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J. Byford1, S. Lennon2

1University of Memphis (UNITED STATES)
2Valdosta State University (UNITED STATES)
A conceptualized view of war and the moral dilemmas associated with conflict often does not indicate a sense of conformity among teachers, students, and society. In fact, many students have differing interpretations and expectations of the United States and NATO’s ongoing involvement / intervention in Southwest Asia and War on Terrorism. The intent of this research was to investigate students’ reasons, rationales, and reactions to a wartime fictional dilemma. At the time of the study was conducted, 652 students were enrolled in and purposive sampled from several sections of both United States history and World history courses. Eventually, 395 successful surveys were completed, providing a modest return rate of 61%. Student participation was strictly voluntary; with students having the options to stop the survey at anytime. Students read a short, fictional story of a military unit in either Afghanistan or Iraq, where a small group of soldiers captured what they perceived as a terrorist. Using a traditional four-point likert scale, as well as a seven-point Thurstone scale, participants “defined” the best answers / options given for a variety of ethical values related dilemmas. Survey results suggested two major findings. First, primary construct of the design was to illustrate morally difficult choices made by average public school seniors and juniors enrolled in high school government courses. Though no differentiation was made of common demographic groups, including that of gender and race, the researchers delineated populations of students in reference to their choices or decisions made towards issues pertinent or influential towards them. By developing a moral quandary the students were forced to make ‘hard’ decisions and then rate the difficulty in doing so. Student responses indicated that, like most children, large numbers chose morally ‘easy’ or popular choices. Second, the practical impact such a study has on teachers and pedagogy. Though always discussed and relentlessly encouraged, critical thinking analysis and discussion is notoriously hard to effectively implement in a classroom. Student discussions and reflections are commonplace in many history classes, regardless of age and subject, but the effectiveness and ‘level’ of such constructs is difficult to assess. The use of a scenario and survey instrument allows for intriguing possibilities in addressing this issue.