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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Diss-course

    Horror and history

    The story: French President Nicolas Sarkozy shocked his people last week by announcing an educational reform proposal that will set a new standard for teaching children about the Nazi Holocaust. Every fifth grader in the nation will be required to study, in intimate detail, the personal history of a French victim who died at their own age.

    The response: Arguments about Sarkozy’s ulterior motives are rampant. Some believe the religious language the president used to introduce the proposal marks it as another wacky fundamentalist move; others call it a strategy to downplay the cooperative role the French Vichy government played in the Nazi regime. But whatever Sarkozy’s reasoning, this is a great idea that pushes the boundaries of what public education can mean.

    History curriculum at the elementary level often focuses on indoctrination of children into their country’s propaganda machine, through prettified stories of founding fathers. Sarkozy’s initiative will instead confront young students with one of the most important lessons history offers: that the human saga is riddled with suffering.

    The world has been and remains a place where the heinous acts of torture committed daily often swell to the level of mass atrocities.

    Sure, in comparison with the numerous other crimes against humanity that have been committed, the Holocaust receives too much airplay. One can imagine students in the United States being asked to read the biography of a young American Indian forced to walk the Trail of Tears. But the lessons children will learn from this assignment transcend the specifics of one terrible time and place.

    Having been presented with the human face of violence-induced suffering at an impressionable age, French students will never be able to read about the attempted genocides that stare at us from our newspapers without understanding the tragic import of the headlines. Many children learn that the world is marred by sorrow first-hand; does it make any sense that those born into financial circumstances that might allow them to aid the less fortunate should be sheltered from this lesson?

    Many have criticized the proposal by suggesting it will be psychologically harmful to students. But in reality it simply requires that teachers and counselors be worth their salt; history is traumatizing, but a fifth grader can handle the truth with reassuring guidance and support. In a secure learning environment, young pupils can take an important look into the heart of darkness and return to a world fighting for the light.

    – Daniel Sullivan is a senior majoring in German studies and psychology.

    New planets bode well for extraterrestrial life

    The story: On Sunday, UA astronomy professor Michael Meyer, speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said that recent research suggests at least 20 percent, and possibly as many as 60 percent of stars similar to the sun are candidates for forming rocky planets. Those planets are potentially similar to Earth and more likely to be home to extraterrestrial life.

    The response: While we shouldn’t be expecting E.T. to come knocking at our door any more than we were before, this is good news for the possibility of life on planets other than our own. Until recently, most of the planets in other solar systems that we’ve discovered have been absolute monsters – far bigger than Jupiter, orbiting closer than Mercury to stars far larger than our own Sun.

    Such blazingly hot, gassy planets are not likely to be able to support life, and even if they were, certainly not like anything we’d recognize. But if Meyer and his team’s new research is right, there should be a bounty of Earth-like planets considering the some 100 million Sun-like stars estimated to exist in the galaxy.

    Even if only 20 percent have such planets, and only one in a thousand of those have life, there’d still be 20,000 planets with life. This thought has huge ramifications for us about where we came from as a species, who we are and our place in the universe. Actually finding extraterrestrial life would pose a challenge for many of the world’s religions, and almost certainly to our scientific theories.

    But while we wait for that, none of these findings necessarily makes it more likely that E.T. will drop in for a visit – though maybe it is a little more of a reason to keep tin foil on hand for a hat if the time does come.

    – Matt Styer is an interdisciplinary studies junior.

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