Course Developers Aim for Balanced Approach
The organized effort to introduce the nuclear issue into high-school curricula began in earnest with the World Congress on Disarmament Education held in Paris in June 1980 under the auspices of unesco. The congress focused international attention on the topic and produced the "Ten Principles of Disarmament Education" as a guide for educators trying to gather and prepare teaching materials for courses on the subject.
It was about that time that a curriculum called "Decision Making in a Nuclear Age" was developed in the Brookline (Mass.) school system as part of a larger curriculum-development project called "Facing History and Ourselves." The nuclear-issues curriculum was formulated by Roberta M. Snow, a former teacher and coordinator of the curriculum project and Elizabeth Lewis, a curriculum specialist with the school system.
According to Ms. Snow, the curriculum is not "a biased approach to teach about pacifism, conflict resolution, and disarmament."
Instead, she says, "Decision Making in a Nuclear Age is about how man has used or tried to limit the use of nuclear weapons. The curriculum is presented in a nonthreatening atmosphere with emphasis on dialogue and debate."
It is also a curriculum about "empowerment," she says. "How do you empower people to take a stand, to take the risk of making a difference in the world, whether it is stopping a neighborhood fight or becoming active in nuclear politics?"
The Brookline pilot curriculum is designed for high-school students, can run from six weeks to an entire semester, and can be adapted for use in English, social-studies, history, political-science, or even psychology classes. Instructional materials include case studies, examples of moral dilemmas, documentary and other films, and selected readings.
"One whole portion of the curriculum," says Ms. Snow, "provides role models for participation. The students take a look at people who took a stand and the difference that one person made in the world. It helps the students develop the skills they need to participate in a democracy."
David Svendsen, director of The Educational Cooperative (or tec School), a con-sortium of nine public schools west of Boston, uses that curriculum in the tec School. Reading from an essay about the new force that has been added to the world, Mr. Svendsen sets the stage for classroom discussion: "How many, if any, countries have dropped the bomb?'' he asks.
One student answers six or seven.
"Which ones?" asks Mr. Svendsen, and when he gets a halting and inaccurate answer, he corrects it and continues to ask questions. "Was it right or wrong for the United States to use an atomic bomb on Japan? Can you win a limited nuclear war?"
The questions provoke a discussion of the ethical and political issues confronted by government leaders. They also reveal the students' ignorance of what Mr. Svendsen calls "the most important issue in their lives."
"Sure we can stop incoming missiles," says one senior. "The government has things we don't even know about that can stop them."
At the Northfield Mount Hermon School in western Massachusetts, the largest private boarding school in the nation, the Rev. James Antal, the school chaplain, teaches a course called "Historical and Ethical Perspectives on the Nuclear Arms Race, Nuclear Weapons, and Disarmament." It is offered only to seniors who have some background in international relations or ethics.
Mr. Antal passes out to his class of seniors a paper with a "time line" on it (a line segmented into years, beginning in the present and extending into the future) and asks the students to indicate on it what their personal dreams are. Do they hope to go to college? Get married? Have children?
When the students are finished, Mr. Antal passes out another "time line" and the instructions, this time, are "being as predictive as you can be concerning political events of the world, fill out the next 20 years."
With extraordinary frequency, says Mr. Antal, the students anticipate the eruption of nuclear war before the year 2000.
"Even though they may have themselves buying a house in the year 2005, most of them think that a nuclear war will occur around 1995," he points out.
"So at one level," Mr. Antal continues, "the students are conducting their routine lives of going to college, falling in love, or going out for sports. But on another level, they have an underlying fear that almost with predictive certainty they are going to die in a nuclear holocaust."
Robert Jay Lifton, professor of psychiatry at Yale University, calls this phenomenon "double life" and describes it as "immobilizing."
Dr. John Mack, a psychiatrist at the Harvard Medical School, has written: "We may be raising a generation of young people denied a basis for making long-term commitments and serviceable ideals, given over, of necessity, to doctrines of impulsivity and immediacy in their personal relationships and in their choice of activities, behaviors, and occupations."
Kathleen Kanet (rhsm) is director of the school program at the Intercommunity Center for Justice and Peace in New York City. She and William Russell, an educational consultant, have developed a one-semester course about nuclear issues called "The Specter of Nuclear War: Why the World Lives in Its Shadow," for senior-high-school and college students.
The course, which includes many of the same elements as other nuclear-issues programs, has not yet been taught at the high-school level. But teachers in three parochial schools in the New York area are learning to use the materials, and Sister Kanet expects the teachers will introduce the course in their classes next fall.
So far, most of the concern about the nuclear issue and the efforts to include it in curricula have been concentrated at the senior-high level. But students in the lower grades are also troubled about nuclear armaments, educators active in such efforts say.
"I teach very bright seventh and eighth graders in a very good school on Capitol Hill," says one District of Columbia teacher who asks not to be identified. "They don't believe they will be alive in three or four years. They believe they have no future."
Because of such powerful negative feelings, argues Ms. Snow, the most important object of any study of the nuclear issue in the classroom should be to give young people the feeling she calls "a sense of empowerment."
There are scattered signs that students are beginning to want that "empowerment." No one has conducted a systematic survey of their opinions, but some students have volunteered them.
In a recent letter to the Newton (Mass.) Graphic, a 17-year-old wrote: "I am speaking out. In fact, I'm shouting out. Fear and helplessness overwhelm me when I read articles on the possibility of nuclear war."
A course on nuclear issues was offered at the Cambridge Pilot school last fall, but its title implied it was a general contemporary-issues course. Four students enrolled. When the course name was changed to "Decision Making in a Nuclear Age," more than 40 students signed up.
And a 13-year-old Maryland student said: "I'm very aware of the danger of nuclear weapons, and I'd like to get the facts and be able to talk about it at school. But the only thing we've gotten is an outdated film from the 1950's about 'The Friendly Atom."
Hannah Doress, a tenth grader, requested that nuclear issues be taught in her school in Brookline, Mass. When she was told "if there's time," she and a classmate formed grasp, meaning Global Responsibility and Steps to Peace, to become knowl-edgeable about the threat of nuclear war and what they could do to prevent it.
"I'm scared," says Ms. Doress, "but I'm not going to let it affect me. I'd rather do something about it."
stop, which stands for Student Teacher Organization to Prevent Nuclear War, is another student-initiated organization working to increase public awareness of the dangers of nuclear war.
With members in 15 states and six fully developed chapters, stop's goal is to mobilize high-school students and teachers to help them educate their communities about the dangers of nuclear war and to persuade them in the process that they can make a difference.
In Plainfield, Vt., 12-year-old Nessa Rabin and 14-year-old Susan Rabin, with the help of several adults, started the Children's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. They solicited letters from other children to present to President Reagan asking that construction of nuclear weapons be stopped.
"The President," says Susan Rabin, "was too busy to meet with a bunch of children. The Vice President was going to be out of town, and even the White House youth-liaison officer, who was to accept the letters, canceled out at the last minute."
But the letters were read in front of the White House and then delivered by the children to the White House mail room.--S.D.