ERIC Identifier: ED264163
Publication Date: 1985-11-00
Author: Zola, John - Zola, Jaye
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
for Social Studies/Social Science Education Boulder CO.
Peace and Nuclear War. ERIC Digest No. 21.
The increasing concern in the United States about nuclear weapons is
paralleled by the interest of educators in providing peace and nuclear war
education in the public schools. Numerous school districts, both small and
large, are adopting specific resolutions mandating the inclusion of peace and
nuclear-war related content in the K-12 program. As with any educational change
movement, there is also a measure of controversy, in this case focused upon the
appropriateness of teaching these topics in the public schools and whether such
topics can be addressed in a non-biased and non-politicized fashion.
WHAT IS PEACE AND NUCLEAR WAR EDUCATION?
Nuclear war education focuses on content beginning with the Manhattan Project
and the first testing of a successful nuclear weapon. Included in a nuclear war
unit would be such topics as the workings of nuclear weapons, historical
information on the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan, national security decision
making since World War II, current developments in weapons technology, and
efforts to achieve arms control.
Higher order thinking skills are emphasized in nuclear war education,
including interpretation of data (rather than simple recall), inquiry,
synthesis, and evaluation. The issues related to nuclear war weapons are too
weighty to allow students to avoid in-depth investigation and careful thought.
Peace education is a broader field than nuclear war education. It also
includes content such as the role of violence and aggression in human cultures;
the nature of conflict and means of conflict resolution; obstacles to peaceful
resolution of conflicts on personal, interpersonal, and international levels;
the history of social change; the history and role of warfare; and peace makers
Not exhaustive, this list illustrates the broad scope of a peace education
program. Inherent in the study of peace is the formulation of a definition of
the term "peace." Problem solving, conflict resolution, and other integrative
skills are developed in a peace education program.
Additionally, peace education focuses on broadening students' understanding
of opposing viewpoints. This is not for the purpose of countering those
viewpoints; rather, it is to help students see the validity of opposing
viewpoints and work to find an appropriate middle ground where mutual
understanding can lead to new solutions to the issues at hand. Thus, the
elimination of polarized thinking is an important goal of peace education.
WHY TEACH PEACE AND NUCLEAR WAR EDUCATION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS?
Any content area must work from a basic rationale if it is to have a place in
the school curriculum. A rationale serves as a justification to the community
for the teaching of a certain content or skill area. Peace and nuclear war
education must have a clear rationale if they are to be accepted into the school
A credible rationale for peace and nuclear war education contains four basic
themes. These are:
--The general goals of education in American society that speak to the
development of capable, thinking, competent young adults. Peace and nuclear war
education are appropriate content for developing these abilities in students.
--The relevancy of peace- and nuclear-war-related content in today's world.
Nuclear weapons and national-security-related issues are of paramount interest
to our society and to young people. No transient topic, peace and nuclear war
form a core content that all citizens must understand. One place to begin that
process is in the public schools.
--The psychological concerns expressed in interviews with young people
regarding nuclear war and hopes for the future. It appears that nuclear weapons
and the threat of nuclear war hang like shadows over the young people of this
nation. Openly addressing and confronting these fears with information and
appropiate pedagogy can help young people cope with these most natural concerns.
--The preparation of young adults for participation in this nation's
democratic institutions. Since the founding of the United States, the importance
of an informed electorate has been the cornerstone of participatory democracy.
Peace and nuclear war are issues that citizens must be competent to address as
they make decisions in the choice of leaders and policy.
Overall, peace and nuclear war education seeks to transmit information on key
issues of the day, develop skills and values for civic involvement, encourage a
sense of global interdependence, and promote the notion that even problems of
this magnitude can be successfully addressed by informed and concerned
WHAT ABOUT THE CONTROVERSIAL NATURE OF PEACE AND NUCLEAR WAR EDUCATION?
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of teaching peace and nuclear war education
is the controversial nature of the topics. Society seems to agree that nuclear
war is to be avoided, but there is no such agreement on the means to achieve
this goal. Therein lies the controversy for peace and nuclear war educators.
