Taliban is too hot to debate

Virginia eighth-graders won’t argue the Taliban’s point of view in a mock UN debate, reports the Washington Post.  Swanson Middle School Principal Chrystal Forrester canceled the debate after some parents objected. (Among other things, parents feared kids searching for information would end up at extremist web sites.)

“Recognizing the pain that has touched many of our families and neighbors due to the terrorist attacks on the United States and acknowledging the sensitive nature of the conflict in Afghanistan involving many of our dedicated members of the U.S. armed forces, we have eliminated this topic as part of the U.N. unit of study effective immediately,” the e-mail said.

In addition to the Afghanistan conflict, students were asked to discuss:  China and Taiwan; India and Pakistan; North Korea vs. Western powers; Russia and Chechnya; and Colombia vs. the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

In debate, students often are assigned to argue cases they don’t agree with. They have to work a bit harder.

At Core Knowledge Blog, Robert Pondiscio agrees with Post columnist Robert McCartney: The kids could have handled it.

In other news, a Pakistani comedy troupe has produced its version of a Taliban soap opera to “fight terrorism with humor.”

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  1. Are those parents kidding? I did Model UN in high school, and getting to play the side of the bad guys was always the best part!

    A history of me in conferences:
    1) China in World Health Organization debating AIDS
    2) France in ESCAP (first question asked by a delegate: “Why is France in a committee on Asia and the Pacific?”)
    3) America in Economic and Financial Committee. Back in the days when the Republicans were refusing to approve our full budget for the UN.
    4) Libya in the Human Rights Commission debating Women’s rights.

    I had a blast every time, and I learned a lot more than if I ever played the position of a safe choice country.

  2. So–are the Taliban members of the UN now?

  3. Bill Leonard says:

    The Taliban are not, to my knowledge, members of the UN right now. But that is an answser to a specious question. To the point:

    Should any adolescent be asked to argue the position of an entity whose world view is the death of US soldiers, Afghan national forces or policemen, or anyone else — invariably non-conservative muslims — that they disagree with?

    If you wish to argue the case, please be specific. No platitudes about “education theory,” please. Those views should get what they deserve. A steel-toed boot to the soft tissues is about right to start.

  4. There is a difference between eighth graders and Model UN, right? There’s all kinds of things we expect of high schoolers which are considered too mature for 8th graders. This seems like a perfect example.

  5. Okay, Bill, I will take on a modified view of your argument. Many adolesecents should be asked to argue this position (I could perhaps make an exception for adolescents who are already showing signs of extremist views). If we are going to defeat those people and that world view there are going to be some people in strategic positions who need to understand where they’re coming from, to be able to think like them enough to anticipate many of their moves and counteract them.

    I’m inclined to say that adolescents shouldn’t be required to argue that position, but I certainly see no problems with asking an adolescent to do this.

    Furthermore, you can never really understand a position until you have considered the best arguments against it, the strongest objections to it. How can students understand the exceptional achievement of religious tolerance in the West if they don’t understand the forces contending against this tolerance? Who will better understand the weakness of the arguments for religion imposed by force, someone who has tried the arguments on from the inside, and found all the problems with them, or someone who has never been exposed to them before because their educators only ever applied the steel-toed boot?

    Are you so unconfident in the Western tradition that you think it won’t win out in an argument? And if so, how do you explain the rise of religious tolerance and the human rights movement in the West? Look at the history of the religious wars in Europe and the Spanish Inquistion, or the attempted religious conformity by the Pilgrams in colonial America. The Western tradition of tolerance is not a weak pathetic line of argument that we can expect to fall apart when confronted with opposing views, it’s already been stress-tested by the fires of history and is one of the glorious achievements of our civilisation. Despite what Bin Laden may say, we, in the West, are the ones in the position of intellectual strength.

  6. I suppose at the same time, 8th graders should also be expected to debate on the side of the KKK, Nazis, Stalinists, and child molesters.

