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March 8, 2006 6:29 PM   Subscribe

Is a Peace Studies class appropriate to be taught in a public high school? Ok, but what if it's an elective? And if it's taught by this guy you could probably understand why some people would think it's lame.
posted by butterstick (35 comments total)
I remember my high school Economics class having a clear capitalist bias.
posted by iamck at 6:35 PM on March 8, 2006

My dad was an public school administrator in Indiana for many years and while I don't claim to speak for him or know the intricacies of his job, I do know that the people that came to the school board meetings to complain about something or called our house to berate him were insane, conservative, religious, etc., thinking that public schools were the devil's work and so on. Some of the people who called him were even parents of homeschooled kids. In other words, I have no idea what my point is, other than to say that these things should be taken with a grain of salt, but rarely are. Squeaky wheels get the grease and so on.
posted by billysumday at 6:38 PM on March 8, 2006

If there's abstinence-only education, why not peace-only education? Judging from human behavior, they're about equally practical...
posted by Llama-Lime at 6:42 PM on March 8, 2006

You mean that the web site named "" disagrees with a peace activist? that is sooooo shocking. You can go to the front page to see more of their folksy, home-spun wit ("Dear Ankle-Biters: Please Lay Off the President" says one headline). Then again you could also walk your dog about an hour after its meal and witness equally inspiring nuggets of, er, wisdom.
posted by clevershark at 7:03 PM on March 8, 2006

It's fine with me, as long as Give War a Chance is on the summer reading list. Fair 'n' balanced.

posted by jfuller at 7:18 PM on March 8, 2006

I do hope you're joking with your reaction.

For the record:

1. since most of history class in high school is "history of war", an ELECTIVE peace class seems like it'd teach a little balance.

2. is one of the typical nasty-nasty Repig sites on the net. You can see yourself by reading any article there.

In particular, they have a long blurb about how they're into free speech, but if you ever say anything that criticizes the government, they instantly disable your account and then post reams of crude personal attacks on you. (Yes, it happened to me.)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:25 PM on March 8, 2006

I hate to say it, but the discussion on Red State is actually pretty good, although I generally agree withe lupus_yonderboy.
posted by Falconetti at 7:45 PM on March 8, 2006

I agree with lupus. In that most highschool history textbooks could easily be boiled down to a time line of who-won-what-war (not to mention Zinn is rarely in the reading selection), a class like this sounds like its leveling the playing field more than the product of "liberal highjacking"
posted by RobertFrost at 7:49 PM on March 8, 2006

What a poorly-written Post article. "For McCarthy, it seems Peace Studies is not just a cause; it is a crusade." Was the reporter one of the high school kids or something?

McCarthy's essay in Satya is surprisingly flawed as well. "In only the past 20 years, the U.S. government has sent troops to kill or threaten to kill people in Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and now Afghanistan again." Did I miss something? The US helped to fund and train the mujahadeen in their war to end Soviet occupation, but.... And his notions of why the 9-11 hijackers planned and carried out their mission is not supported by any evidence I've seen.

Both the reporter and Mr. McCarthy strike me as unable to see around their melodramatic emotions to the truth.
posted by Cassford at 8:00 PM on March 8, 2006

"thus implying that anyone who disagrees with the policies promoted in its syllabus is a war monger."

Sounds like some people have some kind of complex.

I'd want someone dedicated to peace, with experiance attempting to assert that position, teaching a peace class.

Why the hell would you have a shop teacher who's only read about fixing cars?

Plus - who the hell is 'for' war? I don't know anyone who looks forward to war. I'm the blood thirstiest bastard I've ever met and I don't want to go to war or send people to war.
People have different tolerances for putting up with certain kinds of shit before they say "You realize this means war!"
But only psychopaths yearn for it.

If they had a "war studies" class, I'd hope they'd get an ex-military officer to teach it. He'd probably have more responsibility than to let a turkey piss in the hallway. Probably.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:04 PM on March 8, 2006


I took "Alternatives to Violence" with him at the School Without Walls in DC, back in 2001. He is one of the greatest teachers I have ever had, and our opinions differ in many respects.

