This shoe represents Joseph Stalin and the USSR. The red represents dictatorship and it is a Russian color. I put USSR because Joseph Stalin helped start it. The blue Nike check is Superman colors because Stalin was called the man of steel. The red and yellow are Russian colors and they are the color of fire to stand for how bad Stalin was and the destruction and fear he caused.

Seventh grade is an interesting time for a teacher. Actually, middle school (or junior high depending where you lived) in general is an interesting time. It’s the midway point between the fun and whimsy of elementary school and the uh, realness of high school and eventually the realness of college. As an educator, they probably have the most challenging jobs in the K-12 level because this is when the interests of kids evolve the most. And with technology and social media evolving along with them, it’s nothing like the old days when a teacher used to be able to just roll out the VCR and pop in a tape of Cool Runnings and expect kids to learn about race relations*.

So when Kyle Yobs, seventh grade social studies teacher at Hand Middle School in Columbia, SC was teaching his kids about Totalitarian leaders during the early 20th century, he wanted to make the lesson a little more hands-on. Knowing that his students had a passion for kicks, he wanted to bring the two worlds together so that they not only learned about the cult of personalities of Hitler, Stalin, Tojo and Mussolini, but also about the kicks that many of them were wearing to class.

After giving a brief lesson on sneaker history and design, which included Michael Jordan’s relationship with designer Tinker Hatfield, Yobs focused on why sneakers looked the way that they did and how they reflected the individual’s style. The connective tissue to their history lesson was that the dictators they were studying also had a personal style and aesthetic that they pushed upon their people. As a project, Yobs had his kids imagine that they were under the rule of one of the dictators and they had to make a sneaker that reflected the greatness of their leader. Kids were able to use the Air Jordan 1 and other silhouettes to create their tribute along with a detailed explanation for their choices. To the delight of Yobs, the kids did a great job and really responded to the integration of sneakers while also taking in the lessons of the past well. He’s no Brian Shaw, that’s for sure…

It’s a fascinating look into the interests of kids of that age now and how much things have changed since many of us were in the seventh grade. And as somebody who was a substitute teacher for a year after college, I have nothing but respect for educators who think outside the box and understand the changing times.

Enjoy the pictures that these kids put together** and let us know what you think in the comments below.

*The ’90s was a weird time.

**Some of the pictures have colors that are supposed to be red, but they look pink here. I blame the dress…