Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"If only we had forgiven Iraq for 9/11"

I have now received three (3) student papers that discuss Iraq's attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11. All three papers mention it as an aside to another point. I've had two papers on the virtue of forgiveness that argue that if we had just forgiven Iraq for the 9/11 attacks, we wouldn't be at war right now. I just read a paper on the problem of evil which asked why God allowed "the Iraq's" to attack us on 9/11.

The thing that upsets me most here is that the the students don't just believe that that Iraq was behind 9/11. This is a big fact in their minds, that leaps out at them, whenever they think about the state of the world.


Timothy Burke said...

Man, that's depressing. Power of the Big Lie and all that.

The interesting problem specific to this is what does one do about it when grading? I never know quite how to react when a student writes something that is just plain, flat-out factually incorrect. If it's something we dealt with in the course at some level of specificity, I'm more comfortable holding a student accountable for it. But sometimes I really do feel the need to write a lengthy comment about what seems like more generalized ignorance. But when you're aware that the source of that ignorance is generalized through the whole society, then it's hard to individualize the critical response.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I never had to be in that situation when I was grading tests.

I think how or if you mark them down depends on how relevant Iraq is to the class. If this is a class on Middle East Studies or International Relations, I say take a letter grade off, because the kid obviously doesn't know the course material.

If it's a Rhetoric or Composition class, give 'em a minus grade because they made an argument without fully researching the facts.

Otherwise, I think you just strike through the sentence in red ink and make a note that they might do a little additional reading to get their facts straight.

Ultimately, though, no matter what you do to correct them, they're probably going to just blame it on you for being a member of "liberal academia" and not acknowledging the "truth" they're getting from Fox News. Meh.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

I didn't grade any of the students down at all, because in each case the remark was an aside or an example. Nothing in the argument of the paper depended on it.

Unknown said...

That's almost too bad. Was there any way to make this a "teachable moment" for the kids who made those mistakes?

Anonymous said...

In what course(s) did you receive these papers? Even though you chose to not grade down the students, I would hope that you referred them to the 9/11 Commission Report and the Iraq Study Group Report, so that they can get their facts straight in the future.

Elliott said...

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! You should/must grade them down assuming that you take off points for grammatical or spelling errors. Students need to be held accountable for this level of ignorance no matter what the class. I'm sure you can read a student's paper with typos and capitalization errors. Most grammatical errors do not affect the argument being made, but I assume you mark off for that. It's a teachibility moment, but if they can't be taught then it's an accountability moment.

Anonymous said...

You have to grade them down for this! I tell my students that a brain dump is a dangerous strategy, because irrelevant mistakes will cause deductions, which can add up pretty fast.

Anonymous said...

I didn't grade any of the students down at all, because in each case the remark was an aside or an example. Nothing in the argument of the paper depended on it.

But presumably you did provide them with a marginal note that Iraq *wasn't* behind the 9/11 attacks? I don't think it would be overstepping your boundaries as an instructor to give them a heads-up about that.

Anonymous said...

Ironically enough, they aren't entirely incorrect. The Middle East is far less concerned with nationality as they are with religion - all of the 'national borders' there were artificially imposed by Europe at the end of the colonial era.

Radical jihadist Muslims were responsible for 9/11, and their support base transcends national lines. There wasn't any single country responsible - it was the entire general Middle Eastern area. The biggest problem the students have is not switching one nation with another (because no nation was responsible) but rather assuming that the attacks were government sponsored rather than sponsored by a radical religious sect. But besides all that, I'm sure there are plenty of Iraqis who supported the attacks. Just like plenty of people in any Middle Eastern country.

Despite the need to use rhetoric to say otherwise, this IS a war against a faction of Islam. And it should be treated as such.

Anonymous said...

xoxi: that's a non-sequitur. There were people in every country (including our own) who thought that 9/11 was fair comeuppance for the meddling that the U.S. had done in the world and especially in the Middle East.

If a student made the equally outlandish conspiracy-theory claim that the U.S. government was behind the 9/11 attacks, the fact that maybe some people in America, somewhere, in some way supported the attacks doesn't make that claim any less invalid.

Actually, the fact that the people who attacked us were radical Islamists not tied to any one nation makes any connection with Iraq's government even more absurd, as Saddam Hussein and his Bathists were fundamentally secularist and modernist and were considered enemies of the Islamist movement.

Hussein gave enough lip service to the Islamists to keep them relatively pacified in his own country, whereas nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran actively promote them. If you could say any one nation really attacked us on 9/11, it would be the Saudis - and they're supposedly our allies.

But then, silly me for injecting facts into the discussion.

Anonymous said...

i eat with my butt and poop with my mouth. sometimes it ends up in the comments. sorry, everyone!

Mr. Forward said...

"If you could say any one nation really attacked us on 9/11, it would be the Saudis"

"Bin Laden was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1991 because of his anti-government activities."

