Hobbes VS Locke, Sovereignty, Democracy, and Star Trek?

I know – this is a blog about using comics in the classroom, and here I am posting about Star Trek – I figure it all goes under the topic of creative teaching.  I was hesitant to geek out with the students – but they responded positively and enjoyed the lesson.

This lesson is intended to be used in an Advanced Placement European History course – but it certainly could be adopted to other topics and/or levels.

Materials –

Star Trek TOS episode “A Taste of Armageddon” – aired on February 23, 1967.  Can be purchased on DVD or through Amazon instant video

Online essay by David W. Felder of Florida A & M University – “The Call for a World Constitutional Convention: An Application of John Locke’s Theory of Revolution.

Prior teacher discussion or assigned textbook readings on Hobbes and Locke.

Assignment Part 1

Students take home the Felder essay and annotate – also write a one-page reflection paper.

Assignment Part 2 – will need 55-60 minute period.

Students will be handed a directions sheet to guide them as they watch the Star Trek episode –

1. Do you agree or disagree with the planetary leadership’s methods of fighting a war in the show?  Defend.

2. How does the TV show tie into the essay – make direct connections – bullet a list.

3. Would the idea of a World Constitutional Convention work in practice?  Defend – using examples from the TV show.

Assignment Part 3 – additional resources and conversation starters:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/can-killer-robots-learn-follow-rules-war-180951581/?no-ist  — use of robots in warfare

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DQsG3TKQ0I&list=PLUv8Gg8W5rFWr60PhBDOadNmLNrwGMeMz&index=33 – Skynet becomes aware – Terminator

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4Wn2wlOwSU — Trailer for the Star Trek episode.  It can also be cheaply purchased from Amazon video.

http://www.amazon.com/Sling-Stone-Century-Military-Classics/dp/0760324077/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1414625809&sr=1-1&keywords=the+sling+and+the+stone  — The Sling and the Stone – an amazing book on the generations of warfare and how technology has changed – but also how generals often fight the previous war.   I have the students read an excerpt and then predict what they think the next generation of war will look like.

http://thehumanist.com/magazine/july-august-2014/up-front/robo-morality  — can robots be programmed to be moral?


I am only finished up to Part 2 at this point – I am looking forward to collecting the students’ written answers/responses after viewing the episode.  It has been a fun experience for me as I was able to share a passion of mine with the students and to show them how I make connections (such an overlooked skill in the age of Google searches).  We were able to discuss how Roddenberry had used the TV series as a protest against the Vietnam War (http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/62/franklin62art.htm),  how Lt. Ohura was an icon for the Civil Rights Movement (http://www.npr.org/2011/01/17/132942461/Star-Treks-Uhura-Reflects-On-MLK-Encounter), we discussed the special effects, how women were treated, etc — so much in one TV show – a true reflection on society.

My purpose here is to have the students really debate the merits and shortcomings of both Hobbes and Locke as they deal with governmental authority and the social contract.  My hope is that I am able to make these philosophers become more “real” by putting their ideals up against modern day issues.  While it would certainly be nice, a la Locke, to have a world convention and eliminate war through the social contract, it really is not feasible (does this make me a realist or pessimist?).   The major issue would be to have all cultures in the world come to agreement on morality – not an easy task.  Of course, this also opens the discussion to issues of ethno and euro-centrism as well.

100 Years War through comics

The first comic I introduced to my students this year was Crecy, by Warren Ellis.  The lesson was inspired by a quote from their textbook – “The longbow, not chivalry, had won the day” (Beck, 402).  As if often the case, the textbook summed up a crucial turning point in history in only a few sentences.  Looking to find a way to teach this subject in a more engaging and deeper manner, I decided to try the graphic novel.  I will admit to “editing” the text a bit as some of the language was a bit much for the classroom, but it did not take away from the story.

I teach my Western Civilization class, we actually titled it Historical Inquiry, as a historiography course as well – the students learn how to become historians and that history does not have a “right” answer or depiction.  The beginning skills are focused on annotating a source – written, picture, song, poem, artifact, comic book, etc – and becoming a detective by pulling out as much specific “textual” evidence as possible.  This comic book enabled the students to use an engaging and exciting medium to better understand the 100 Years War, by focusing on these skills.  Additionally, an important skill for annotating is making connections – so I also shared with my students my own personal connections in this lesson, beginning with the quote from the textbook and ending with the graphic novel/movie 300.

We had been working on another task earlier in the class – I told the students that the reward would be to read a “bloody and gory” comic book.  I really had the attention of the students after uttering the sentence!

The task – read the graphic novel on your desk and answer the following two questions, using specific textual evidence.

1. The English army, far outnumbered and behind enemy lines, managed to win the Battle of Crecy.  Bullet as many English tactics as you can find in the novel.

2. This battle helped bring about the end of the ideals of chivalry and the importance of nobles/knights on the battlefield.  Use specific textual evidence to defend this idea.

As the students read, I could see the excited looks on their faces as they came across ever more exciting material – many made grossed out sounds (in a good way) as they wrote down their answers.  It took a bit of reminding from me for the students to not share with each other until everyone was finished.  As soon as I allowed the time for pair/share, the students became animated in their responses as they tried to show who had found the most pieces of evidence.  They excitedly flipped back and forth through the pages, pointing out to each other items that stood out or that others had missed.  As I circulated through the class, I smiled as I watched them engaged in a skill-based lesson as they perfectly showcased how to annotate a text.  Previously, we had been working on annotating the textbook, but that lesson was a much tougher sell, albeit an important one.  My favorite part of the lesson was when students realized that they could use pictures, in addition to text, to defend their answers.  Often, students will skip maps, pictures, etc. in a textbook – this drove home the importance of viewing all parts of a resource in order to develop the whole picture.

Below is what the students pulled out –

•Terrorist strike force – burning villages and shooting arrows from horseback – “king cannot protect you”
•Put arrows in the ground to get them dirty – germs in wounds
•Within 50 yards – arrows punch through plate mail
•Swallowheads– against horses.
•Barbs  –  hook and stay in flesh
•Fire in huge volleys
•Kill the enemy at different spots – pile up the bodies and make it hard for cavalry to charge
•8 arrows in forty seconds – time for best knights to cross field
•Misericord – small dagger to kill unhorsed knights
•Target horses!
•Ordinary Englishmen killed nobles – not supposed to happen
This lesson took all of about 20-25 minutes and the students absolutely loved it!  As they left, they were still discussing what they learned and how excited they were to have read such an awesome comic book in class.  We continued this line of thinking in the next class as I showed an iMovie I had created on the Danse Macabre.  I had the students look at many drawings/paintings of the Bubonic Plague as Iron Maiden’s Dance of Death played in the background.  Their task was to showcase who was affected by the Plague (using specific examples), how to describe the time period, and to summarize the lesson in one word.
       Following is the link for the powerpoint I used in the class  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0q0hv_n2-9xYWtMSW03LUhLUVk/view?usp=sharing – I hope it is viewable.  If you would like a copy of anything, or more information, I look forward to hearing from you – historycomicsguy@gmail.com  or @historycomics