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Author Topic: Western Civ class becomes Bible Lesson -- WWYD  (Read 4869 times)
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« Topic Start: February 29, 2008, 07:08:20 pm »

So I am in my first semester of community college and I am taking the first part of History of Western Civilization since it is required by my major...  I actually had high hopes for the class since it covers some stuff very relevant to someone like me, as I am interested in the bastions of civilizations and religion (Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia).  If nothing else I thought it would allow me to better understand the context of religious thought throughout the ages...

So we are on Rome right now and the book has a couple of paragraphs on Jesus.  It doesn't go in-depth too much, just presents a few brief notes about when he was thought to be born and crucified.  It seems my teacher decided to beef up the curriculum and today started giving out more information on Jesus.

At the very beginning of his lengthy monologue that went on for over 20 minutes, I raised my hand and said that I think he was starting to cross the lines of history and religious doctrine.  At least one other person in class agreed and chimed in saying that this seemed like more of a question of faith than history.  I mentioned the fact that the very fact Jesus lived is under debate and that I knew one of the major sources of "proof" commonly cited by believers is thought to be forged.  He corrected me and mentioned Josephus, and I immediately knew that was the name I was thinking of.  I said that I was pretty sure the documents in question were the material alleged to be that of Josephus, to which he countered something to the effect of "Well, I haven't heard that.  If they're forged then I think a lot of people will have to rethink their history."  All I could manage at this point was "I'll bring it in."

Ironically this was exactly the point I was trying to make as to why he should not be teaching this in a history class.  I realized that I was fighting a losing battle and that for the most part the teacher was preaching to the choir since I suspect most of the students were probably Christian.  I bit my tongue and pull out my music player and voice recorder at this point and start recording the lecture.

So he went on to ask the class what we knew about the life of Jesus, and he took cues from the class...  At points it was quite obvious he was fishing for answers of biblical origin (primarily gospels).  He even went so far to talk about the Annunciation (angels coming down to Mary and Joseph telling them that they were having the son of God), and the whole resurrecting and coming back to speak with his followers which he alluded was the catalyst for the creation of Christianity.

So I am pretty livid about the whole situation...  For one, I went through 12 years of Catholic school and was forced to listen to this stuff far longer than most by the time I graduated the 8th grade.  I had thought that school (particularly public schools and colleges) would be fairly secular in terms of content.  I did not sign up to a Western Civilization course so I could take an extra semester of Christian rhetoric.  Secondly, I looked it up and it does seem that the Josephus documents are generally understood to be forged by many, the subject of constant debate, and even rebuked by some Christians who know history a little better.  So I was right to challenge what he was spouting off to the class as fact, and by his own quip about rewriting history he has practically disproved half of what he was saying.

I don't know where I stand exactly on Jesus, whether or not he really lived or if the lore is a collaboration of pagan myths (there are lots of interesting books on this)...  However I don't think that discussion as in-depth as this belongs in a secular history class.  It's one thing to bring up Jesus as a sort of enigma that affected history be him real or figment, but to tell a bunch of impressionable college kids that this is all "generally accepted" really pisses me off.  I have no problem accepting a brief overview of Western religions as part of the history of Western Civilization.  This whole Jesus lesson just felt like Sunday school to me.

I don't know what I should do.  As soon as he told me that the Josephus thing was valid, I told him I would bring him in some material that would prove contrary.  But I don't know how to handle it, if I should just leave a massive pile of printouts proving my point on his desk with a brief letter of explanation or if I should just go straight over his head and try sending a letter to school administration.  Either way I think it's going to rock the boat and possibly affect my grade.  We have only had one test so far (I was one of only 3 people in the class who got an A, the majority of the rest of the class failed - 19 students)  As one of the few people who actually has done the work and pays attention to class I feel like I am obligated to rise to the occasion and "be the guy" that calls this teacher out on his mistake.  I just don't know how to do it without royally screwing myself over.  In the end I am tempted to throw caution to the wind and just make my point, because I guess even though I might not believe in what he's teaching, I believe that there is some sort of karma or something that makes my challenge have merit.

