At War With Peace Studies

Metro Monday.  Welcome to the frequently delayed, rattling Red Line blasting into the heart of DC.  In a fit of early AM workaday depression, I take that extra step and rip a filthy, stained Washington Post out from under the slumbering mass of the Burger Queen filling both seats across from me.  It’s Sunday’s paper, dispelling the hope that they actually do have cleaners who fix up the trains every night.  Flipping through in a feeble attempt to find good, non-sensationalist journalism, I run across an article that hollows my soul. 

I see “Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School,” my alma mater, and I see “Peace Studies Class,” Colman McCarthy’s enlightening and influential course.  I see a picture of two yahoos on the front lawn of the BCC campus and I see the word “banning.”  I say to myself:  Just put it down.  What you don’t know… 



In spring 92, my final semester at BCC, I signed up for Colman McCarthy’s peace studies class.  Founded in 1988, the elective was a sort of pass-fail thing, but everyone passed if they showed up even a few times, and McCarthy stood in as a volunteer lecturer.  He didn’t represent the school and, repeatedly, bent or broke the rules.  Right down to smuggling in live farm animals and controversial speakers (back in the days when you could walk around freely and the two security guards spent all day at McDonalds across the street). 

McCarthy worked for the Washington Post and maintained the Center for Teaching Peace – a weird kitchen table outfit dedicated to “promoting peace through education.”  The class at BCC is one of many supported by the Center.   McCarthy’s main thrust is pacifism and animal rights, focusing these ideals in the classroom setting.  It’s a somewhat dated philosophy, too.  It’s pacifism as the word is defined, not just anti-war in Iraq, which is how the Post article struggled with the idea.  It’s animal rights in that it’s our individual responsibility to make the right choices as educated, aware consumers, not to band together and blow shit up.  I don’t adhere to the philosophy because I think we should shoot Bush and I love cheeseburgers, but it all made sense.  McCarthy isn’t a screeching liberal ignoring every side besides his own.  He can see.  And he’s a good guy with lots to say.


The class was one of the most fundamentally important high school courses I took. It inspired something rare for a teenaged high school mind:  Interaction, thought and focus.  It influenced the path I took during the awful transition to college life, how I approached my degree and how I live today.  It helped me examine my place – and role – in this world.  It helped me through rough social and family times.  Not in the sense that it gave me dogma to believe in and use as a crutch.  The lesson wasn’t save the turkeys or stop the war, the lesson was:  Know thyself.  Be aware of your world.  Of harm, both as it comes to you and as you inflict it upon others.


Was there a bias in the class?  Well, of course.  Everyone is biased towards something.  But the class wasn’t about the bias.  McCarthy’s only agenda was to teach us what he knew.  He did not enforce his views on us.  He was then, and is now, one of the few teachers who actually taught.  That is, he inspired, he welcomed opinions, and he didn’t look down on us like so many other teachers.  His teachings were simply the foundation for whatever mixed opinions rose out of the class.  His work was designed to promote discussion, which he then fielded.  We weren’t a chore, we weren’t even a project. 


We were a bunch of stupid high school seniors, and he was a highly intelligent and successful journalist, yet he put us on equal footing and heard whatever we said without belittling us or even contradicting those who went against his opinions.   Find that in the classroom today – I dare you.  We all had value in his eyes, and we all felt it.


So here we go.  I plow through the article, and what are the modern high school seniors thinking?  Two kids have come out and petitioned to ban Peace Studies, claiming that McCarthy has a hidden agenda in a Red Scare sort of way, I guess.  Here’s what one of the fools said:

“I know I’m not the first to bring this up but why has there been no concerted effort to remove Peace Studies from among the B-CC courses?  The ‘class’ is headed by an individual with a political agenda, who wants to teach students the ‘right’ way of thinking by giving them facts that are skewed in one direction.”


Let’s name these fruitcakes — Andrew Saraf  and his wingman, Avishek Panth.  Two 17 year olds with a small view of the world around them. They seek not only to ban an elective, but they have never taken the course, they have sat in on only one class, they have not researched McCarthy, nor have they even spoken with him.  I’ll let that sink in for a minute.  Because this article got four columns in the Post.

Oh, and those major flaws in their argument aren’t thanks to good reporting or a rebuttal from McCarthy’s camp.  These goofballs admitted that they knew nothing about the course in the article.  They’re all for stirring up trouble and voicing other people’s ideas but, when asked, they shrug and say they don’t really know anything about it.  Yet the Post gives them tremendous space.  Two kids spouting nonsense get half a page.  They attack without provocation and they get their picture in the paper.  How does something like that happen?  Is it an elaborate and expensive attempt to expose the idiots of the world, or was it just a slow news day?


I don’t know where to begin.  Condemn the long condemnable Washington Post for legitimizing these two pricks, or wonder what the fuck is wrong with kids these days?  Boy, there’s something I never thought I’d say.  For Andrew and Avishek, I pity the rest of their lives.  If liberal activism is what they fear, then I can only suggest a small, Midwest, religious-affiliated college.  Maybe they should sign up with the Mormons and do some missionary work instead of going to school.  Because that’s the only way they’ll preserve themselves.  McCarthy’s class isn’t even on the same iceberg as what these two idiots will soon see on their college campus.  McCarthy listens to the other side.  Even back in 92 we had a bloc of conservatives in the class who sniped McCarthy at every turn, and he was thrilled by it.  You could speak your mind and he would embrace it, put you to the test, and he didn’t always win the argument.  Maybe Andrew and Avishek fear anyone who asks questions, no matter which way they lean.  But, wait – they’re asking questions. 


Or maybe those two brats are simply parroting what their elders are saying.  They lash out against a high school elective without knowing anything about it, based entirely on hearsay and uninformed opinions.  Hell, isn’t that how we got involved in this current war?  Maybe Andrew and Avishek represent all of us.  Maybe it’s time we just gave up and let the wave of insanity and vicious ignorance take over.    


Put those two bastards back in the fish tank.  If they manage to make any headway, I’ll just have to egg their houses.  Well, that’s what we did in 92.    What do high school seniors do in 2006?  Rape each others grandmothers?  Whatever the modern day pranks are, I’ll do them.


Another big worry:  Saraf and Panth?  Those are suspicious names.  I’m not the first to bring this up, but why haven’t these kids been investigated?  Based on the names and the picture in the paper, I think they’re terrorists and should be punished immediately.

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