History 411: Human Fallibility


Students in this course will investigate how humans’ inherent fallibility has denied our species from fully achieving health, happiness, and a sustainable existence.  We will examine the choices people have made, throughout recorded history, with an eye toward understanding why individuals so often seem incapable of “doing the right thing,” and why the systems/policies developed by societies so often benefit only a portion of the populace.  The topics examined include the likelihood that both individual and organized groups of human beings will …

  • see those who are different in some way as automatically being an inferior “other,”
  • pursue self-centered actions at the expense of working for the collective good,
  • devote an inordinate amount of time and energy praying to and fighting over imaginary deities (often ignoring the moral codes of religion),
  • ignore women’s and girl’s potential to contribute to society and undervalue their actual contributions,
  • support political leaders whose policies are harmful to the individuals and/or to the community,
  • prefer previously held beliefs to facts-based evidence,
  • live life as if death was not imminent, and
  • treat Earth’s resources as if they were unlimited.


For a final project, students will be asked to document one individual, from history or personal experience, who has positively influenced multiple other people, either through the example they set or through their words of encouragement, leading to a reduction in human fallibility within that person’s community.  Students will then be asked to comment on how their own behavior or decisions have been impacted by learning about this individual.  On the last day of class, students will share which of their fallibilities they will be discarding.