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Other Opiates: What kids know

Mark Goldblatt

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It's a freshman writing assignment I give every semester: Respond in your journals to the following quotation: "Religion is the opiate of the masses." After the students copy the words into their notebooks, I ask them to name the author. I do this now out of a mixture of curiosity and masochism; very likely, none of them will know. In the ten years I've been assigning the quotation, only five students have immediately identified Karl Marx as the author -- and all five were foreign students. So as usual, in the semester just ended, after the initial silence, I offered them a hint: The author was German.

They pondered this for a moment. Finally, an older black student named Maxine raised her hand. "Was it Martin Luther?"

The class roared with laughter.

Their reaction puzzled me. It didn't seem such a bad guess. Luther was German, and he did write about religion. As Maxine glanced around, another student tapped her on the shoulder. "Don't you know he was a brother?"

The reason for the laughter suddenly dawned on me. The entire class had assumed Maxine meant Martin Luther King -- their jaws dropped as I explained who Martin Luther was.

Read the complete article on the National Review Online website.



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