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Kant and Korea

Our first full week is finished and our students are already building intellectual and interpersonal memories that will endure far beyond the semester.

On Monday we began Ethics and Leadership class with The Infamous Skittles Scenario (you can read the handout here), a memorable simulation designed to mimic the “State of Nature” that social contract theorists like Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau posit. The simulation sent students scurrying after sealed bags of Skittles, which represented essential resources needed for survival. Along the way, some lost their eyesight, some became allergic to certain colors, some found others who needed to be saved, and some found medical kits that could cure ailments. Afterward, we had a fantastic debriefing discussion in which students reflected on human nature and the way states interact with each other. The morning concluded with an overview of Western ethical philosophy, as students learned the essentials of Aristotle, Kant, and John Stuart Mill. visit this page soon to view a video of our lecture. The session not only provided an introduction to ethical thinking methods, but also previewed the week’s case study on North Korea.

As the week progressed, students attended their first English, History, Math, Science, and Foreign Language classes. They also played Capture the Flag and Ultimate Frisbee in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, completed homework in their first study halls of the term, and benefited from SEGL’s brand new residence hall kitchen (which includes far more storage than before).

On Thursday we resumed our study of North Korea. We considered three key questions: 1) Given the current political and humanitarian situation in North Korea, should the United States give humanitarian aid to North Korea, and if so, how much? 2) Should the United States pursue sanctions toward North Korea, and if so, to what extent? 3) Should the United States attempt to negotiate with Kim Jong Il, and if so, under what circumstances? After a short film on Stanley Milgram’s classic studies of obedience, Scott Snyder, one of the world’s leading experts on North Korea and a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, introduced several related ethical policy dilemmas and told us of his many trips to the country. After lunch, we trekked to the State Department to meet with Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Secretary Campbell reports directly to Hillary Clinton and is the lead policymaker on arguably the most critical area of the world; an area that includes India, China, and, of course, North Korea. Later that afternoon, we heard from Gordan Flake, Executive Director of the Mansfield Foundation (and, with Snyder, arguably the nation’s leading North Korea expert), who spoke charismatically on a variety of topics. Among his more memorable lines: “If anyone tells you they know a lot about North Korea, don’t believe him. No one knows a lot about North Korea.”

On Friday, we braved another day of 90+ degree heat and walked to the South Korean Embassy. Wonwoo Yi, one of five South Korean delegates to the recent Six Party Talks with North Korea, shared with us the South Korean perspective. Our culminating discussion back at the academic building included meaningful deliberation and wrestling with our three key questions.

Saturday morning’s English class connected to the first of our case study questions (it also connected to our study of Aristotle’s On Rhetoric). Students read “The Singer Solution to World Poverty,” by Peter Singer, and “Lifeboat Ethics: the Case Against Helping the Poor,” by Garrett Hardin. These articles are among the most important and controversial that the students will read this semester, and the conversation was so engaging that our two hour session was over before we knew it.

Saturday afternoon, students made their first trip to Eastern Market, a newly-restored DC institution. That evening, after a dinner of homemade turkey burgers and sweet potato fries, we walked around the entire National Mall, visiting each of the key monuments in high spirits and with the slightest hint of fall crispness in the air.

Sep 5, 2010

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