Friday, June 18, 2004

Resist the force 

Oscar Chamberlain is wondering if he should watch what he says about "modern history" (and isn't that an oxymoron, anyway?)
My general approach is to let them know that when we get to my life time that I am a participant as well as a historian. I discuss some things that I did and believed, but I make that in the form of a warning, that no matter how hard I try to be objective I may slip from time to time.

Then, in practice, I make sure that I express the best arguments against those positions as well as the arguments supporting them. I think this works fairly well, as in most classes I have some students expressing contrary views.

However, I am really wondering how I'm going to deal with the attempts of this administration to legitimize torture as a proper tool for some interrogations. When it came up this Spring--mostly though not always in a course online discussion area--I attempted to be objective.

However, I was appalled at the students who do not simply support torture in a sort of "ticking bomb" hypothetical way but consider it as a logical part of the current war. One in particular expressed this with considerable eloquence and with reasons that, apart from morality, had a considered logic to them.


So, as it becomes more and more obvious that the Administration's views are quite similar to that student's, do I have a moral obligation to make clear how horrid that is? Or should I hold to my established way of doing things?
First things first: The fact that students are "expressing contrary views" in most of his classes suggests that Mr. Chamberlain is doing a great job teaching. The fact that he wonders about this in a blog is further evidence that Chamberlain is only interested in doing the right thing as I think we both understand it.

Second, since he's asking for opinions: Chamberlain teaches in a public university. As such, I do not think it is within his purview to make moral judgments about his students. His is a history class, not an ethics course. His school takes as its mission to prepare students for life-long learning through a two-year program. If Mr. Chamberlain would like to teach at a school where he can express moral outrage, those schools exist in the private sector and he is free to find one. But he doesn't have an obligation now because the student and the university (via the professor) did not enter into a contract for moral tutoring.