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Teaching Dissent and Dissenting on Teaching

January 01, 2002

"Nothing Wrong With Teaching What's Right About U.S." (Opinion, Dec. 30) is a breath of fresh air for our universities, where a majority of intellectuals have failed to observe our history with balance and dispassion. They have viewed scholars such as Stephen Ambrose with contempt because he looks at both the good and bad about America. I have long noted that our university system acts like a concentration camp system where only one political worldview is accepted: that "America's relations with the Third World are essentially wicked and that our country's domestic history can only be understood as a continuing battle over race, class and gender."

How many actually teach what America's values are, how they are represented in our Constitution and how we act upon them? The 1st Amendment is not extended to those who differ with the worldview and who think that "there is much good in what we do and stand for." I hope that balance is returning and scholars will in the future have a wider and more healthy perspective.

John Zimmerman

Huntington Beach

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Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman appropriately emphasizes that we university professors should teach what is right about the U.S. as well as its failings, and perhaps some academics in their eagerness to present criticisms have failed to do so. But, as Joel Beinin ("An Obligation to Question Prevailing Wisdom") points out, the purpose of higher education is to teach the capacity to think and analyze, to take a critical stance toward society and the actions of government. The role of a citizen in a democracy is to question, not simply to accept what authority presents.

So it seems the obligation of the academy is to examine with a critical eye the actions of our government in the present crisis. It is particularly important since, with some notable exceptions, there has been virtually no questioning of policies by the mainstream media. There has been no serious discussion of the alternatives to war, the role the U.S. should have vis-a-vis the United Nations, the extension of military activities beyond Afghanistan or the serious repression of dissent and undermining of rights by the administration. Instead, even to raise such questions is said by the attorney general to be unpatriotic. On the contrary, it is in accord with our country's highest ideals to question; this is the way we can best honor our heritage as Americans.

Charles Crittenden

Professor of Philosophy

Cal State Northridge

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Hoffman's essay is in fact a confession, long overdue, that fellow academics have long denigrated and grossly underrated our nation's goals and performance. Apparently, she has had an awakening since 9/11. It would indeed be an unexpected benefit of our nation's grievous wounding if the intellectual community could find the courage to stand up for America. Thank God, some of us in the Great Unwashed had it right all along.

Merlene Robb

Los Angeles

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