A majority of American high school seniors surveyed in the days leading up to the start of the war in Iraq expressed support for such U.S. action, according to a poll released last week.
Many students, meanwhile, are making their opposition known by staging protests, calling for teach-ins, or demanding that teachers raise the topic.
Almost 66 percent of the seniors surveyed said they agreed that the United States should take military action to depose Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But only 40 percent of those questioned before the war’s start on March 19 said U.S. forces should “take action soon.”
Of the 1,001 students polled, 55 percent said they believed President Bush was too anxious to go to war against Iraq.
The phone poll was conducted by the firm Zogby International from March 12 to March 18, based on questions developed by professors and students at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. Its margin of error is 3 percentage points.
Despite the poll’s finding of students’ willingness to support a war, dissenting voices are also being heard. Administrators have faced questions of how to respond when students skip class to attend protests.
In Indiana, administrators suspended 16 students for three days for walking out of North Central High School on March 18 for an anti-war protest. The discipline was warranted because the students disobeyed the principal’s warning that leaving school would be considered an unexcused absence, said Eugene G. White, the superintendent of the 10,000-student Metropolitan School District of Washington Township, in northern Indianapolis. “Once the principal made the announcement, they were insubordinate and interrupting the school day,” he said.
Likewise, 20 students at the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, in Pennsylvania, were suspended for one day after they walked out of school on March 5 to protest the possibility of war.
The Los Angeles school district, however, allowed students to leave school to attend organized protests.
“They have a right to protest,” said Susan K. Cox, a spokeswoman for the 737,000-student district. “We just want them to do it in a safe manner and then return to the classroom.”
In the poll, students generally supported those who have voiced opposition to the war. Only 28 percent of those surveyed said that protesting against a war was unpatriotic.
Outside the United States, thousands of high school students in Australia, France, Greece, Scotland, and Sweden demonstrated against the war.
Some administrators in American schools have been pressed by students to make changes in the school day to address the issue of war.
Olympia Scott, 14, a freshman at Canarsie High School in New York City’s Brooklyn borough, contends that teachers have been sidestepping the issue. She wants her school to hold an assembly where experts would present the case for and against the war.
“We talk about it, but it’s not part of our lessons,” said Ms. Scott, who opposes the war. “It’s just little conversations with teachers before and after class,” she added.
The school needs to find experts, she argued, because most teachers support the war, and students need to hear voices from the other side.
Daniel V. Tumolo, the school’s assistant principal for social studies, said many teachers have discussed the issue in class, but students have not expressed an interest in organizing pro- or anti-war events.
“If anything,” he said, “we would want to encourage full and open discussion on such a crucial issue as the nation going to war.”