History Professor Taps ‘Why We Serve’ Speakers to Substitute Teach
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
CINCINNATI, March 12, 2008 Scores of students at the University of Cincinnati will be surprised today to find their history courses taught by servicemembers in uniform instead of their familiar tweed coat-clad professor.
For the second consecutive semester, History Professor Tom Lorman will yield the lectern to participants of the Defense Department’s “Why We Serve” outreach program, which places military speakers before audiences at venues across the United States.
“The speakers will provide the students insight into what makes a warrior a warrior,” said Lorman, whose accent reveals his English upbringing. “You can’t hear from warriors of past, but you can hear from the speakers today, who have something in common with warriors of past.”
To maintain the presentations’ spontaneity, Lorman has not promoted the speakers’ appearances around campus, nor has he informed his students in advance about the visit. The professor’s pupils will arrive to his three regularly scheduled courses today, expecting to hear lectures on the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Era or the fall of communism.
But instead, they’ll be greeted with stories from Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans Air Force Capt. Edward V. Szczepanik, and Marine Capt. John N. Sand and Chief Warrant Officer Daniel K. Winnie, three of 10 current military members participating in the Defense Department program. After each servicemember’s presentation, students will be prompted to probe the servicemembers in a question-and-answer session.
The professor’s rationale for hosting the speakers is as much about challenging students’ assumptions as it is about educating them.
In addition to offering a modern perspective on military history, servicemember speakers -- through their articulate and even eloquent tales of service -- also test what Lorman describes as a common false assumption held by many students: the belief that troops are thoughtless automatons.
“By their very presence standing in front of students, talking without notes and answering questions whenever they’re thrown at them, (the speakers) show they’re every bit as articulate as the professor that teaches the classes on a regular basis,” he said.
Oftentimes misconceptions about servicemembers stem from scant interaction between American civilians and troops, underscoring U.S. citizens’ unfamiliarity with the military that protects them. The University of Cincinnati, located in middle-America and representing a cross-section of academics and social sectors, is as good a place as any to bridge this gap, Lorman said.
By virtue of being the closest resemblance to military figures depicted in college text books, the professor considers the flesh-and-blood troops living links to history.
“They touch on something that is unique to today, but is also universal in that war is part of life,” he said. “For a student of history, to understand what makes a warrior a warrior is essential to understanding what makes the world go ‘round.”
Aside from an advanced class on Eastern Europe, Lorman teaches survey courses on World History and European Civilization. In the latter two courses, which are attended primarily by non-history majors, the professor emphasized that he has to make his lessons relevant if his pupils are going to connect, an approach that has proven successful.
“Lorman is the best teacher I have had so far at (University of Cincinnati),” one satisfied student of Lorman’s European Civilization survey course writes on a Web site where pupils discuss their college professors. “He relates history to today and doesn’t make it seem so ancient.”