Military Studies in Liberal Arts Education

Samuel R. Williamson Jr and Russel Van Wyk make an interesting point on the last page of an undergraduate documentary history of the Great War’s causes.

At the start of the new millennium, and after September 11, 2001, there is an urgent need for civilian understanding and control of the military forces of the state. Yet paradoxically, this need comes at a time when very few civilians in western society have had any direct experience in the military, either as members of the uniformed services or as students of strategic issues. Conversely, recent studies also show that many in the military have little appreciation of the American traditions of civil-military relations and even of the assumed tenets of civilian control.

I am unable to comment on their final assertion, but the rest of their comments speaks to a problem that has long bothered me. Why do we not teach more military history in our liberal arts programs? How can we expect our civilian leadership and the electorate more generally to make informed decisions about war and peace if we do not teach these questions in our institutions of higher learning?

This post originally appeared on my old history blog, Clio and Me, on this date.

Fluency and Accuracy

Students who have spent many years learning English with vocabulary and grammar exercises in their home countries sometimes have a hard time speaking when they arrive in the United States. This is especially the case if the major focus of their studies has been accuracy. They hesitate to say anything for fear of it getting it wrong. Such students need training in fluency. They need to practice talking and writing without stopping to correct themselves all the time. Yes, accuracy matters, but not at the cost of not being able to speak in the first place.

Students who have spent many years in the United States without formal training in English frequently experience the opposite problem. They can speak fluently, that is, they can say whatever is on their minds. But often they make mistakes. These mistakes probably did not matter at first, but the student finds that now they do, especially in a professional context. Such students need to study grammar and practice speaking and writing accurately.

Balancing fluency and accuracy is a tricky business though. Students emphasizing fluency still need to keep grammar in mind, and students improving their accuracy dare not become so concerned about accuracy that they can no longer speak easily. The trick is to find a healthy balance, and that balance will be different for each student.

This piece, written for my ESOL students, originally appeared on Language for You (now closed) on this date. Cartoon from the classic For Better or for Worse strip, May 8, 1981 (ID 4002), and added to this post on June 26, 2018.