Goldberg teaches United States military history at the University of Texas at Arlington. She has been teaching this subject for nearly 30 years, but she recently told her department chair that she is no longer willing to teach the class.
More than half of the students who take her class are either “ROTC students, members of the National Guard, students who would soon enlist, retired ‘lifers’ veterans from the first Gulf War, veterans of one or several recent overseas deployments, or loved ones of service people.” Her course stops at Vietnam, but she has found that students tend to use her class to “work through personal issues originating in more recent conflicts.” Here is a taste of her essay from The Chronicle of Higher Education. (HT: Ralph Luker).
Whether the day’s discussion centered on the 17th-century European heritage of the American military, or the managerial revolution of the Progressive Era, it became disturbingly evident that many students could only consider historical questions through the lens of their own personal experiences. I do not blame them one bit, and occasionally their personal insights were relevant. But the emotional needs of those students unrelentingly pushed the class in a direction I was not comfortable with as a historian.
As the semester progressed, it became increasingly clear just how unprepared universities are to deal with the needs of these student veterans or their relatives. As a historian, my pedagogical goals focus on honing cognitive skills through the tool of history. These student veterans and their loved ones were seeking something my class could never provide and that I was not trained to offer.
One student veteran wrote me a harsh e-mail because an assigned book refuted the popular idea that colonial militias defeated their European adversaries by adopting Indian tactics of irregular warfare, especially sniping. That could not be true, the student angrily insisted, because of his own success as an Army sniper.