Joyce S. Goldberg: Why I Can No Longer Teach U.S. Military History

Roundup: Talking About History

Joyce S. Goldberg is an associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Arlington.

This past August, I wrote a letter to the chair of my department explaining why I am no longer willing to teach U.S. military history. Although I taught the class regularly and, I believe, successfully for nearly 30 years, a situation I encountered last semester makes continuing to do so untenable.

It wasn't a classroom-management problem: In spite of my gender and lack of military service, asserting authority in the classroom has never been a problem. And over the years, student evaluations and university accolades have suggested that I am an accomplished teacher.

No, the discomfort I endured last semester was something new. From the start, I realized that many students in the class were not as interested in exploring the seminal issues of U.S. military history as they were in finding solace, seeking closure, or securing an understanding of their own—or, in many cases, their loved ones'—recent military experiences.

Although I never asked students about their prior military service, and never would, most made that information public as they expressed their opinions about historical events, or discussed issues based not on ideas culled from assigned readings, but rather on their own recent military experiences or the anecdotes of others. It turned out that more than half of the class, which began with 56 students, were either ROTC students, members of the National Guard, students who would soon enlist, retired "lifers," veterans from the first Gulf War, veterans of one or several recent overseas deployments, or loved ones of service people. One student's husband had died in Iraq....

comments powered by Disqus