Editor's Notebook

By Simpson, Michael | Social Education, November-December 2004 | Go to article overview

Editor's Notebook


Simpson, Michael, Social Education


AS WE LOOK AHEAD to the oaths of office that will be taken next January, one striking fact that will impress students of history is that the very first act signed into law by George Washington was one regulating the oaths to be taken by the president, members of the Senate and House of Representatives, and state legislators and officers. In the Teaching with Documents feature that is the lead article of this issue, Lee Ann Potter shows how teachers can use that 1789 act as a primary document introducing the concept and development of the oaths of office. The commitments they represent and the principles of allegiance and loyalty that they embody remind us of the grave responsibilities of public office.

Our Teaching with Documents column is the result of longstanding cooperation between the National Archives and NCSS. We are happy to bring to the attention of our readers a major new permanent exhibition at the National Archives beginning on November 12. The "Public Vaults" exhibition will display some of the most striking documents, photographs, films, videos, maps, and sound recordings at the National Archives that "reveal the evolving story of what it means to be American." (see page 433) Whenever you are in Washington, D.C., it will be well worth a visit!

A number of articles in this edition of SOCIAL EDUCATION deal with problems arising from the lack of international protection of human and democratic rights. Samuel Totten, whose past writings on genocide have been so instructive to our readers, was a member of the Darfur Atrocities Documentation Project that recently conducted research among refugees in Chad to determine whether genocide was being perpetrated in Darfur. He paints a very grim picture of atrocities and ethnic cleansing in the region, and urges immediate international action to prevent genocide. To complement his powerful personal account, we add two background features with general information--an article and lesson plan on Darfur prepared by PBS, and a set of key questions and answers about the crisis there by Human Rights Watch.

What can be done to prevent and punish war crimes and other crimes against humanity? A lesson plan from the Center for Teaching International Relations deals with this question, focusing on the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002. The United States has refused to join the ICC and the lesson plan examines the pros and cons of the U.S. position. This is one of a large number of lesson plans designed to help teachers deal with international issues that have been published by the center, which is headquartered in the University of Denver's Graduate School of International Studies.

Ed O'Brien examines another dimension of human rights--the problem of torture. He looks at U.S. commitments to international conventions prohibiting torture in light of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He shows how a position adopted by the Bush administration that these international conventions did not apply to the war against terrorists resulted in the development of interrogation practices at Guantanamo Bay that ignored the conventions. These practices later carried over into Iraq. …

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