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Feb 19, 2006 11:28 pm

More History Should Be Known to Our Youths...

In a previous post at Theory & Practice, I alluded to "a few inadvertently hilarious examples of history education gone awry." Here they are, absolutely unedited, from papers I've received and conversations I've had with undergraduates while teaching philosophy and political theory at The College of New Jersey (Ewing, NJ), Princeton University, and Montclair State (Montclair, NJ). This list, which is restricted to examples somehow relevant to the understanding of history, comes from a more general list about six times its length.

Basic Philosophical Issues, The College of New Jersey
“Many traditions come from the Bible, such as Christmas and Easter. They are both highly predominant holidays. If there wasn’t a belief in God, these holidays would not exist.”

“I am an Episcopalian, which is a form of Christianity that stems from Catholicism.”

Introduction to Philosophy, Montclair State University
“I mean I really think that Hitler was a cruel person. But maybe his moral principles were based on his own self and we can’t judge him.”

“Since the beginning of time, mankind has been punished.” [opening line of a paper on the theory of punishment]

Philosophical Issues in Science, The College of New Jersey
“Theists say that the Holy Bible proves everything from God’s existence to how we came on this earth and why there is evil in a universe created by a God. My problem with that is the accuracy of the Book. This book had stories and messages that go back to near the beginning of the universe, which was a crazy long time ago.”

Contemporary Moral Issues, The College of New Jersey
“This class also helped me to learn about other religions, mainly Islam. Growing up without any religion of any kind has made me very open to the many religions that there are. However, I didn’t know them all apart until I came to your class. While some still confuse me, the three main ones (Catholicism, Judaism, and Islamic) are no longer blurry around the edges.”

“[Before this class], I did not know…that we had bombed Palestine [Sudan] and killed many innocent people [one person] who did nothing to deserve to die…I did not think we would be learning history in your class and if I had known that we would be learning the history of Palestine I might have been swayed not to take your class.” [The student was referring to Clinton's 1998 bombing of the Al Shifa Pharmaceutical Plant in Khartoum.]

"In 1973, during the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, Egypt recovered the Cyanide Peninsula.”

“September 11, 2001 started off as a regular, ordinary day…It was 8:48 am when the first plane, carrying 92 people on board, flew into the north tower of the World Trade Center….At 9:24 am…President Bush addressed the nation and called the crashes ‘an apparent terrorist attack on our country’….Seventeen minutes later we would get to experience bravery at it’s best, with the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93, discovering that their plane will also be used as a ‘flying bomb’…There have been speculations as to where the terrorists would have used this plane, and many believe that it would have been The White House. Over 3,000 people died that day, a day that our nation will surely never forget. You may ask, ‘Who would do such a thing?’ The answer is terrorists.”

“Unfortunately, war is an extremely deadly battle where many individuals, including innocent people, lose their lives.”

“In order to make an effort to explain why these terrorists believe that this attack was justified I will lay out the historical events dating back to 1290. [One sentence later, the student continues.] A true explanation of terrorism today would date back to 1922 and the fall of the Ottoman Empire (non-Arab Muslims).”

“I truly feel that the religion of Islam has some serious issues, especially at the present time.”

“The United States sided with Israel, essentially, because they had more in common. We fought on the same sides in both World Wars…”

“Wax Weber says that you should do the act, recognize that it is bad, and then your hands will be clean again….” [Discussion of Michael Walzer's paper,"The Problem of Dirty Hands"]

“Here Waltzer is clinging to a fence, but there is no middle ground. Why write this essay if you’re not going to explain what side you’re on Mike?” [Discussion of Michael Walzer’s paper, “World War II: Why Was this War Different?”]

“However, after hearing the argument’s of the Bush administration, with whom I rarely agree and identify with, I can see how they have no leg to stand on in this matter.” [On the Pledge of Allegiance controversy regarding the phrase"under God"]

“Personally my knowledge of non Christian ‘dogma’ is not very well versed so the following argument spawns mainly from the beliefs taught to me through my own theistic experiences…This makes [God] by nature kind and good yet prone to frustration and anger when we act out inappropriately…While such can sound cruel an example to this support is the Book of Jobe. This is a story of how Satin argued that if a man fell to a life of destruction then too would fall his faith.”

War and Peace (POL 382), Princeton University
Student 1: So are there any examples of successful assassinations that were clearly orchestrated by governments?
Khawaja: Well, the assassination of Trotsky is perhaps the best example.
Student 1: Ah, right.
Khawaja, to class: So…any further questions on this material?
Student 2: I’m sorry, I didn’t quite get the answer to that last question.
Khawaja: Well, he asked whether there were any successful state-sponsored assassinations, and I said that the most obvious example was the assassination of Trotsky.
Student 2: Right, I got that. But…who was Trotsky?

So what does all this prove? The answer, I think, was succintly stated by a student of mine in Contemporary Moral Issues at The College of New Jersey:
“More history should be known to our youths. Also, the reasons, why we should be defending our country for War.”

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