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.


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 throughout history.

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.


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 program.

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 individuals.


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 following:

--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.


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 Foundation, l985.

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 Foundation, l984.

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.

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