He teaches and lectures at SWW, BCC, American University, George Washington University Law School, and the Oak Hill Juvenile Detention Center in DC. He has a few former students who help him teach, as well as his son.

His classes are entirely based around discussing your views, finding your opinions, and writing about them. At some point he compiled a paperback reader of essays by notable nonviolent people that is given free to all of his students. It's called "Solutions to Violence" (I can dig out one of my copies if you want a list of the essays).

Colman is also in with a lot of very good people, who he has come in as speakers as often as he can. For instance, he had a group of people who had just returned from a several year mission to Saddam's Iraq come in to talk with us.
posted by blasdelf at 8:07 PM on March 8, 2006

The US did have Special Forces in Afghanistan and the Shah's Iran, mussing about with the Soviets. Another teacher of mine (from a different school) was deployed there as a Navy SEAL. He spent most of his time there on the Caspian Sea tracking the Soviet Navy, but other americans supplied the Afghans with weapons and military advice.
posted by blasdelf at 8:15 PM on March 8, 2006

So, two students who have NOT taken the class--but have talked to some other students want this course dropped. Hell, if that were the criteria, my school would have had to drop biology and English literature.

I was going to raise the point that--made above more telegraphically--if the opportunity to present American history from the point of view of the native peoples is not included in the American history class--which is usually a mandated class in junior year--then perhaps those classes should be dropped, too.

Yeah, I'm a lefty. Yeah, I think McCarthy is a little airy, but I also think that the opinion of these two shill students should be weighed for what it is worth. And then move on. And keep the course.
posted by beelzbubba at 8:16 PM on March 8, 2006

Colman also doesn't voluntarily pay taxes in support of the military. He deducts the violence-oriented portion of the federal budget from his taxes, sends in the rest with a note explaining his actions, and the Feds just grab it directly from his bank account, taking a little extra for their troubles.
posted by blasdelf at 8:19 PM on March 8, 2006

I heard an interview with Colman on NPR a couple years ago. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I remember him saying that he became a Trappist monk or something for four years and during the time he took a vow of silence and read all the texts he could find on nonviolence. blasdelf, do you know if my memory is correct?

Also, he said something like every choice we make in life can be boiled down to two choices: am in increasing suffering in the world or decreasing it?
posted by Falconetti at 8:21 PM on March 8, 2006

Plus - who the hell is 'for' war?
posted by Smedleyman at 8:04 PM PST on March 8

Overweight white males whose daddy was mean to them and who would never serve a day in their life.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:28 PM on March 8, 2006

This morning's Denver Post (where the comments of suburban teacher Bennish are rehashed daily) had a comment (Jim Spencer, not an editorial guy) that H.S. students don't really care a lot about their teachers' opinions. As a former H.S. student and a current H.S. teacher, I think this should be factored into the current fanatic discussion. Let teachers speak out. Argument is good.

That said, I would not express my opinions in the classroom as Bennish seems to have done. I happen to teach in a hugely progressive public arts school, and bend over backward to make the conservative/Christian minority comfortable.

Teaching in the white suburbs, where kids report back to their parents (who have their pastor's warning screeds in black and white print) would be a hard gig. I've subbed in those schools.

BTW, if you don't know from Bennish...he was recorded by a student (whose former best friend told me he was always starved for attention) comparing Bush to Hitler etc.
posted by kozad at 8:28 PM on March 8, 2006

He never talked to me about it, but I could definetly imagine Colman being a Trappist monk. He's very well read, his anthology of nonviolence is absolutely perfect in all regards.

He's also anti-abortion: He feels that abortion is violence against women, and against life.

He doesn't want abortion outlawed, he wants abortion to be unnecessary – That all pregnancies be wanted. To him unwanted pregnancy is violent, and abortion is an escalation of violence. Banning abortion would be a further escalation. Both should be avoided, and the best way to do that is to not get pregnant when you don't want to.