    Some things you just plain don’t legitimize by pretending they have a valid argument. Giving evil a place in the argument is to do injustice to good. They need to know the extent of the evil we face. But the only people who should be “getting in their heads” are intelligence analysts and medical examiners.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    It’s telling, isn’t it, Obi that the Taliban get to have arguers in favor but the others don’t.
    I’m sure our western tradition will allow us to win the argument, until it comes to things like busting Major Hasan for being an extremist nutcase and a threat to his colleagues. Then we don’t even argue.

  8. Asked, not expected. And perhaps not all at the same time, time constraints are an issue, there are far too many horrible views out there, and far too many other things to learn, to cover *every* nasty view during school, let alone in a single school year.

    But the point isn’t to “pretend that these views have a valid argument”, the point is to *show* that they don’t have a valid argument. And how is it possible to do injustice to good by giving evil a place? The good arguments, in the cases you cite, have proved themselves time and time against evil. Good arguments are made most vivid by their contrast to evil ones. Western moral accomplishments, like the abolishment of slavery, strike me as more spectacular because I can contrast them with the normal course of human history with all its tolerance of slavery and despicable treatment of other human beings.

    As for the idea that only intelligence analysts and medical examiners need to get inside these guys’ heads, you are aware aren’t you that extremists do seek recruits amongst the general population and also seek to arise sympathy on their behalf as a way of hamstringing governments’ response? Their war is with all of us, they do not confine themselves to suitable military targets. On thinking about it, perhaps “expect” is the right word, and perhaps I should not have, in my response to Bill, only talked about people in strategic positions needing to know this.

    I am amazed at your opinion that our views are so weak that they could be done an injustice by being contrasted with evil. I didn’t know that there were so many Western people on the web who have such a pessimistic view of Western morals and philosophy as to believe it’s a fragile flower that must be protected from outside attack, rather than seeing it as the source of our strengths.

  9. Richard Aubrey, why do you say that others don’t get the right to argue? I don’t see anything in the linked news stories implying that.

    As for Major Hasan, one of the virtues that strikes me of the Western tradition is that we can learn from our mistakes. I doubt the military will make the same mistake again. More generally perhaps Western philosophy does lean us a bit more in the way of forgiveness and a bit too reliant to give people the benefit of the doubt, and at times this has deadly consequences, immediately Major Hasan, and there have been many similar mistakes through history. But consider the costs of the intolerance of the Taliban and other extremists – at least Westerners do not shove schoolgirls back into a burning building rather than risk some unrelated men seeing their faces uncovered.

  10. Richard Aubrey says:

    As usual, you pretend that suggesting something is a bad idea is the same as saying there is no right to do it. That schtick wore out decades ago. Get a new one.
    You think any public school anywhere in the country is teaching the west’s and the US’ ending of slavery as a moral triumph? If you do, you’re not worth talking to. Do you think any public school in the country is talking about slavery in other cultures and other times? If you do, etc.
    Some years ago, a Florida teacher assigned her kids a paper on why the US was terrific. Got shot down by the admin. My suggestion is that she should have assigned a paper on why people insist on coming here.
    I just went through a teacher’s edition of a new HS lit book. Seems there is one, count’em, one piece saying something good about America. An essay by Theodore Stevens about the American idea.
    If the idea of the superiority of the west and/or the US is weak, you know where to look for the cause.
    None of the standards. Richter’s “Early Marriage”. Benet’s “Devil and Dan’l Webster”. Nothing from the Founders. FDR’s speech to Congress after Pearl Harbor. Did have the Gettysburg address, to be dissected as a persuasive piece, not for content or meaning.
    Nothing from the Brit anti-slavery movement. Could have had an old bit of doggerel from the RN about the West Africa station and the anti-slavery patrols.
    “Beware and take care
    Of the Bight of Benin.
    There’s one comes out
    For forty goes in.”
    Doesn’t take up much space. Could be useful to start a discussion. Nope. Nada.
    Et tedious cetera.
    So, as a lit book, it might have its place, but as an example of what kids are taught about the moral superiority of the west—zilch.

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    You are suggesting that the decision not to assign champions to the Taliban leads to Saudi-like intolerance? You can take that back, if you wish. Say it was a poor construction of another thought entirely.
    I know the military learns. But the military is under civilian control and effin’ sillyvilians never learn. Doesn’t cost them anything to insist that Hasan’s greased slide through the system to massacre not affect a single thing about watching potential nutcases.
    You are making arguments even you must know are false.