Problems for teachers include reconciling individual political beliefs with
the content to be addressed, finding non-biased materials, and anticipating
reactions from parents and community members. In addition, the political
environment now appears to encourage the avoidance of controversial issues in
general in school, so extra caution is required to appropriately teach about
peace and nuclear war. This being said, educators are nearly unanimous in the
sentiment that schools must help students learn how to confront controversial
issues in a thoughtful manner.
Basic guidelines for teaching about controversial issues are reflective of
guidelines for all good education. The topic and material must be age-appropiate
and appropriate for inclusion in the particular discipline. In the area of peace
and nuclear war education, age appropriateness cannot be over-emphasized.
These topics are filled with frightening information, and it is not the place
of the school to scare students. Teachers must take care to inform students, not
indoctrinate them to one viewpoint or another. There must be balance in
presentation of information and opinions, with a variety of perspectives being
represented in a credible and honest fashion. Numerous opportunities should be
available for dialogue among students and with the teacher.
Those interested in working with peace and nuclear war education need to
consider the information described in this Digest and to reflect on the need for
careful selection of materials and plans for implementing new curricula. The
challenges for peace and nuclear war educators are many, including the
--Those teaching peace and nuclear war education must familiarize themselves
with both the content and processes necessary for credibly teaching this
information and must take great care in selecting only age-appropriate lessons
for their students.
--The controversial nature of peace and nuclear war education must be
recognized, confronted and honestly addressed.
--Advocates of peace and nuclear war education need to work diligently,
patiently, and cooperatively in bringing about the changes they seek.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Barber, Jacqueline, and others. NUCLEOGRAPHY: AN ANNOTATED GUIDE FOR PARENTS
AND EDUCATORS ON NUCLEAR ENERGY, WAR, AND PEACE. Berkeley, CA: Nucleography,
l982. ED 247 l99.
Dane, Ernest B. NATIONAL SECURITY IN THE NUCLEAR AGE: BOOKLIST FOR LIBRARIES
AND PUBLIC EDUCATION ABOUT THIS ISSUE. 1985. (Available from the author, #4
Jefferson Run Road, Great Falls, VA 22066.)
Dowling, John. WAR PEACE FILM GUIDE. Chicago, IL: World Without War
Publications, l980. ED l98 048.
"Education and the Threat of Nuclear War: A Special Issue." HARVARD
EDUCATIONAL REVIEW 54 (August l984).
Jacobson, Willard, and others. "A Conceptual Framework for Teaching about
Nuclear Weapons." SOCIAL EDUCATION 47 (November-December 1983):475-479.
Mayers, Teena. UNDERSTANDING NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND ARMS CONTROL: A GUIDE TO THE
ISSUES. Washington, DC: Arms Control Association, l983. ED 250 2l6.
NUCLEAR ARMS EDUCATION IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS. Muscatine, IA: The Stanley
PERSPECTIVE: A TEACHING GUIDE TO CONCEPTS OF PEACE. Cambridge, MA: Educators
for Social Responsibility, l983. ED 240 023.
Shermis, S. Samuel. "Critieria for Selecting Controversial Curricula."
INDIANA SOCIAL STUDIES QUARTERLY 36 (Autumn l983):33-39.
Sloan, Douglas, ed. EDUCATION FOR PEACE AND DISARMAMENT: TOWARD A LIVING
WORLD. New York: Teachers College Press, l983.
Snow, Roberta. DECISION MAKING IN A NUCLEAR AGE. Cambridge, MA: Educators for
Social Responsibility, l983. ED 255 412.
Stanford, Barbara, editor. PEACE MAKING: A GUIDE TO CONFLICT RESOLUTION. New
York: Bantam Books, l976.
A STRATEGY FOR PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH. Boston, VA: American Security Council
Totten, Sam. "A Nuclear Arms Race Unit for Classroom Teachers." SOCIAL
EDUCATION 47 (November-December l983):507-510.
Zola, John, and Reny Sieck. TEACHING ABOUT CONFLICT, NUCLEAR WAR, AND THE
FUTURE. Denver, CO: University of Denver, Center for International Relations,
l984. ED 252 473.