What an untenable position! He should be required to stay away from our precious, abstinent youth!
posted by blasdelf at 8:48 PM on March 8, 2006

most of my ideas were already said, so good.

but also, especially in history, most of it IS a lot of opinion. talk to ten different history teachers/professors about say the French defeat by the Nazi's and you'll get ten vastly different ideas of why/how. So much of history is subjective that its silly to think that this course could be causing such an uproar besides uptight conservatives getting angry that someone is talking about conflicts that were solved in ways that didn't resort to war.
posted by teishu at 9:02 PM on March 8, 2006

This article sucks. I also found it highly biased, especially the photo of the Ghandi impersonator on the side. I didn't read the caption of it at first, and got the impression that a Hare Krishna was teaching the class.

And what class isn't biased? My American Gov't teacher played a week's worth of tapes about the "New World Order", black helicopters, secret prisons, etc. This class is also restricted to seniors only, they're practically adults. Wait until they're in college, then bitch about bias. Speaking of which, my Philosophy 100 class turned into a Feminist's Studies class. The Yellow Wallpaper is related to philosophy how?
posted by Mijo Bijo at 10:14 PM on March 8, 2006

Also, the redstate site was very tame. Most of what I found there was more about the inner workings of the Republican party than liberal bashing. I went into one thread with 75 comments in it and the phrase "Clinton" was only used 4 times, and none of them were that disparaging. Spend some time at LGF if you want to see some ravenously devolved idiotic conservative drivel.
posted by Mijo Bijo at 10:40 PM on March 8, 2006

Gilman's story has a lot to say about Descartes, and vice versa. Intro phil probably isn't the best place for it, but not a bad one either. Intro psych maybe.
posted by bardic at 10:43 PM on March 8, 2006

The RedState poster says it all:

"[T]he school is giving a single radical professor a bully pulpit..."

Teachers of Peace Studies...decried as occupying a "radical"..."Bully Pulpit"?

The man is apparently incredibly flaky, yes, but come on...

If you understand that RedState transvaluation, you've got the soul of all Republican ideological jiu-jitsu in the palm of your hand.

Peace isn't violent, and that's precisely why it's so hard (if not impossible) to understand in a world that's governed far more by systems of base martial punishment than it is by striving ethical (i.e., above moralizing) convictions.

We should all be ashamed that Gandhi and King - and not Milosevic and Hitler - are the exceptions to the rule of how we regularly expect leaders to behave.
posted by objet at 11:48 PM on March 8, 2006

Everybody has had teachers that are biased, being biased is human nature. At least this teacher is up front about his bias. How can you subvert students when your agenda is pretty much in the course title? And what's worse, is he has to defend himself against students who haven't taken his class. These seem like the same people who try to stop Gay & Lesbian student clubs on campuses and anything else that they don't agree with. "OMFG! Somebody has a different world view than I do, they must be stopped!"

bardic: That story was just one of a host of off-topic feminist interjections into that class. The story wasn't bad, but it definitely had no place in an Intro Philosophy class. The test given for it and other feminist writings had very little to do with philosophy at all. I felt shafted, because I am very interested in philosophy and would much rather have spent more time learning about some of the bigger names of philosophy. The professor made me feel bad for being a man by making verbal jabs at males whenever she could. She'd probably make a good Women's Studies professor, but she was terrible as a Philosophy teacher. I rate her as one of the worst professors I have ever had. I loved it when she marked one of my answers wrong on a test about Socrates and when I explained to her why I was right (there was a flaw with the question), I got this response: "You're right, but I'm not going to give you credit for it." WTF? That right there, is one of the most memorable quotes I've heard from a college professor.

For the record, I am a big supporter of equality of the sexes and most feminist causes. I just really hated this professor and hate people who push their agendas in inappropriate places and ways.

posted by Mijo Bijo at 1:01 AM on March 9, 2006

I don't think Colman is biased at all. He just has honest opinions, that he's willing to explain and converse about.

If you disagree with him, he's not going to try to convert you to his way of thinking or rebutt yours, he just honestly wants to know why you believe what you do, and would like you to really think things through.

Instead of trying to embarass you for thinking differently, he prods you into tring to embarass him, something you'll probably fail at, and be wiser for after attempting.