So if you are one of those people like me that thinks on principle rather than what might be the smartest thing to do for your own benefit, what would you do in this situation?
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« Reply #1: February 29, 2008, 07:51:34 pm »

So if you are one of those people like me that thinks on principle rather than what might be the smartest thing to do for your own benefit, what would you do in this situation?

In my Western Civ class we did have entire lecture overviews of the three big monotheist religions.  However, my teacher did them from an objective point of view.  From what I can tell, your teacher's attitude it seems as though he was trying to give a sermon.

I can see your problem.  Two semesters ago, I corrected my Humanities 101 teacher on something (she said the Jews built the pyramids).  I got an A in that class.  Later in Western Civ, I corrected the teacher during a lecture on Henry VIII (for mixing up his father and brother's names).  I didn't want to seem obnoxious so I didn't correct her when she said that two of his wives met their death at the guillotine.

Anyway, you could try to point this out to him on your own.  I don't think it will effect your grade because he could easily be fired for that.
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« Reply #2: February 29, 2008, 07:58:30 pm »

So if you are one of those people like me that thinks on principle rather than what might be the smartest thing to do for your own benefit, what would you do in this situation?

Hmmm this is tricky as it could potentially affect your grade.  However I think something needs to be done if he has gone on from history in to the regions of personal faith. He should be looking at things in historical contexts not in the same light as a Sunday Class.   If those sources are not “generally accepted” then he is damaging everyone in your class’s education, especially if they take classes further in those specific areas.

I would either send a letter to the head of the department or who ever is in charge of him detailing your concerns and complaints or go in and speak to them. He is being very unprofessional, as well as a dreadful teacher, especially if he is not even mentioning that some of his sources are controversial. 

I would not speak to him about it, if you decide to, be sure to have a witness to ensure that this won’t feck you over.
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« Reply #3: February 29, 2008, 08:15:58 pm »

I would either send a letter to the head of the department or who ever is in charge of him detailing your concerns and complaints or go in and speak to them. He is being very unprofessional, as well as a dreadful teacher, especially if he is not even mentioning that some of his sources are controversial. 

This seems to be better advice than what I gave.  At least it would give you some degree of anonymousness.

Quote
I would not speak to him about it, if you decide to, be sure to have a witness to ensure that this won’t feck you over.

No need to censure yourself Cam Wink

Anyway to add a point, I would keep that voice recording as evidence.  And if you confront your teacher about this again, record that as well.
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« Reply #4: February 29, 2008, 08:17:08 pm »


Whatever I did, I'd document it.

And what I'd do depends a bit on the school - is it public or private?  if it's private, is it religiously affiliated?  If it's religiously affiliated, you're SOL.  but if it's public, or they make a point of being religiously neutral, I'd say go to the department head.  You said you recorded the lecture?  Bring that with you.  Point out that what's being taught is NOT history.

I can't help but wonder - is this a professor, or is this a TA or otherwise someone just teaching this class?  if it's someone with tenure, not much you can do.  if it's a TA or something, though, they both might not realize they've crossed a line and really shouldn't've gone there.  Or the might not care because it doesn't affect them anyway.

But really.  document.  cover your ass.  Because if it's someone that'll be vindictive, not being able to cover your ass will screw you.
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« Reply #5: February 29, 2008, 09:39:26 pm »

So I am in my first semester of community college and I am taking the first part of History of Western Civilization since it is required by my major... 

This is a college course, right? Being exposed to different ideas than one holds is part of the whole college experience. Unless this stuff shows up on a test and only "Biblically Correct" answers are acceptable or this guy does the Christian religion bit every day, I just ignore it.

Heck, I even took an economics course in college just to hear the professor's Really Weird Ideas (like the government should just print more money when it needs it rather than borrow it). I don't think many "impressionable young minds" bought into it, either.  Reporting him for teaching BS wouldn't have made any difference. Not only did he have tenure, but he was (former Governor) John Connelly's older brother. But no one even thought of complaining as his class was always enjoyable and his tests easy -- so long as one was willing to parrot back his Weird Economics theories.
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« Reply #6: February 29, 2008, 10:24:51 pm »

This is a college course, right? Being exposed to different ideas than one holds is part of the whole college experience. Unless this stuff shows up on a test and only "Biblically Correct" answers are acceptable or this guy does the Christian religion bit every day, I just ignore it.

