Berkeley, Calif. — Along with the Louisiana Purchase and the Monroe Doctrine, Berkeley High School students will learn about their options under a military draft in their required American history classes starting this fall.
The city's board of education routinely and unanimously approved the draft education requirement at the request of Berkeley High's student senate.
The course unit, said board president and resolution sponsor Melinda Robinson , will "prepare our students for life in today's society -- a society that includes draft registration." She added that it would help them "to make informed decisions about their personal lives."
Mrs. Robinson emphasized that the instruction will be "balanced and factual" -- neither pro-draft nor anti-draft. "Our intent," she said, "is to educate, not to advocate."
The resolution, which grew out of student concern about currently required draft registration, mentioned the use of "appropriate educational materials" and volunteer outside speakers from groups such as the Berkeley Coalition for Draft Education, a local counseling organization.
Although the resolution was vague about the contents of the draft instruction and made no mention of the length of class time that would be devoted to it, there were immediate reports in the press that the course unit would last several weeks and "include presentations of alternatives to draft registration, possible strategies for avoiding prosecution, penalties for nonregistration, and current legal challenges to the draft."
Beth Mesnick, speaking for the school system, decried such inflammatory descriptions and referred to the wording of the resolution, which spoke solely of "a draft education unit as part of an appropriate course of instruction for the 1981-82 school year." She said it was passed "in a routine manner" with "less than 10 minutes" of discussion.
Mrs. Mesnick said the text of the resolution never mentioned draft "counseling," although it was entitled, "Resolution in Support of Draft Counseling Curriculum."
Various board of education members, speaking after the resolution's passage, have given differing versions of what the draft instruction would include -- a possible source of subsequent press confusion.
According to Mrs. Mesnick, preparation of the classes, part of the US history and government curriculum for all 11th and 12th graders, will be left to the history department, which has yet to begin the sensitive task of deciding the content and duration of the instruction.
Some sources claimed that the public school instruction of the draft would be the first such in the country, but Mrs. Mesnick disclaimed any such knowledge.