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Feb 27, 2006 1:55 pm


Monday Matters



Henry Kissinger outlines what could be expected of Hamas to produce a possible road to peace.

Two of my books deal with peace activists of various sorts, and I think courses in peace studies--dealing both with the history of peace movements and their ideological underpinnings--are welcome additions to the curriculum. But this offering at one Maryland high school? An assignment having students stand on the roadside with anti-war signs?

Inside Higher Ed on continuing academic objections to Google's creating digitized versions of books.

Paul Bremer's depressing memoir of his time in Iraq, reviewed in the Times. The former proconsul doesn't exactly come across as a paragon of courage.

Becker and Posner on Summers' resignation.

Very interesting piece (subscription req.) by Stuart Rothenberg in today's Roll Call. The nation's preeminent analyst of congressional election argues that"Americans, or at least many Americans, now assume the worst about the president. They interpret events through the lens of pessimism. Good news, such as the state of the economy, is not appreciated, and bad news is not merely bad, it’s catastrophic." Therefore, he notes,"you need to go back at least to 1982 to find an environment that is close to as bad as the current one for the GOP." The Repubs lost 26 House seats in 1982, setting the stage for 12 years in which the Dems had working ideological control of the lower chamber.

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Robert KC Johnson - 2/27/2006

In such a scenario, why should the professor be dictating the message on the signs?


David Lion Salmanson - 2/27/2006

Why does it matter what the observers think? I could see all kinds of ways in which students would come out of this assignment thinking, "Gee, this is not a particularly effective way of getting the point across." Is it that much different than the write a letter to the newspaper type of assignments that sometimes go well and other times poorly?

I didn't see any evidence of bad (or good) teaching in the article at all.


Robert KC Johnson - 2/27/2006

There seems to me a big difference between this assignment and students playing Confed. sympathizers of 1860. Such play-acting, I presume, would occur in class; and no observer could reasonably conclude that the students playing the role favored the position they were taking.

In this instance, any passer-by would have to assume that these students were so passionately committed to their cause that they elected to go out to the side of the road to hold anti-war signs.

My concern isn't that students would be "indoctrinated"--the bias here is so over-the-top that this is unlikely to occur. My concern is that what the Post describes is simply bad teaching.

From the description in the Post, the course sounds like little more than "My Ideology and Why It's Better than Everyone Else's." Such a class might be fun for the teacher. But it's of little use for the student--especially on a topic like peace studies, where an academically rich offering is entirely possible.


Hiram Hover - 2/27/2006

The instructor is an unpaid volunteer and isn’t in charge of grading (it’s a weird arrangement, but that’s another issue). In any event, the students don’t appear to be either fearful grade grubbers or mindless drones. To quote again from the story:

“‘We’re all mature enough to take it all in with a hint of skepticism,’ said Megan Andrews, 17. ‘We respect Mr. McCarthy's views, but we don't absorb them like sponges.’”

As to the possible purposes of the assignment, see David Lion Salmanson’s comment below. And just to be clear: I’m not saying I'd use this assignment. I'm not saying that it does or doesn’t have pedagogical value. I’m saying you’re not really in a position to know, and in light of that might have been more circumspect, and less dismissive of the entire course on the basis of that one assignment.


David Lion Salmanson - 2/27/2006

Further, I can think of all kinds of reasons why this could be a valid assignment. For example, "Based on the reactions of drivers, assess whether you think this is an effective form of protest." Students might be expected to back up their insights with empirical data. Or they might be asked to write a first person narrative about their experience. We ask students to role play all the time. Is this any worse than asking a student to pretend they are a confederate sympathizer and make the case of secession? Both assignments have the potential to be incredible or disasterous depending on what the assignment actually asks.


Robert KC Johnson - 2/27/2006

An assignment--optional or not--consisting of holding an anti-war sign on the side of the road is inappropriate pedagogy. As to the assignment's "optional" nature, the article makes perfectly clear the instructor's deep personal commitment to the anti-war cause. Students then would have a choice of doing this inappropriate assignment or risking their instructor's censure.


Hiram Hover - 2/27/2006

To set the record straight--the Washington Post reports:

"Students might spend one class period listening to a guest speaker who opposes the death penalty and another, if they choose, standing along East West Highway protesting the war."

So you've picked out one optional activity in the course without knowing its context or purpose, and presented it as representative of the whole.

I hope readers will follow your link, since you also leave out what provoked the Post's story: one student who isn't enrolled in the elective course (and has sat in on a grand total of one class) is calling for it to be banned from the curriculum--and this in the absence of any complaints from students who actually are taking the course.

It seems to me that's a much more newsworthy aspect of the course than nitpicking the one optional assignment.

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