Yes, college course.  Not a religious school.  I see what you are saying.  Maybe it would be best for me to ignore it, I dunno.  I have been listening to the first half of what I recorded and he does seem to take a step away from being connected from the material but at the same time he is weaving in stuff from the Gospels as part of this sort of timeline of Jesus' life...  For instance, roughly quoting from my recorder:  Remember, one of the miracles that he had was he had five thousand people who had come out, well, one gospel says five thousand men, another gospel says five thousand people.  But y’know that at least it was five thousand, it could’ve been more than actually five thousand.  Uh, and he feeds those folks, uh, because they’re, they’re uh, hungry.  Feeds them with five loaves and two fishes."

I kind of have a problem with that being presented in a History of Western Civilization class under that context Also, he talks about the three Magi visiting Jesus, which of course is from the gospels.

rough quote:
"the Magi get there, uh, 12 days after the birth, uh, y’know, frankincense and myrrh, y’know, all that stuff.  But, they realized that that uhm, Herod was up to no good, so they went back by a different route."

For instance, take this site

http://www.pyracantha.com/Z/3magi.html

which says

Quote
The first thing we must remember is that the story of the Three Magi is just that - a STORY. It is not history, and is not meant to relate an actual incident (of course, there is always the chance that it actually happened, but no one will ever be able to prove it). This is a sacred story, and every detail in it is meant to convey a symbolic spiritual meaning. The fact that this is a story and not history does not mean that everything in it is false. Stories are told using real data, and thus the tellers of the story of the Magi could draw on actual details of the cosmopolitan civilization they knew in the first century A.D.

The point is it's not historical, it's from the Gospel of Matthew.  I am not trying to deny that Christianity had an effect on Western Civilization (no doubt it did) but this was like 25 straight minutes on Jesus.

I think the guy is a decent teacher but I just don't agree with the way he is presenting this material, especially considering he did this minutes AFTER it was brought to his attention that some of this stuff seems less historical and more faith-based.

I mean, recently we covered Greek plays/satyr plays briefly.  He didn't go on a 25 minute spiel about Pan.  We covered Egypt and we didn't learn about Ra and Isis (we learned about Ma'at, not as a goddess but as a sort of idea of pie in the sky righteousness).

I dunno, just seems really out of balance.  I will probably just bring in a bunch of stuff I printed about the legitimacy of the Josephus passages being debated and even denied by some Christian sources.  As he said to me, if the Josephus stuff is a forgery, then a lot of people are going to take another look at the way history is written.  I am not looking to get him in trouble or make him hate my guts.  He seems like a decent teacher and a nice enough guy but I really was taken aback that he would do something like this in a secular environment, even after being called on it.
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« Reply #7: March 01, 2008, 01:29:27 pm »


Two quick thoughts.

One is why talked so long about Jesus and not about other Gods. Being in America it is sensible that Jesus gets more air time since Christianity had a massive effect on the formation and culture of the USA. That doesn't excuse preaching basically, but it does justify a longer reflection on Christianity than one would give, say, Confusianism. It is an unavoidable fact that the USA while moving to a "post-Christian" setting has a history as a mostly Christian nation. Again though, doesn't excuse preaching in a Community College.

Second is on Jesus historically. There is enough historical evidence to say reasonably that Jesus as a human being lived. The Josephus text you are refering to is a complicated matter. There are two references to Jesus in his writings and one seems legit, the other not. He mentions Jesus as a Rabbi that lead a Messianic sect which is the accepted notation. However, there is another mention later that refers to Jesus as the Messiah (I think) and that passage is believe to have been added later. Also, the Roman historian Tacitus mentions Jesus as a person in the right time and executed by Pontious Pilot. Other evidence exists but this not the time or place for. I'm just saying that arguing the historical existance of a Jewish Rabbi named Jesus is not worthwhile. There is enough evidence to say that a Rabbi named Jesus lived in the 1st century and was killed. The rest of the New Testament and whatnot, that is another matter. (Luke is shockingly historically accurate actually but that is not here nor there.)

