Kids These Days…
This is going to sound like an ad for The Outdoor Academy, but I just need to share the World History class I had this week. It exemplifies the very best of OA and American teens in general and it carries a valuable lesson for any teacher in their daily task of organizing and facilitating lessons.
We’ve been wandering about in History class this fall with the general theme and goal of gathering insights into the conflicts between the East and West. We’re being drawn into conversations about culture, imperialism, religion, capitalism, and revolutions. I am reading a new book by Karen Armstrong entitled Fields of Blood – Religion and the History of Violence. In the introduction she states that the food surpluses of the agricultural revolution brought systematic violence that led to absolutism and the modern military state (and yes, cultural awakenings and golden ages) as well as institutional oppression of the many by the few. My assigned reading was just four short pages describing Armstrong’s perspective of this civilization-building development in our distant history. I handed it out with the thought of giving the students a simple building-block concept.
They took ten minutes to read it after which I asked if they had any thoughts, with a short list in my mind of questions to prod them into discussion. But that was the last thing I said for the next forty minutes. They took this apart as though they were hungry. They opened with a comparison to Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and then dissected and argued several positions, from the basic “does the author have a point?” to the causal roots of religion and conflict across history, to analogies with the predator/prey evolutionary arms race, and on to Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons. I finally had to call time and send them off to their next class.
Fast forward one day; same time, same class. I realize I am late to class as I send off a visiting family. I arrive with an apology ready only to find a student at the board diagramming a flow chart of the previous day’s discussion at the direction of an eager class.
“No, no, surplus doesn’t always have to lead to a militarized society.”
“Of course it does, even well-intentioned democracies have to protect themselves from aggressors.”
“But if we export democracy to all nations there would be no need…”
“Are you crazy? You can’t pull that off, and even if you could, Hobbes tells us that will never happen – people are greedy and it only takes one nation to destabilize the whole place!”
“That’s why there is a United Nations!”
“But then we need a UN army!”
“Aarrgh! We’re back where we started!!!”
Sometimes you can’t get out of their way fast enough.
Ted Wesemann, OA Director, Natural Science and World History Teacher