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Teaching & Understanding Sept 11 Mark Hamm & Paul Leighton

IN THE PRESENCE OF FEAR: Brief comment and syllabus

Deborah Louis, Carroll Community College

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I have borrowed this title from a collection of essays by Wendell Berry,* as it has come to represent for me a common baseline for understanding both the motivations and the complex aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001 -- an aftermath that is still unfolding, which constitutes our present, and which promises to define the fabric of our lives and those of others in the global community for at least a generation to come.  It reminds us that the point of  terrorism is fear, and that it is fear which rests at the foundation of the spectrum of responses -- from unthinking to thoughtful, from vengeful to strategic, from personal to political -- which characterizes America’s current discourse, decisionmaking, and action (though not always, and perhaps only occasionally, in that order).

The consequences of the resulting choices we make, however, are staggering in their  implications for the course of world events from this point forward, and for the temper and quality of our own everyday lives.  It is recognition of this import that is prompting calls for reason, for the interjection of “interpretation” between the stimulus and response components of our behavior, from both within and outside of our national community.  As scholars, scientists, and educators we have a unique and compelling role in guiding and informing the discourse in all its forms and venues, from the classroom to the community, from library acquisitions to research proposals, from faculty senates to Congressional hearings, from scholarly journals to the popular press.  If we are not the voices of reason, who is?

The specific courses we happen to be teaching should not preclude incorporation of learning experiences directly related to 9/11.  While such opportunities are fairly obvious in respect to history, philosophy, literature, journalism, and the pantheon of social sciences, I know math and physics teachers who have integrated missile trajectories, stress points and threshholds, and explosive capacity of jet fuel into their respective curricula, and bio-chemistry and genetics teachers who have integrated bio-terrorism topics into theirs.  From education to allied health professions to environmental sciences to accounting, there is room in any standard curriculum for discussion of and application to issues arising from the events of Terrible Tuesday.

In keeping with the editors’ pleas for brevity, I would simply like to share three thoughts  regarding “teaching about 9/11” based on my own experience and observations since that date:  1) More of us should be doing it.  2) Not all of us should do it.  3) Doing it well generates ripples of reason and compassion which flow outward from the classroom through complex community networks, do not stop with the end of the term, and change attitudes and perceptions in a fundamental way with corresponding qualitative change in the public debate.  Not one to reinvent wheels, I would urge my colleagues who are ambivalent about addressing terrorism topics in the classroom to read Jennifer Taylor’s article “Facilitating Difficult Discussions: Processing the September 11 Attacks in Undergraduate Classrooms” in Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy: Special Issue on Terrorism and Its Consequences, The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues 2002, pp. 143-150.  On first reading, I was startled at how closely her experience paralleled my own, and I have since found that it is especially useful for assessing to what extent one’s own temperament, pedagogical style, and group dynamics skills are compatible with fruitful management of this (or any) highly-charged topic.  More of us should be doing it.  Some of us shouldn’t.

For us, we are in the presence of two sets of fears -- those that we share with our fellow citizens about personal and community safety, security, and the prospect of horrors to come, and those we share with our professional colleagues about precipitating conflict in the classroom, risking peer and/or institutional criticism, and cruising into uncharted intellectual waters with untested flotation and navigational devices.  As scholars, scientists and educators, however, we should know better than most the ultimate folly of allowing fear to dictate our actions and choices, of allowing ignorance to prevail over knowledge, and of allowing conformity to stifle debate -- at least without a helluva fight!


*“In the Presence of Fear: Three Essays for a Changed World,” available online from The Orion Society at www.oriononline.org .


SPRING 2002 • POLS-198-01

COURSE DESCRIPTION:  POLS 198 (3 credits) -- An interdisciplinary approach to understanding contemporary terrorism and evaluating potential effectiveness of alternative responses to it. Drawing from insights and analytical tools offered by psychology, sociology, political science, history, and philosophy, students will explore the causes and consequences of the attack on the World Trade Center from both U.S. and global perspectives.  Emphasis will be placed on observing and evaluating the actual formation of social and public policy resulting from these events, and the roles of citizens and leaders in this process.

TEXTS:   • Terrorism: An Introduction, Jonathan White, Wadsworth Press

                • The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon, Grove Press

                • The Lion’s Game, Nelson DeMille, Warner Books

COURSE OBJECTIVES:  Students will gain a working knowledge of the issues, people, and vocabulary associated with the contemporary use of terrorism to achieve political goals, and the specific experience of the events of September 11.  [additional objectives]


2/4-6  Introduction.  Review of syllabus, approach, and expectations.  Definition and criminology of terrorism. (White/1)

Historical Perspective: Evolution and context of terrorism as a strategy to accomplish political goals.

2/11-13 History and organization of contemporary terrorism (White/2&3).

2/18-20 Faith-based terrorism and revolutionary violence (White/4&5; “The Dark Side of Moral Conviction,” Elizabeth Mullen).