He's not dumb enough to pull a Bush-Hitler comparison, at least not anywhere that isn't outside with a pleasant, microphone-baffling breeze.
posted by blasdelf at 2:42 AM on March 9, 2006

blasdelf: Thanks for the opinion on the class. I was hoping McCarthy wasn't as much of a crackpot as I found him to be in his interview and the WaPo article. Hearing that he brings in warriors to speak to the students, and that he is very accommodating to the students existing opinions changes my thinking of him quite a bit. I had already written off Andrew Saraf, simply for the fact that he didn't speak directly to McCarthy, but rather ignited a firestorm around him without warning.

I guess my real question is "Is there a slippery slope when you allow ideology to be taught in school". Even electively. I know most History classes could be considered bias, but relative to a class devoted to pacifism? I just think that's a little more polarizing. Unrelenting pacifism is a pretty extreme view. Personally, I agree with McCarthy on a ton of points, so I'd be loath to have his ideological mirror teaching my (hypothetical) kids. Even electively.

I think it's good for students to discuss polarizing issues, but it does seem like the class is devoted to one side of the conflict resolution issue. Wars can be necessary.

Maybe if it was called Conflict Resolution I wouldn't have a problem with it. Or maybe I shouldn't base my opinion on the class title. I just don't want the culture wars in our schools.
posted by butterstick at 6:18 AM on March 9, 2006

mijo: she's obviously teaching something right if she's making you squirm. now THAT'S philosophy.
posted by iamck at 6:19 AM on March 9, 2006

Plus - who the hell is 'for' war?
posted by Smedleyman

Overweight white males whose daddy was mean to them and who would never serve a day in their life.
posted by Optimus Chyme

Dude, wait a minute. I never said I was "for" war.
posted by illovich at 6:31 AM on March 9, 2006

Plus - who the hell is 'for' war?
posted by Smedleyman

People who own stock in or work for the Military Industrial Complex.

I can't tell you how many of my teachers raged from the bully pulpit-- only we called it being enthusiastic about your subject. The Health Teacher who raged about the evils of junk food. The Biology teacher who never let a chance to lecture about ecology slip by. The P.E. Teacher who kept harping on the benefits of regular exercise. It's the teachers who aren't invested with their subjects who make school a dreary experience.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:30 AM on March 9, 2006

I also took McCarthy's Alternatives to Violence at the University level. The thing that struck me most about him is that his moral choices are quite consistent by design. He has a single approach to this world. I don't always agree with him, but I do respect him for that.
posted by grateful at 7:47 AM on March 9, 2006

mijo: she's obviously teaching something right if she's making you squirm. now THAT'S philosophy.

If by squirm, you mean piss off, then Metafilter is a haven for philosophers.
posted by Falconetti at 9:33 AM on March 9, 2006

"I've never said my views are right and theirs are wrong," he said about the students who take his course. "In fact, I cherish conservative dissenters. I wish we could get more of them in."

Because it's so much easier to sit on the sidelines and snipe.
see also: MetaFilter
posted by mkultra at 9:34 AM on March 9, 2006


Me too, at B-CC in 2004. I didn't think he was such a great teacher -- he tended to be pretty unresponsive to contrary opinions. He would just vehemently repeat his own view, and didn't seem to consider the actual arguments students made against his views. All arguments against his views were equally incorrect and not worth taking seriously.

On the other hand, I think the kids who are protesting are just trying to get attention. It's ridiculous that they are doing this when they haven't taken the class. It's an elective, only seniors can take it, and it's pretty much pass/fail (probably it would be more accurate to call it "pass/pass"). I'm pretty sure he gives everyone an A every year. And while the discourse between the class and Colman was never particularly productive, the discussions he elicited between students were interesting and a nice change of pace from the usual lecture format of our classes. He also brought in some great guests (for instance a radical animal rights activist, and the lesbian parents of a girl in our class), who more often than not were more reasonable and informative than Colman himself. (He also took the class on a field trip to talk with a man who had been on death row many years before being acquitted, but I skipped that day.)
posted by puffin at 1:13 PM on March 9, 2006

Oh also, I'm not sure if this was mentioned already, but he doesn't get paid by the school because he is technically a guest it's not like he's walking away with an tax dollars.
posted by puffin at 1:15 PM on March 9, 2006

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