  12. As usual, you pretend that suggesting something is a bad idea is the same as saying there is no right to do it.

    I have not suggested any such thing, so I cannot have pretended it either.

    You think any public school anywhere in the country is teaching the west’s and the US’ ending of slavery as a moral triumph?

    No, I am ignorant on this particular topic you raised. I do however honestly believe that the ending of slavery is a moral triumph, as I said before.

    If the idea of the superiority of the west and/or the US is weak, you know where to look for the cause.

    I do not believe that the idea of the superiority of Western moral traditions is weak. People’s beliefs in it may be weak, for example Bill and Obi apparently think that Western moral traditions are weak pathetic things that need to be protected from contrary ideas, but I believe that Bill and Obi are mistaken and their, and your, apparent belief in the weakness of Western superiority in such matters as religious tolerance is merely evidence that they and you have not properly examined the evidence for Western superiority. I of course may be wrong, it is through the process of debate that we work out how good our ideas are.

    You are suggesting that the decision not to assign champions to the Taliban leads to Saudi-like intolerance?

    No, my apologies for my poor writing skills that led me to unintentionly give such an impression. I believe that the Western traditions of tolerance are *superior* to Saudi-like intolerance, or the values of the Taliban and that they have proved themselves so in the past. I did not mean to imply in any way any suggestions about what you appear to believe is a slippery-slope argument, I was simply making a response to your criticism of Western traditions when you implied that they were at fault for letting Major Hasan commit his massacre (I am not saying that western traditions are perfect either, just that they are superior to those of extremists like the Taliban or the Saudi religious fanatics).

    But the military is under civilian control and effin’ sillyvilians never learn.

    I think the winning of WWII, or the British defeat of the Communists in Malaysia in the 1950s, or the Royal Navy defeat of the slave ships, or the defeat of Napolean, or the winning of the Battle of the Atlantic, rather argue the opposite to your claim here. (I assume that when you say sillyvilians you meant civilians, otherwise I can’t make sense of your argument).

    Doesn’t cost them anything to insist that Hasan’s greased slide through the system to massacre not affect a single thing about watching potential nutcases.

    I disagree, the loss of every human life diminishes lives of the rest of us. What might those soldiers have accomplished in the future?

    You are making arguments even you must know are false.

    Actually no, I honestly believe that the defeat of slavery is one of the moral triumphs of Western civilisation. I honestly believe that religous tolerance is one of the West’s strengths. I honestly believe that good arguments are made most vivid by their contrasts with evil ones. I honestly believe every argument I had made in this thread.

    Is there any evidence that could convince you that someone could honestly believe good things about Western civilisation, including the defeat of slavery and the development of religious tolerance?

  13. Richard Aubrey says:

    As to the last, I could find a college social science class not snickering at the idea. I could find various references to it in HS history and lit books. I could find more space in history books devoted to Washington than to, I dunno, the KKK or Harriet Tubman.

    I could wash from my mind Jesse Jackson’s “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Wester Civ’s got to go.” and the universities’ appeasment.
    You may think the end of slavery is a moral triumph. Not talking about you but about whether it is generally understood to be so, and where it is taught (hardly anywhere).
    I do have some knowledge of military history, as well has having been an Infantryman.
    See Tailhook. Rep. Schroeder’s jihad against the Navy spooked the squids so much that the first two women to graduate from F14 school did so with grades below those which would have disqualified men. One blew a trap and killed herself and the other was grounded for unsafe flying. The Navy’s response was to try to track down whoever leaked the grades. That’s civilian control.
    You may think s soldier’s death diminishes us. You apparently are not a congressperson.
    All we need is CAIR complaining to either Congress or the NYT about discrimination and the next Hasan will experience similarly uneventful movement toward his goal.
    The question is not what you believe, but what others believe. It is irrelevant to say you believe something. In fact, it is not my belief in Western superiority at issue. It’s whether it is generally believed and if so, why not.
    Hear of cultural relativism?
    It’s Obama’s supporters nodding approvingly as he goes about the world apologizing for the US.