Now, for what I think you should do.

If this is an isolated occurance, let it go. Annoying, sure, but whatever. If it happens again, talk to the professor about how you feel that his lecture is off-putting to non-Christians. If he doesn't listen, go to his Dean with the same complaint. Don't argue though and don't try to disprove him. If he really does believe the Biblical account then a student telling him he's wrong isn't going to sway him. If anything you'll just make it worse because you'll feed a potentially hostile "I'm being repressed" response. So, like others have said, let it slide unless it happens again.

I completely sympathise. I'm taking a Faith and Film class at my school and I get weary of having to couch everything in Christian terms. The difference of course is that I'm at a Christian school but it is still aggrivating. At least you don't have to listen to it. I do since I'm in a religious school so count your blessings.
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« Reply #8: March 02, 2008, 03:13:54 am »

So if you are one of those people like me that thinks on principle rather than what might be the smartest thing to do for your own benefit, what would you do in this situation?

What I would do is keep your recorder ready for further instances of bullshit. Should he rise to the occassion, talk to him outside of class (office hours, maybe?) and explain that you think he's being unprofessional. This would probably also be the time to show him your research on Josephus. If he's a good professor, he'll at least consider your input and keep the preaching out of class. If he's not a good, he'll do it again and you'll have ammunition to go over his head. But the most important thing I can recommend here is: Do NOT go over his head without first giving him a chance.

So, say he goes off again. Go directly to the head of your department (I don't know if you have the same system we go in Canada) or to the dean. Document when you talked to whom about what. Then let the process take it from there. Chances will be that yours will not have been the first complaint.

Good luck!
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« Reply #9: March 02, 2008, 08:27:04 am »

What I would do is keep your recorder ready for further instances of bullshit. Should he rise to the occassion, talk to him outside of class (office hours, maybe?) and explain that you think he's being unprofessional. This would probably also be the time to show him your research on Josephus.

I don't think I'd start by saying he's being unprofessional if I talked to him about it. I'd probably start by saying the amount of Christian theology being taught in class makes me uncomfortable (giving as an example treating the gospels as historical fact, or the like) and that I was wondering why it was being included. This tells the professor that you are uncomfortable with it but gives him a chance to explain why he's including it. He might actually have a decent reason -- it seems doubtful from the description given, but it's certainly possible.
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« Reply #10: March 02, 2008, 10:57:42 am »

So if you are one of those people like me that thinks on principle rather than what might be the smartest thing to do for your own benefit, what would you do in this situation?
Since so much of Western Civilization past a certain time has been, and still is being, heavily influenced by Christianity, I'd tend to let it slide.  (Though it would be interesting to see if he treats Muslim theology the same way when you get to that period in time.)

You said it was a college class and not a religious school, but I don't see if you said it was a public or a private college?  If it's a public school (and you're in America) there could be church and state issues if he's doing actual preaching.  (Which is where everyone's recommendation to tape the lectures will come in handy.)  But if it's a private school, I don't think there's much you can do beyond talking to him about your discomfort, and if he disregards your concerns lodging a complaint with the dean and dropping the class.

To be honest, I have a hard time with this one.  My first reaction on reading the post was you might be being a bit over-sensitive.  This doesn't reflect on you, but was caused by the fact that I have encountered so many pagans who would consider any mention of Christianity to be "preaching."  Since the influence of Christianity is a vital part of the history of Western Civilization for the last 2000 years, that would be a serious over reaction in this particular class.  Again, not saying this is what happened, especially if he was unaware that some of his historical sources are questionable!  (Pretty scary for a history professor.)  But I felt the need to mention it.  Maybe something worth keeping in mind.
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« Reply #11: March 02, 2008, 02:14:26 pm »

To be honest, I have a hard time with this one.  My first reaction on reading the post was you might be being a bit over-sensitive.  This doesn't reflect on you, but was caused by the fact that I have encountered so many pagans who would consider any mention of Christianity to be "preaching."  Since the influence of Christianity is a vital part of the history of Western Civilization for the last 2000 years, that would be a serious over reaction in this particular class.
Me too, not saying you're oversensitive, but could you be misinterpreting your prof's intentions? I must say that I've never studied in the US and can't imagine a prof/docent preaching in history class, if that's common in the US there's a chance that you are right.

