The high school classroom is a battlefield of ideas.
It is the primary formalized place of struggle in which U.S. society attempts to indelibly imprint its values on young minds when they are possibly at their most vulnerable, when they are sorting out what attitudes and behaviors will enable them to experience sex and romantic love.
The intensity of the struggle increases as the dominant white culture is called more and more into question, and the word “colonization” becomes a common term among young people who apply it to all forms of oppression and exploitation as they courageously seek love across traditional racial, ethnic, religious, economic and gender lines.
In this emotional maelstrom, young people are also challenged existentially to reverse the processes of global warming and war in the face of corporate-fueled arguments that global warming, war and a raging consumer culture are essential to a healthy economy, one in which they will be able to pay off their student loans.
And within all this there is the question of how widely across the global human community one will be socialized to hear the voice of conscience and to act upon it.
It is no wonder that the U.S. military works hard to get into the high school classroom.
So, as the new school year approaches in the U.S., a basic question for those of us who seek to stop wars, including drone attacks and global military oppression, is: Are we engaged on the high school classroom battlefield?
From my personal experience, it can be hard to get into classrooms to speak about peace. School administrators know that this kind of talk is likely to lead to: examining colonization and the theft of national resources at gun-point; the connection between colonization for oil and climate change; and colonization of native people, black people, Hispanic people and other intentionally marginalized people inside an outside the U.S. Then there is the colonization of U.S. minds by U.S. corporations. And, of course, there is the reality of the destruction of the lives of the people targeted for colonization and of the lives of the U.S. military people who are ordered out to do the colonizing.
In spite of the difficulty getting into the classroom, there are those who persist. Here are two extremely inspiring initiatives that may help you in preparing to enter high school classrooms.
How Much Military in the Classroom?
The Resistance Center for Peace and Justice in Northampton, MA, has just released the third edition of its Military Recruitment Report. The Center says it is the only report of its kind in New England. I think it is a unique study in the U.S. The report, based on analysis of public records and questions to public high schools in Western Massachusetts, grades the schools on how open they are to military recruiters.
http://www.theresistancecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/MRR.2018-07-19-1.pdf This report is a “must-read”.
Speaking to the difficulty in raising the subject of peace in high schools, the Center said:
“Despite this being the third time we’ve published such a report, many schools still do not comply with our requests, or often ask for a prohibitive amount of compensation to gather this information. Even worse, a number of schools simply do not bother responding. Because we strongly believe that exposing and decreasing the influence of military recruiters upon our young children is something we should prioritize, The Resistance Center for Peace and Justice soon will be hiring another staff member to research and publish (and organize around) the next edition of our report.”
The Center is creating a toolkit to help parents, students and community members to speak about militarism and peace in their high schools. To receive the toolkit call (413) 584-8975 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Bringing Veterans into the Classroom.
One of the most persistent, informative classroom peace education programs in the U.S. is being conducted by World Can’t Wait. http://org.salsalabs.com/o/1170/t/0/blastContent.jsp?email_blast_KEY=1384048
Here, Stephanie Rugoff, the coordinator of this project, answers questions about the WCW program. If you would like to know more, she can be reached at: email@example.com.
How does one go about getting into a school classroom?
We are invited by the teacher or professor or by the principal or assistant principal. This generally comes about either by word of mouth - such as one colleague suggesting us to another; by meeting educators at conferences; and by seeking invitations by announcements on various websites, social media, organizational email lists (such as the material World Can't Wait sends out) or listserves catering to educators; by calling, emailing or visiting school administrators requesting possible visits to their schools. It takes persistent work to do this with a lot of follow-up.
Have teachers ever tried to play down or shut down what you are presenting?
Most teachers invite us because they care about their students, and the world, and want to present the dangers of joining the U.S. military at this time, especially against the hard-sell of the military recruiters. Having veterans who have lived through wars of aggression, and are willing to talk truthfully about their experiences, is a bonus for them.
Not everyone who invites us, though, is in agreement with our point of view. However, they - whether, for example, a teacher or an administrator - feel that students should have the opportunity to hear both sides of the issue about the role of the military and the nature of what military service entails. They believe in critical thinking and the ability of students to hear varying opinions, do research and come to their own conclusions. Sometimes, if a teacher is selected by an administrator to have our presentation in his or her class and is not enthused about the visit, then he or she doesn't prep the students (either for or against) and the discussion doesn't flow as well because the students don't have the context or background information with which to integrate what we're presenting. We once had a situation, in another city, not New York City, where there was a dispute among the high school faculty and some teachers disrupted a presentation during an assembly. We were told we couldn't return to that school. We did have one school where a parent protested the visit (other interactions with any parents in high schools, which are rare, have been positive).
Do your speakers talk to the students about the historic pattern of U.S. colonialism, enforced by the military, as an explanation for why we are at war? Smedley Butler would be a poster child for the imperial enforcer who woke up and spoke out.
Yes, we do speak about U.S. war history. Each veteran has his own views, and has done his own study. We share our view as World Can’t Wait, that humanity and the planet come first and that nothing good can come of U.S. intervention anywhere in the world, especially now, when there is the most serious threat of U.S. aggression by the “America First” Trump/Pence regime.
And yes, we include a quote from Smedley Butler on our Resources page for teachers:
Can you summarize students' reaction to the information you present on colonialism and wars? What connection is there to activism? Is there any larger meaning for effective messaging to students and the public in general?
Student reaction to the history of US wars, the brutality of current wars and the inhumanity of much of what goes on in the military is generally one of dismay. Students are often surprised at the reality we present, as they didn't realize how awful much of this is. Most had been unaware of the military acts being carried out in their names. For the most part, most of the students are clear that they don't want to be part of this (although a few, often thoughtful young people, do want to enlist and see for themselves).
However, we have found that - just as in the general public - there is a broad gulf between the realization and rejection of what's involved in these U.S. wars and any conviction that they have or should have any agency in changing what is being carried out. So, just as in all our activist work, I think there are at least two parts to what we do. The first is informational - creating the knowledge or awareness of just what is going on. The second is agitating or organizing for active opposition, for creating an enormous visible public opposition.
We are always ready to go if students express interest in taking action. Doing so is something we certainly try to introduce as an option, put it out there as something to consider.
PLEASE SEND YOUR THOUGHTS AND EXPERIENCE ON HIGH SCHOOL PEACE EDUCATION TO: firstname.lastname@example.org