    You used the term “right”. You must therefore mean “right”. “why do you say others don’t get the right to argue?” Old. Worn out.

  14. Richard Aubrey says:

    One of tne unforeseen consequences to having kids research the Taliban is if they find a number of western scholars who say the Taliban’s views–and al Q’s–are pure, unadulterated Islam. Shorn of the dross of fourteen hundred years of accidental syncretism and liberalism.
    IOW, no longer characterizing the Taliban as failed, disfunctional versions of Islam held only by a few fanatics.
    But the real, original thing.
    You could have a list of cites as long as your arm and the peace&wonderfulness would still get the vapors. That wasn’t the POINT.

  15. Bill Leonard says:

    Tracy, I’m glad that you think the defeat of slavery was a moral triumph.

    But how long do you think CAIR and other groups ranging from pro-Islamist to bumbling muslim apologists would stand on the sidelines if a teacher anywhere from middle school through college or university were to comment that slavery was legal in Saudi Arabia until the mid-1960s? Or that defacto slavery still exists there, not to mention the Arab emirates, the Sudan and a good many other places in the muslim world.

    And the response from the political and educational and other grandees who know better but are so cynical that it’s damned near criminal? It would be that we can’t hold entire societies to account for what may — emphasis on “may” be local aberrations.

    And of course, the voices of cultural or other authority in the west don’t hold entire societies to blame for much of anything — unless, of course, we’re talking about Israel or the United States, two entities that apparently are responsible for all evil in the world.

  16. Richard Aubry, I am amazed at your response here. You say:
    You used the term “right”. You must therefore mean “right”. “why do you say others don’t get the right to argue?” Old. Worn out.

    In your initial response you said “It’s telling, isn’t it, Obi that the Taliban get to have arguers in favor but the others don’t.”
    I asked you why you said this as I could see nothing in the linked news stories supporting your statement that the others don’t get to have arguers in favour. And you call my asking for evidence old and worn-out? How can looking for supporting evidence be “worn-out”? How do you think arguments should continue and differences of opinion be resolved?

    In fact, it is not my belief in Western superiority at issue.

    Actually it is at issue. The original argument of Bill was that adolescents should not be asked to argue the views of the Taliban, and Obi-Wandreas followed this up by saying that some views shouldn’t be legitimised. My response to this line of argument is that Western traditions like religious tolerance won out over the arguments of religious fanatics like the Taliban in the past, and that I therefore believe that our beliefs do not need to be protected against opposing views, instead they are our weapons against opposing views, and their strengths are more obvious when contrasted against evil views. You and Bill apparently think that Western morals are weaker than I do.

    Bill Leonard, if CAIR and other pro-Islamist groups made such a comment, the appropriate response is to come in in defence of the teacher.
    I actually agree with the idea of not holding whole societies to blame for much of anything, individual people make decisions, society does not.
    I notice that you have not come up with any counter-arguments to my arguments for asking (not expecting) adolescents to argue the views of people like the Taliban.

  17. Richard Aubrey says:

    Obi referred to the KKK and the Nazis. They don’t get to have champions. It wasn’t my idea not to assign the kids to do that. The point is, Taliban gets champions and other bad ideas don’t. Telling that the Taliban do. Wasn’t my idea, so suggesting I said anything about anybody’s “right” to do anything is nonsense, and bogus.
    You keep saying other nonsense about our beliefs in western morals. You’re wrong.
    However, as with the hypothesis that CAIR would object to pointing out slavery in modern Islamic societies, the point is not that we should come to the defense of the teacher. We should, of course, but we’d be bucking CAIR, the teacher’s administration, the school board and the ACLU.
    Western morals are right, but they are under attack from the educrats and the kids aren’t getting the message except to snicker at patriotism.
    What you think is irrelevant. The question is what the kids are being taught.
    I think the kids should be allowed to support the Taliban. And oppose them. I can’t imagine the admin won’t be “counseling” the opposition side to take it easy. And what will that teach the kids?
    Western morals won out in some places for now, but if you look carefully, it was the soldier who did it, not the debating societies. Not at Tours, Lepanto, the Siege of Vienna.


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