Ali Gator said...

Yes, Bin Laden was expelled. But most of the 9-11 hijackers were Saudis, and Saudi Arabia has supplied a ton of money to terrorism.

On the other topic, I teach a few freshmen classes. This year I gave them extra credit if they went to a lecture on Islam or the Middle East and wrote a few paragraphs. The majority of them came back to me talking about how they hadn't realized that Islam was actually a peaceful religion and that all Muslims weren't terrorists. I find that scary.

Anonymous said...

OK, that is simply depressing, to see firsthand that these kids are so misinformed.

Natasha Zabchuk said...

Ignorance is an unfortunate circumstance of humanity.

And assuming who I am referring to as ignorant is also unfortunate.

We are too early in our years to write history books that state whether or not they caused 9/11. It's an inability to open up your mind that makes you pity your students.

J. Otto Pohl said...

I teach political science in a post-Soviet country where the majority of the population is nominally Muslim. So I have not seen or heard this particular mistake.

But, I have seen and heard a couple of odd references to various conspiracy theories regarding the US and Jews. Specifically they have come up in regards to Chechnya.

I do not think such factual errors by undergraduates are a big deal. I just correct them and if it is in written form deduct some points.

Anonymous said...

Sheeesh, can't anybody play this game anymore? I may be harsh, but somebody sticking such a glaring error in a paper in my class would get a failing grade. I'd let them make it up, but we've suffered enough from this tolerance for wrong-headedness. How in hell do you think Bush got his degrees. Too many professors who wouldn't flunk him for failing to engage his brain. See how well that worked out.

Anonymous said...

You can't let errors like that pass. An essay as a complete entity, and an essay full of nonsensical examples is nonsensical.

No more "gentleman's Cs" for the ignorant. Mark them down. Mark them down. Mark them down.

Customer Service Hell said...

This made me want to cry.

Anonymous said...

We are too early in our years to write history books that state whether or not they caused 9/11. It's an inability to open up your mind that makes you pity your students.

This is a troll, right? The whole "let's not prejudge an idea that's been throughly debunked by every reputable expert on Mideast affairs but which provided an unofficial and very heavily implied justification for an invasion that has caused an insurmountable amount of human suffering" concept; this is designed to get us to flame you so that you can get your jollies, am I correct?

Because I'm not biting; go troll elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with marking students down for an aside comment within an essay; it ultimately comes down to the teacher's notion of how off kilter the statement is within the topic itself. The teacher MUST address this topic in class, however, preferably w/o mentioning students' names.

It really is a good thing that ignorance isn't painful. If it were we'd have aspirin riots in the streets.

Natasha Zabchuk said...

Hahaha I can't say I'm not offended that I was called a troll. But I probably would get my... what was it - Jollies? - if you wanted to tear me down.

On a broader view, if a society does not question authority, then I worry what innovative thinking will be lost and what freedoms we will inevitably lose.

If Hitler tells you Jews are evil and they need to be wiped off the face of the Earth (his experts tell you so! they show you proof!), will you believe him?

If Bush tells you Iraq is responsible for 9/11 and they need to be taken down immediately (his experts tell you so! they show you proof! CNN!), will you believe him?

I'm not commenting because I want to start a flame war, I'm commenting because I think that people who are close-minded need to be approached by more open-minded people more often to try and shed some light. Maybe even then you'll disagree with me but at least accept the possibility.

I sure as hell don't know what actually happened.

Anonymous said...

Painter, there's a difference between knowledge and knowingness. Knowingness is a pose that doubts the truth and value of all knowledge. Only junior high students and Buddhist monks take it seriously.

The rest of us, accepting that all is imperfect, try to figure out what is going on so that we can figure out what to do. And, ultimately, we must do something.

Anonymous said...

This is the single most dispiriting thing I have ever read.
Is there no hope for America?

Anonymous said...

Maybe if you were a better teacher your students would be better informed.

Stephen Robinson said...

jim hrris (above). I have taught with Dr. Helpy Chalk, and your comment above is completely ridiculous. He is an excellent teacher.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Thanks Steve, but there is no need to defend anyone to random trolls like that. Ignore him and he will go away.

Natasha Zabchuk said...

PS I'm female and contradictory comments aren't invalid. They should thought-provoking, not troll-enticing.

Anonymous said...

Saddam Hussein's regime has opened talks with Osama bin Laden, bringing closer the threat of a terrorist attack using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, according to US intelligence sources and Iraqi opposition officials. The key meeting took place in the Afghan mountains near Kandahar in late December. - Julian Borger, February 6, 1999

Anonymous said...

Um, guys?

An absence of evidence does not equal evidence of absence.

I know some people like to think that there was never even the slightest shred of possibility that Iraq had nothing to do with it, and I personally am not saying that I think Iraq was sirectly involved, but your certitude that there was no involvement is no more "factual" than the opposite conclusion. What you're basing it on is "conventional wisdom", but to pretend like there was never a hint of evidence to the contrary of that CW (the above article, the Salman Pak training camp, and lots of other evidence) is simply false.


