its exactly getting the real, unbiased info on controversies like this that my kid is interested in, rather than only hearing about it from a point of view that is already antagonistic to the rights of women and minorities.

It was exactly the Women's March criticism that prompted my kid to ask me what the deal was, and which I tried to answer as honestly as I could off the top of my head, which prompted our discussion of trying to find good sources of info when they heard things like this. It's unlikely that Shapiro-kid (and others like him) are starting from a place of good faith, given the larger context of their other expressed beliefs, but my kid wants some awareness of what they're talking about and what the responses might be from a point of view which is more inclusive.

OK, I'm going to stop thread-sitting now, thanks for all your input, if anyone else has more please keep 'em coming!

(oh! And I'd love something like a kid-friendly Contrapoints. Natalie Wynn rocks my world but maybe is a bit harsh for my kid.)
posted by Reverend John at 12:05 PM on March 24, 2019

Again mostly in the vein of “more inclusive worldview” Al Jazeera's AJ+ is a youth-focused US-based branch that produces short informative videos for social media on all sorts of subjects. Al Jazeera is backed by the Qatari government and shows that bias but is good and progressive on most topics, at least in English—I can't comment on other languages—and still manages to do higher-quality journalism than many other outlets on for example Middle-East-related stories despite the intrusion of their owners' geopolitical concerns, in my experience.
posted by XMLicious at 3:13 PM on March 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Bullies feed off of both positive and negative reactions, so any kind of debate is going to escalate and the bully will always have more ammo because the alt right is constantly making shit up. It's a worthless, anxiety producing arms race keeping up with this stuff even as an adult. Plus a kid spouting off talking points from an obscure right winger might not have many followers.

This teaseproofing tutorial is another way to go. Confuse and deflect the bully and try to get on with the day. https://www.loveandlogic.com/pdfs/teaseproof.pdf

Schools seem to vary extremely widely on their ability to handle this stuff discretely and if they handle it ineffectively or reject the need to handle it at all, that could cause greater bullying. YMMV -- consider how good the school has been at accomodating NB kids in the past.
posted by Skwirl at 6:22 PM on March 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

The leftist podcasts The Michael Brooks Show and The Majority Report, and the publisher Zero Books, don't have much insight on gender specifically but they have put a lot of work into debunking (and mocking) Shapiro and other members of the "Intellectual Dark Web" i.e. Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, etc, for their bankrupt pseudo-intellectualism.
posted by Drexen at 9:16 AM on March 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

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