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Dr. Elizabeth Cobbs publishes in the Los Angeles Times

Op-Ed: Lessons from Afghanistan for a high school history class


U.S. military plane departs Kabul airport

A U.S. military plane departs the Kabul airport on Aug. 30.
(Wali Sabawoon / Associated Press)

America’s schoolchildren don’t resist learning from history. Policymakers do.

President Biden ended a war in Afghanistan that his three predecessors pursued (and rued) for 20 years. As a young man he criticized a war in Vietnam supported by five presidents.

High school students want to love their country. They want to understand why America intervenes militarily in other nations, when Americans would not like anyone else doing that to them. If teachers explain this carefully, they can help students become hopeful citizens and give them tools to both advocate American values and avoid war in the future. It is hard to think of a nobler goal as this school year begins.

The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan last month provides just the latest opportunity to discuss U.S. ambitions and shortcomings. As someone who has taught history for several decades, I would offer the following three-week lesson plan to guide that conversation. Once 14-year-olds master the subject, they can share the lessons with politicians.


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