It sounds like it was the first lesson and it's a usual teaching tactic to 'fetch students where they are'. Your teacher would assume that many Christians know a few things about antiquity and go for the Christian angle to activate that knowledge.

I had a wonderful teacher in middle age literature and there wouldn't be any lesson without theology (well, it's the middle age). You could tell by the tone of her voice that she didn't like the celtic stuff, but only by her tone. She would make sure that everyone knew about the possible linking of the communion chalice with the cauldron of Ceridwen for example. She wouldn't miss all the atrocities the church did or the ridiculous stuff it taught either, though you could tell by her voice when she adored a specific medieval theologist (such as Johannes Scotus Eriugena, lol) and disapproved of another. When she talked about ancient 'fertility cults' with a slightly hint of disgust or estrangement in her voice, I just rolled my eyes. She wouldn't preach against it, but explain it in a scientific manner. So I always loved her lecture although I don't like the Catholic church. The important thing for me was that I learned loads of interesting stuff - and Christian theology is interesting, even if you don't believe in it. (Well, the point was, she didn't teach theology for itsself, but linked it with everything else that was going on in the middle ages.) There was also an atheist teacher teaching the same subject, but I didn't like her lessons that much.

If you're sure your teacher is preaching I would just go to his office hours and tell him you have the impression that he is preaching, but you're sitting in his classes for history. If he really does teach wrong history and continues with it, I'd talk with other students, older ones if you find some. You may not be the first one to notice this and probably the can help you. Is there a student self organization in the US? Do you have a college news paper?
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« Reply #12: March 03, 2008, 12:53:29 am »

I don't think I'd start by saying he's being unprofessional if I talked to him about it. I'd probably start by saying the amount of Christian theology being taught in class makes me uncomfortable (giving as an example treating the gospels as historical fact, or the like) and that I was wondering why it was being included. This tells the professor that you are uncomfortable with it but gives him a chance to explain why he's including it. He might actually have a decent reason -- it seems doubtful from the description given, but it's certainly possible.

Touche.
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« Reply #13: June 13, 2008, 08:38:56 pm »


As a professor at a community college (who teaches comparative religions, among other things), I think you are radically overreacting, and I think the dean will think so as well.

First, you're not correct on the debate about whether Jesus existed; there's more evidence for Jesus than for Homer. His EXISTENCE isn't really in doubt. What he DID with it is. When a student presents "pop scholarship" to me as if HE knows better than *I* do because while I only have a doctoral degree, he's in his first semester of college and read some mass-market books on trendy alternatheories that weren't published in academic texts because they're not supportable, I take that as either hugely entertaining or wildly antagonistic (depending on my mood, the student's presentation, the level of crazy involved, and the number of times I've heard it presented). To me, your summary of what you presented sounds no different than students who get up in my face about how "it's PROVEN!" that evolution is false. It primarily signals that they're indoctrinated and uneducated. I've had this discussion:

(EDIT: Please see next post for clarification of above. Only boldface words inserted, nothing deleted or changed.)

Quote
I mentioned the fact that the very fact Jesus lived is under debate and that I knew one of the major sources of "proof" commonly cited by believers is thought to be forged.  He corrected me and mentioned Josephus, and I immediately knew that was the name I was thinking of.  I said that I was pretty sure the documents in question were the material alleged to be that of Josephus, to which he countered something to the effect of "Well, I haven't heard that.  If they're forged then I think a lot of people will have to rethink their history."  All I could manage at this point was "I'll bring it in."

probably a dozen times. If I said something like that, I would be trying to politely sidestep cutting you off at the knees in class so I could move on with the material I felt was relevant. I generally resist coming down on a student espousing a discredited theory or a popular revisionist set of ideas like the ton of academic bricks I can be, because he's my STUDENT and I'm there to teach, not crush. And honestly, beyond a certain point, not to debate. You don't get to come into my classroom and claim evolution isn't true, for example. There are some things so absurd or irrelevant I'm not debating them, because I have things I have to teach and I'm not going to be sidetracked for an entire class period by something I KNOW is a can of worms. I know this makes some of my students feel proudly superior because "Ha! She didn't answer my objections because she can't! I'm right! She's wrong!" but that's really their loss.

