"Give Peace A Chance" was the slogan on a t-shirt. The sixty-one year old man wearing it was asked to take it off or leave the mall outside Albany where he had the t-shirt made. The man was not demonstrating or obstructing traffic. He was walking and talking with his son when he was approached by mall security and told that he was in violation of "Mall Policy."
The t-shirt did not deride the President or express obscene gestures or words. It merely said, "Give Peace A Chance." Around the same time this man was arrested, students around the country participated in student walkouts for peace. Many college and high school students who walked out or boycotted classes took part in peaceful demonstrations or teach-ins around the issue of world peace.
In our larger community, a few dozen high school students took part in the walkout for peace. Most who participated were excellent students with excellent attendance records. They rarely, if ever, cut a class. However, they were all disciplined with detention for cutting. This is the same school district where students regularly cut dozens of classes before any disciplinary action is taken.
There is something very troubling about a society that punishes people for respectfully expressing a difference in opinion on a rather vital life issue. Our leadership seems very confused on moral boundaries and respect for human life.
The War - Peace question is very complicated. It is not merely an issue of patriotism or our attempt to rid the world of terrorism and dictators.
We should seriously take pause, when the majority of the world community is challenging our present direction. It is also very troubling that only 31% of the American people support an attack on Iraq. We say we are a democracy. Where does the will and the voice of the people factor into the government's position on this very lethal situation?
As an educator and community activist, it troubles me that we are not creating more opportunities for students to inquire and to educate themselves about all the issues relative to the impending war with Iraq. There are too few conversations happening among our young who will have to shoulder the greatest burden of this possible war. If it happens, they will be our greatest casualties.
Over the last few weeks, I have taken informal polls among my college students about the information they know about their government and world events.
I was shocked at the results. My students from two college campuses weren't sure who their federal senators, their congress persons or their local legislators were. Most admitted to not voting in the last presidential election.
Their political bankruptcy is troubling. However, even more troubling is their belief that their viewpoints mean nothing. Thus, the reason for their political and social indifference.
Clearly we have failed to instill a desire in them to participate in our democracy. There is so much this present generation needs to know about our government and our world. Our present political dilemma is not merely about "Big Brother" making the world a safer place. Too many innocent lives hang in the balance. There is so much more information that needs to be shared with the American people, as our leadership is risking the livelihood of our next generation.
One of my classes this term is very lively. My students are bright, articulate and very insightful. The class is a writing and critical thinking class. Thus, we write and talk about a wide range of very tender issues.
In one class, a few weeks ago, they were asked to take a position on the possibility of a war with Iraq. The class is very diverse and so were their opinions. Some were clearly for war, some clearly opposed and some genuinely confused and on the fence.
After a somewhat prolonged conversation with these college coeds, I realized that most were romanticizing their position on the question. Very few had read anything more than the textbook version of Viet Nam. Some had Dads who were in a war, but they refused to talk about it. Most admitted that they had not really thought about the real consequences of a war with Iraq until our class conversation. Most admitted that they had little or no information to even develop a real position on the question.
One student got very emotional and realized that her emotion was grounded in her father's strong position in favor of the war. Our conversation made her realize that she did not have her own position. She recognized the need to develop her own perspective, even if she differed with her Dad. I urged her to educate herself and suggested after her search that she might even agree with him. However, that would be a position of choice and not one of default or mindless compliance.
That particular class caused everyone to think about issues we don't often think about. Many students commented that they needed to do their homework and begin developing a political and social conscience, one that is grounded in more than the O'Reilly Factor or the New York Times editorial page.
As a teacher, I realized that I have to work harder at creating the opportunity for these kinds of conversations. Critical thinking and learning is not going to happen by way of osmosis. It is a dynamic process that demands active engagement. Our schools need to be fertile pastures for real thinking and not wastelands for human potential.
"Give Peace A Chance" should not merely be a slogan on a t-shirt. It should be a reminder that humankind hangs in the balance of the choices we make or fail to make.