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.

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