This:

Quote
So we are on Rome right now and the book has a couple of paragraphs on Jesus.  It doesn't go in-depth too much, just presents a few brief notes about when he was thought to be born and crucified.  It seems my teacher decided to beef up the curriculum and today started giving out more information on Jesus.

is called good lecturing. If I just recite what's in the book, what exactly am I there for? Expanding on the text is the name of the game. And trust me, there's a lot of temptation just to recite the text in some classes where nobody's reading the book.

Quote
At points it was quite obvious he was fishing for answers of biblical origin (primarily gospels).  He even went so far to talk about the Annunciation (angels coming down to Mary and Joseph telling them that they were having the son of God), and the whole resurrecting and coming back to speak with his followers which he alluded was the catalyst for the creation of Christianity.

And you don't think the fact that these events AS BELIEVED BY CHRISTIANS were the catalyst for the creation -- or at least development -- of Christianity and underlie the dominant form of Western thought for 1500 years-ish is reason enough to go into them in depth? If I just stand there and give you the current scholarly ideas about Jesus, and don't tell you what the early Christians, medieval Christians, Enlightenment Christians THOUGHT, I've been absolutely NO use in helping you understand the intellectual climate that drives the history of the West. How does explaining modern understandings of the factual underpinnings (or lack thereof) of the Gospel stories help you understand the religious motivations for the Crusades?

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However I don't think that discussion as in-depth as this belongs in a secular history class.  It's one thing to bring up Jesus as a sort of enigma that affected history be him real or figment, but to tell a bunch of impressionable college kids that this is all "generally accepted" really pisses me off.  I have no problem accepting a brief overview of Western religions as part of the history of Western Civilization.

I think you're failing to appreciate the importance of religion in most of Western history, then. "And then some guys had some wars over some stuff, which we're not going to talk about, because it's not appropriate for a secular history class." Well, we can just skip ahead to um ... never?

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what would you do in this situation?

I would realize that you are in college now. The school is not there to protect your feelings or your sensitivities. How would you feel if one of your classmates insisted Darwin get skipped over because Darwin offended THEM? You are also there to LEARN, and you don't seem very open to that in this post (though I realize you're posting in anger); if you already know everything the professor has to teach, and you know everywhere he's wrong, why are you in the class?

I would follow Randall's advice that:
This is a college course, right? Being exposed to different ideas than one holds is part of the whole college experience. Unless this stuff shows up on a test and only "Biblically Correct" answers are acceptable or this guy does the Christian religion bit every day, I just ignore it.

And realize that unless he goes that far, to insist that the Bible is fact? (As distinct from insisting you understand the popular understanding of the Bible at various points in history, which is an entirely fair thing to put on a test.) It's possible it's a pedagogical strategy.

If it won't hurt your feelings, I'll tell you what typically happens with complaints like this from students, but that might fall under the category of not wanting to know how sausages are made. Smiley

-Koi
« Last Edit: June 13, 2008, 08:47:15 pm by Koimichra » Logged
Koimichra
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« Reply #14: June 13, 2008, 08:46:18 pm »

What he DID with it is. When a student presents "pop scholarship" to me as if HE knows better than *I* do because while I only have a doctoral degree, he's in his first semester of college and read some mass-market books on trendy alternatheories that weren't published in academic texts because they're not supportable, I take that as either hugely entertaining or wildly antagonistic (depending on my mood, the student's presentation, the level of crazy involved, and the number of times I've heard it presented). To me, your summary of what you presented sounds no different than students who get up in my face about how "it's PROVEN!" that evolution is false. It primarily signals that they're indoctrinated and uneducated.

Which is not to say that you're indoctrinated or uneducated necessarily, but that you are at the BEGINNING of your education, and it's clear from the statements you make here that your knowledge of the topic at hand is incomplete.

-Koi
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