Some mid-term exams and some final exams just happened in my classroom. The one I had fun with was a question that used the NYT and BBC reports on the Holocaust Deniers' Love Fest in Tehran.
How could you go wrong with targets like David Duke, the Neturei Karta (or as they are known, the Unorthodox Jews), and the ever popular President Ahmadinejad headlining along with French and German jailbirds who just can't understand why their governments don't want them to spread falsehood world wide.
I asked the kids to identify the semantic tactics used and the errors of thinking, then explain them.
So far, so good. Taking a photo of dead people who were killed with bullets, gas, and starvation and saying they died of typhus. Unsubstantiated, but plausible. So if they want to deny the eye witness accounts and go with something merely plausible they can do it. (Just keep it to yourself and don't express it aloud.)
Expressing it aloud is stupid. It is not "ignorant" because they know there are first hand witnesses and affidavits. It is deliberate distortion of fact in the service of some other lie they are attached to. Generally these are lies that the perpetrators think will benefit them in some way.
And this is the real purpose of the essay assignment. To get my students to make the connection between the Holocaust Deniers and people who deny other facts.
Facts like the predictable decay of radioactive isotopes proving the age of minerals and fossils.
Facts like the relationship of increase of CO2 in the atmosphere to increasing temperature.
These people really have only two choices. North Korea or outer space. Life on another planet is a lot like life in North Korea. No news. Nothing unapproved gets in. Nothing. Nothing at all, just like the world they want. Ignorant and circumscribed by the rest of the universe.
I really liked the story last week of the young lady who had lived on a large farm with her extended family. She was doing some research and found a description of how religious cults work. She read a bit and thought "Hmm...that sounds a lot like my life." After reading a lot and talking to people, she realized that everybody's granddaddy didn't diddle them like hers did. She got pissed off and called the cops.
Too bad the citizens of North Korea can't call the cops.