Pitfalls of `peace education'. Some teaching guides lack accurate facts and context
THIS year, the Los Angeles Unified School District - serving some 500,000 children - became the first major metropolitan area to mandate peace education. In September two copies of Los Angeles's newly adopted ``Nuclear Age Curriculum'' were sent to all public schools. The curriculum is explicit. In one exercise, kindergarten students are asked to paint watercolors of ``terrible disasters.'' Eight-year-olds are introduced to the story of Sadako, a young Japanese survivor of Hiroshima who develops leukemia and tries (unsuccessfully) to survive the disease by folding 1,000 paper cranes, an ancient ritual. After reading the story, Los Angeles children also learn to make the paper cranes.Skip to next paragraph
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But more and more educators are asking, What does such teaching have to do with either peace or education?
While more peace, global, and ``nuclear age'' curriculum is available today, the subject is under increased attack. And not only from conservatives.
Educators from both right and left are disgruntled by a plethora of ``peace'' teacher guides and supplements that are often inaccurate. The materials contain incomplete information about closed societies such as the Soviet Union, are drawn from narrow psychological premises, and lack a historical context, they say.
``The fact of the matter is,'' says Bruce Payne of the National Institute for Public Policy, ``there isn't much good stuff out there. Mostly it's slanted and politicized.''
Such materials cause a ``conservative reaction,'' Mr. Payne says - a response ``that we shouldn't be teaching it at all. But I can't agree. High school students who will be voting soon need to think about these issues.''
According to Robert Pickus, director of the Quaker World Without War peace education group, no peace material was available in the late 1970s. The disarmament and freeze movements of the early 1980s changed that. Many of the grass-roots organizers were teachers or educators. And though peace activism is tapering off today, the initiative in schools continues.
``Choices,'' designed by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 1983 and endorsed (and distributed) by the National Education Association, is in wide use. Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR), a Cambridge, Mass.-based nuclear-freeze-turned-education organization, says 15,000 teachers and more than 100 communities in the United States use its materials.
More is on the way. This January, ESR will begin work with the Soviet Ministry of Education to develop a peace education curriculum, a ``world peace movement of educators,'' seminars, and videos on peace.
What Mr. Pickus and others will look for closely is a more balanced and realistic approach. Previous curricula, such as ``Choices,'' suggest that friction between nations is merely a problem of ``bad communication,'' a tendency to ``project'' the status of ``enemy'' onto others, or to assert simply that if nations just ``knew each other better,'' hostilities would cease. Author Andre Ryerson (in Commentary magazine, April 1986) says this teaches students ``that our difficulty with the Soviets is essentially a problem in our heads.'' It uncritically assumes American paranoia and ethnocentrism, he says, rather than basic moral and political differences.