The Most Disturbing Thing I Ever Witnessed in a College Class

  • The Year: 1993
  • The College: The University of Central Arkansas
  • The Course: Educational Psychology

In a class called “Educational Psychology,” the bell curve, a statistical concept often used to describe the distribution of intelligence in humans, should be expected to receive some attention, and, when I took the class, it did — for about five minutes. I found the image below here; in this class, the professor drew a somewhat simpler version of it on a chalkboard.

Empirical_Rule (1)

The professor (who should be glad I do not remember his name, since I would blog it) proceeded to describe, briefly, characteristics associated with different “columns” of the bell curve, as some in academia apply it to intelligence. He then said, “Actually, what I’ve always really wanted to do was to get rid of these people.” He then added an “x” to what he’d drawn on the board. I’ve made it red, simply to make the location where he drew his “x” easier to see.


I sat, in shocked silence, as the majority of the students in the class laughed. Laughed.

Once I could move again, after the initial, paralyzing shock turned into a deepening horror, I looked around the classroom. No one looked appalled, as I was; no one else even seemed to be disturbed, nor even slightly upset. Some were still visibly amused, in fact. I considered objecting, directly to the professor, but I was so affected by the whole episode that I was experiencing severe nausea. I couldn’t speak, for fear of throwing up.

The professor may not have known this — in fact, I would be surprised if he had — but what he was “joking” about has actually happened. It was called the Cambodian genocide, and was carried out by one of the most brutal regimes of the 20th Century, the Khmer Rouge. One of their tools used to stay in power was intimidation, taken to an extreme. In this photograph, from the article linked immediately above, you can see one form of this intimidation: the public display of the skulls of their victims. One need not be able to read to understand the message of such a display; below, the reason why this was important to the Khmer Rouge should become apparent.


I’ve studied this genocide. From just 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge, driven by a radical Stalinist-Maoist and extremely anti-intellectual ideology, managed to reduce the population of Cambodia by an estimated 25%. They targeted, among many others, teachers. They separated children from their parents, since parents are often known to teach their children. They killed people who were seen wearing glasses — because glasses are often used to help people read books. They did their utmost to wipe out as much of the high-intelligence part of the bell curve as possible. They did their best to eliminate literacy.

Those who survived this horror were still devastated, for a whole nation had been traumatized — just imagine an entire country with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). To make this situation even worse, the very people who could have helped most with the post-Khmer-Rouge recovery (doctors, therapists, teachers, clergy, etc. — all professions which require education) were almost entirely wiped out, and the people who could train new recruits for such professions had also been killed. As a direct result of this targeting of intellectuals for slaughter, the effects of the Cambodian genocide lasted far longer than the regime which perpetrated it.

I was thinking about this as the class period ended. In a daze, I walked away — far away. Even though I did return for future class sessions, since the course was a requirement for teacher certification, I never listened to another word that professor said, for he had permanently lost all credibility with me. At the end of the term, I left his class with an “A,” and a renewed determination to oppose those who, like the Khmer Rouge, try to “dumb down” society — at every opportunity. As for the people of Cambodia . . . they are still recovering, and will be, for many more years.

Wiping out a group of people — any group — simply isn’t funny.