War spurs profs to retool discussions

Some University classes are so closely related to the war that discussing and debating it is natural.

by Patricia Drey

The war in Iraq is changing the way some University professors teach their classes.

Assistant geography professor George Henderson sets aside 15 minutes of class time per week for students to share thoughts on the war and ideas on how they have developed those viewpoints.

“In my cities, citizens and communities course, it seems to me to be worthwhile to take the notion of citizenship seriously and think of ourselves in the classroom as citizens who have something at stake,” Henderson said. “I see the University as a place of inquiry and dialogue, as an extension of citizenship.”

The gravity of the international situation justifies devoting class time to the subject, Henderson said.

“I find it offensive that I would be expected to have my everyday life uninterrupted while the everyday lives of people around the world are utterly disrupted,” he said.

Henderson got the idea from history professor Ajay Skaria, who is also devoting some class time to talking about the war. Henderson said students probably know he is against the war, but he would rather spend time listening to student opinions than explain his own.

In other University classes, the war is so closely intertwined with content the class is already covering that it is a natural part of discussions. In professor Altug Akcam’s nationalism in the Middle East class Tuesday night, a lecture on the history of British and French policy toward the Kurds led to discussion about the aftermath of the war.

“How do you anticipate the Kurds will get along in democratic Iraq?” asked psychology senior John Milhofer.

After the Kurds, the conversation moved to analyzing France’s current position in light of its historical perspective and the United States’ war plan.

The war has also been a “central debate,” in instructor Mazher Al-Zoby’s Cultural Pluralism class. It provides real-life examples to explain topics such as politics, identity, ideology, cultural production and cultural crisis, Al-Zoby said.

“It lends the class a more urgent sensibility,” Al-Zoby said. “I hope that the students are using those concepts to understand and evaluate the crisis better.”

Recently, the class discussed truth and evidence in documentation and how “certain nation states are invested in the question of framing evidence.”

In class discussions, Al-Zoby said he is most interested in hearing students critically reflect the conditions under which they developed their viewpoints. He also said it is part of the University’s role to provide a forum for dialogue about the war.

“I expect a lot from the University,” Al-Zoby said. “Its status makes it a crucial information resource for the student community and society in general.”

Patricia Drey welcomes comments at [email protected]