2/25-27 Understanding the Western pespective. Philosophical roots of internal and external conflicts in perception; pluralism, exclusion, and the status of women.

3/4-6  Understanding the Middle East. Origins of Mid-East terrorism (White/7).

3/11-13 Palestine, Iran and Osama bin Ladin (White/9&10).

3/18-20 Understanding Islam. PBS documentary: Islam: Empire of Faith

Guest  facilitator:  Dr. Don Hoepfer, CCC Philosophy Professor

Understanding September 11: The dynamics of terrorism from individuals to geo-politics.

 4/1-3  Psychology of terrorism.  Perpetrators (DeMILLE; FANON; “Are Terrorists  Mentally Deranged?” Charles Ruby). [Are terrorists psychotic?]

Victims (“In the Wake of Terrorist Attack, Hatred May  Mask Fear,” Jennifer    Freyd). Read-aloud: “First Writing Since,” poem by Suheir Hammad.

4/8-10  Sociology of terrorism.  Contexts and outcomes (DeMILLE; FANON; “Them and Us: Hidden Ideologies--Differences in Degree or Kind?” Rhoda Unger, Brandeis University; “Understanding Collective Hatred,” Niza Yanay, Ben Gurion University; “A Time to Hate: Situational Antecedents of Intergroup Bias,”  Phyllis Gerstenfeld, California State University; “Evil and the Instigation of Collective Violence,” David Mandel, University of Victoria).

 4/15-17 The global community and U.S. foreign policy (“Globalization: A Choice Between Death and Death,” Jean-Bertrand Aristede; Letter to UN Security Council, Ramsey Clark; “Interview of Zbigniew Brzezinski,” Le Nouvel Observateur, 1/15/98; “Invaders,” Elaine Sciolino, NYT 9/23/01).

4/22-24 Technology and terrorism. Weapons and communications (White/15&16).

Responding to Terrorism: The roles of citizens and states in shaping strategies to achieve common goals.

4/29-5/1 Living in anxious times.  Feeling safe at home (FEMA training manual).

Guest facilitator: Lt. Terry Katz, Westminster Barrack Commander, MDSP

5/6-8  Freedom vs. security (White/17; “In Defense of Freedom at a Time of Crisis,” joint recommendations of 126 U.S. rights organizations).  Film: The Siege.

5/13-15 Policy choices: Reducing the threat of terrorism.  Alternative proposals for immediate action (“Reflections on September 11; Lessons from Four Psychological Perspectives,” Kevin Lanning; “Responding to September 11: A Conflict Resolution

Scholar/Practitioner Perspective, Eben Weitzman and Darren Kew, University of Massachusetts; “From the Best Minds in the World,” Nobel Peace Prize Symposium; “Violence Doesn’t Work,” Howard Zinn).  Read-aloud: "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear," essay by Wendell Berry.

5/20  Inventing long-term solutions -- class project presentations.


On reserve for this class at the Learning Resource Center:

Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy: Special Issue on Terrorism and Its Consequences, The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues 2002.

September 11: Context and Consequences: An Anthology, ed. Misha Klein and Adrian McIntyre, University of California at Berkeley 2002.

September 11 Terrorism Sourcebook, Vols. 1&2, assembled for student use by Dr. Deborah Louis, Carroll Community College 2001-2.

Emergency Response to Terrorism, Basic Concepts: Fire and EMS, training manual currently being used by Carroll County emergency services, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 2002.

The Common Courage Reader: Essays for an Informed Democracy, ed. Kevin Griffith, Common Courage Press 2000.

The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama Bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism, Simon Reeve, Northwestern University Press 1999.

Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century, Cindy Combs, Prentice-Hall 1999.

Insurgency and Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare, Bard O'Neill, Brasseys, Inc. 1990.

Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs, Noam Chomsky, South End Press 2000.

In addition, the web page for this class provides links to a variety of internet resources related to 9/11, the unfolding "war on terrorism," and specific subtopics addressed in the course (access through Learning Resource Center site).


[NOTE:  the "course objectives" from a teaching standpoint are of course different from the "objectives" as synthesized for students in the syllabus--in case these are useful, they are, as extracted from the course proposal:

• To familiarize students with the history of terrorism, U.S. foreign policy, Islam, and conflict in the Mid-East.

• To identify the primary locations, leaders, and organizations associated with the WTC attack.

• To examine and evaluate the range of policy options available to the U.S. in response.

• To recognize and evaluate the philosophical underpinnings of this ideological conflict and of the policy alternatives available to both sides and their respective allies.

• To explore common concerns about safety, civil liberties, and intergroup relations within the  U.S.

• To understand the psychology of terrorism, for both perpetrators and victims.

• To distinguish between rhetoric and information in political speech and reporting.

• To explore the meaning of "responsible citizenship" in tense and fearful times.

• To acquire lasting frames of reference and critical skills that will be useful both in subsequent academic pursuits and in interpreting the political and social environment in which students will continue to live their lives.]




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