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Professors Encourage Students to First Get Facts, Then Form Opinions About War

wat.jpgBOONE–As a teacher, Jay Wentworth doesn’t care if students march for or against the war in Iraq. He just wants them to have an informed reason for their actions.

“I don’t like hearing them sloganeering,” Wentworth said of students in a class on war and peace he teaches this semester in Appalachian State University’s Department of Interdisciplinary Studies. “I want them to understand both sides and take a stand, but an informed stand.”

Wentworth team teaches the class with Leighton Scott, also a professor in the IDS department. His class is one of several on campus that has turned its focus to current events in light of military action in Iraq.

Wentworth says they have “thrown the syllabus out the window.” At the beginning of the semester, students began looking at the causes of war, using Jared Diamond’s book “Guns, Germs and Steel” as a starting point.

“We looked at how certain areas become dominate in the modern world. Diamond makes the argument for environmental causes (of war),” Wentworth said.

The class also read “Lord of the Flies” as part of a discussion on aggression, and examined non-violent reactions to war through other readings. Students were looking at ancient war, including origins of the first reported war in history, which began as a conflict about water. Then the war began in Iraq.

“We shifted our focus to look at the causes of the present conflict,” Wentworth said.

Students received copies of President George W. Bush’s ultimatum to Saddam Hussein and were asked to analyze and express their own opinion about the speech.

Wentworth says that while he is most often on the “peace side of discussions,” it’s important that classroom presentations reflect differing political perspectives.

Students in Alan Hauser and David White’s general honors course “Prospects for Peace in the Middle East” are learning about the viewpoints of the war — from ideologies of the Bush administration to perspectives of people in the near east, who might be more concerned with food and shelter than their system of government, Hauser said.

Hauser is a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion. White is a history professor.

“There is a misperception that Arab countries are of one mentality,” Hauser said. “But there are different groups (in the region) that often interact negatively with one another — Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds.”

Students have also talked about foreign policy. “One of the things that has come through strongly in class discussions is the perception that U.S. foreign policy has not always been sensitive to what is going on in the near east,” Hauser said. “We may be too focused on exporting ideology and our sense of rightness and priority without being sensitive and attentive to the profiles of these people.”

“They are pretty galvanized by the events,” Wentworth said of his students. “Leighton’s and my job is to try to help them understand Bush’s perspective and the perspective of those with more conservative views, to get the facts and not go off half cocked. They need to be able to answer questions in a reasonable way about the background of war, the president’s position and why it’s that way, and not just respond with distrust and negativity. We all do things for reasons we can justify, and so does George Bush. They need to understand what that line of reasoning is and why it’s adopted, as well as be able to give solid reasons and evidence for their own views.”

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Picture Caption: Jay Wentworth uses current events in Iraq to encourage students to research the reasons for the war in a class he is team teaching in Appalachian State University’s Department of Interdisciplinary Studies. (Appalachian photo by University Photographer Mike Rominger)