Dangerous Ideas

From time to time, it becomes clear that kids are relative innocents, and just as fearful of terrorists as the next average joe. So the news out of Oregon (http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2010/11/29/portland-bomb-plot.html)  was quite upsetting to everyone in class, and the notion that some kid would decide to blow up a town Christmas was quite awful to my students, and they wanted to discuss it much more than they wanted to discuss the American Revolutionary War or the lead-up to it.

You know, we don’t always make the best decisions as teachers.  But sometimes a dangerous idea just slips out, and you have to run with it.

“Look,” I said, “I know you don’t care about the Tea Party.  It happened two hundred years ago. It was a fight over taxes, and money, and whatever, it hardly relates to you at all. But we have to talk about this Tea Party thing. Really.”

There was murmured agreement, and a strong suggestion that maybe I should just let them talk about the Oregon bombing case.

“Sure,” I said, “AFTER we talk about the Boston Tea Party.”

Much moaning and groaning.

“No, no, you’ll like this. I want to emphasize that this is NOT the official history of the Boston Tea Party of 1773…

“Have you ever heard of the concept of a ‘False Flag Operation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_flag)’?  Or the legal concept of ‘Entrapment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entrapment)’?  Let’s see if the Boston Tea Party, and this Oregon kid’s story, make more sense after we understand these two words. Shall we?”

Forty-five minutes later, they’re leaving class looking a little dazed, and perhaps a little horrified.  It’s a new concept for them, this notion that history happens because men and women act for reasons of lust, or greed, or power, or envy, or spite, or to gain power, or to keep power.

It’s a new notion to them that history is written by the sinners.

I repeat my disclaimer at the end.  This isn’t the official history; this isn’t a known truth, for current events or for the start of the American Revolution. We don’t know if M0hamed Osman Muhamud was entrapped, or if he was the victim of a false flag operation, or if he was truly bent on jihad so thoroughly; and the truth of  the Boston Tea Party is lost in history’s mists, especially since the instigators mythologized it before it even ended at on the night of  December 16, 1773.

But I think we owe it to kids to explain that the study of history is the study of the uses and abuses of power, and that should include exposure to the dizzying and complex idea that sometimes the official ‘good guys’ really are out for blood.

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