War of ideas waged in schools

Friday, March 7, 2003

When Jackson High School history teacher Dan Hecht posed a question to students in his current events class about the United Nations' support of a war with Iraq, a dozen eager hands shot up and waved for his attention.

"Whose war is this? It's not the world's war, it's our war," responded senior Michael Bricknell. "We shouldn't expect help from the U.N."

Classmate Sarah Ward countered, stating that if the United Nations isn't satisfied with the evidence presented, the American people shouldn't be either.

"People need to believe their safety is threatened before we go to war, and that's why there's so much opposition," Ward said. "People don't feel threatened."

The complicated issues surrounding an impending war with Iraq have become a regular part of classroom discussion in local schools.

From weapons to religion, students of all ages have questions and teachers are faced with the task of providing impartial answers and, in some cases, easing students' fears.

"This is living history, it allows us to relate to the here and now," said Nichole Buehrle, a social studies teacher at Notre Dame Regional High School. "These students are getting ready to go out into the real world, some of them may be directly involved in a war with Iraq. They need to know the issues."

Buerhle's eighth-hour history class, made up of 29 juniors, often engages in lively discussions about the war on terrorism.

"I don't think there will ever be complete peace in the world," said junior Andy Valleroy. "As long as there's two people, there will be two different opinions."

Valleroy's statement received an "amen sister" from one classmate, a disapproving shake of the head from another.

"These kids could go for hours debating this issue," Buerhle said. "I try to play both sides, but sometimes it's difficult."

Carla Fee, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Central Junior High School, said she doesn't focus on what could happen if the United States goes to war, but teaches her students about what's happening now and the history behind it.

"We're not trying to scare students, we're just trying to make them aware of what's going on in the world," Fee said.

The issues hit very close to home for students, some of whom already have friends or family members stationed in the Middle East or worry about the possibility of a future draft.

Two of the students in Jackson teacher Hecht's 9 a.m. current events class are already listed in the military and will begin basic training after graduation.

Army-bound senior Dean Brown, and recent Marines recruit Garrett Domnick are both in favor of a war with Iraq, and neither of them outwardly expressed concern for their lives.

"I love my country, that's why I signed up," Brown said. "You could get killed just crossing the street."

Domnick and Brown share the pro-war opinions of about 50 percent of the students in Hecht's class. The other 50 percent, including senior Nicole Stanfield, say they are not in favor of a war at this time.

"If we do this, where does it end?" Stanfield said. "We're not in a position to police the entire world."

The debate brings a smile to the face of Hecht, who said he is often amazed at how much his students comprehend.

"When the class started in January, I had students who didn't know who Saddam Hussein is," Hecht said. "They struggled to differentiate between Iraq and Afghanistan."

Two months in Hecht's class has changed all of that.

"This class is our only opportunity to express our opinions," Ward said. "Most people think teenagers don't care. We do."

cclark@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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