Anonymous said...

Excellent Qwinn! I completely agree. Your comment clearly displays the difference between intelligence and wisdom. A big problem with the public discourse is that too many people equate the two - particularly academics (for obvious reasons) :)

Anonymous said...

An absence of evidence does not equal evidence of absence.

This line of reasoning can be used to justify nearly any claim, no matter how absurd.

I have no doubt that, at some point, Iraq may have talked with al Qaeda. But there is not a shred of evidence that there way any Iraqi involvement in 9/11. And if simply talking to radical militants was a crime worthy of U.S. invasion, we'd be occupying every country in the Middle East.

Regarding the Salman Pak facility, several U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that claims it was used to train al Qaeda were bogus, and were ginned up by members of the INC, an organization that was actively trying to get the U.S. to overthrow Saddam.

John Fast said...

Timothy Burke said "If it's something we dealt with in the course at some level of specificity, I'm more comfortable holding a student accountable for it. But sometimes I really do feel the need to write a lengthy comment about what seems like more generalized ignorance. But when you're aware that the source of that ignorance is generalized through the whole society, then it's hard to individualize the critical response."

Students have a responsibility to make sure that everything they state in a paper is correct. Holding them responsible for errors even when those are the conventional wisdom is part of the teaching process; otherwise, it would be wrong to test students on anything that wasn't common knowledge.

The misuse of "it's/its" and "your/you're" and the use of "gratuitous" quotation marks is also generalized through the whole society, and I would have no hesitation about correcting them, and penalizing a student's grade for them.

Of course I would also offer the student a chance to provide evidence in support of their assertion -- and use *that* to teach the difference between "What talk show host X or partisan commentator Y said on television" and "evidence."

Anonymous said...

Saddam had the motive, resources, and the opportunity (through a multitude of contacts with AQ) to have been involved in 9/11. Considering the gross miscalculations and failures of all the intelligence agencies on a regular basis, a person would have to be a fool to think it an absurd idea for Iraq to have been covertly involved somehow (and completely kooky, or thoroughly ignorant, to say that Iraq WAS definitely behind 9/11.)

Anonymous said...

2/3 of people are just rather stupid.

i do believe that as a teacher you're obligated to address this generally with whatever tools are availible to you.

but can we can it with the unsupportable contention that people who believe that saddam blew up the towers are only repeating what fox news or the bush administration told them?

i've encountered a number of fools who seem to simultaneously believe that saddam and the u.s. government blew up the towers, and they tend to be people who were 13 years old when 9-11 occurred.

it's also widely held that jfk was assinated by the cia and that nixon started the vietnam war. are these misgivings the result of rightwing connivances also?

you're adding to rather than dispelling the shroud of ignorance when you misattribute the "saddam did 9-11" misapprehension to bush and/or fox.

ordinal said...

I see that the partisan troll brigade has begun operations, which is a shame. Oh well. Never mind them.

This would depress me too, but they deserve at least a red underline and a mark saying "not factually correct" or similar. I remember getting one on a report that I wrote where I had been very confused by media reports. Mind you, I was about five years old.

Anonymous said...

Who ever said Saddam was responsible for 911 ? This was a point made by anti-war Dems not Bush or his stupid supporters. However,your entire agruement is irrational... your trying to make an issue with an anti-war talking point that is off the point entirely and therefore in the end hurtful to the anti-war movement.
Stupid, factless rhetoric doesn't accomplish anything. Also, profanity, namecalling and other noncohesive thoughts hurt our chances of convincing others that pushing for redeployment of our troops LESS possible.

Anonymous said...

I ended up to this post looking for something totally else but I found it very interesting to read. I'm aware that it is an old post and that my comment might end up unnoticed, but I still need to write it here.
I wish to encourage all the teachers that try to teach children the truth and the facts. Go on! Don't give up. Talk to the children, talk as much as you can and teach them to judge with their own brains and to search for the facts by their own. That is so important! As it is the fact that the USA is affecting the situation in the wholw world, I'm almost willing to say that American teachers have just a tad bit more responsibility for the situation in the world, although, the teachers all together have big part in forming future grownups and it is a real joy to see people who are aware of that.
I must say that in my country children do not even get the opportunity to make such nonfactual remarks, since they lear only facts, plenty of facts and no relations between them, no conclusions, they may make their own conclusions, but nobody is asking them to tell them.
When I went to school, we were taught facts too, but only partially with some not always logical conclusions. I was lucky because my parents would then tell me about the facts that were skipped at school, but many people think just the same as they were taught with no wish to do their own researching. But my country is little and our ignorant people are not in position to affect the situation in the world, while it is very important that the ignorance is faught in the big countries.
So, thank you.

Lina from Croatia