Thursday, March 20, 2003

War 101: Conflict is center stage in some classrooms

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Prom plans have given way to heated debates about the Persian Gulf. Homework is halted for talk of United Nations resolutions. And students have a greater appetite for international news than cafeteria fare.

As the United States embarks on a war with Iraq, Tristate educators are eager to grasp this "teachable moment."

"Some teachers talk about the conflict for five minutes every day, answer questions and that's it," said Tom Monaco, upper school director at Summit Country Day School in Hyde Park. "Others have woven it into the curriculum."

At Summit, teachers gathered for roundtable discussions last week to decide how to approach the conflict. Like many schools, they plan to focus on the history and morality of the situation rather than on the politics.

Donna Brigger, elementary principal at Villa Madonna Academy in Villa Hills, said, "We've encouraged teachers to be as nonpolitical as possible. We try to keep the situation in context."

In many classes, the war in Iraq is connected to previous conflicts. At Seton High School in Price Hill, the advanced Latin class is studying Cicero's orations against Catiline.

"We are finding several similarities between then and now: aggression, spying, threats of assassination, determination to rid Rome of the conspirators," said Sister Mary Delores Schneider, Latin teacher.

Religious studies classes at Cincinnati Hebrew Day School in Golf Manor have been making ties between the current conflict and an ancient battle, commemorated during Purim, when Jewish people in Persia were saved from extermination.

"We discuss the people who have a baseless hatred against Jewish people and Americans. It's just very significant, the timing of this war being so close to Purim," which began Tuesday, said Rabbi Yuval Kernerman.

"We stress to the children that one of the significant points during the ancient war was prayer, and that's something we have been trying to emphasize."

In Mary Kelley's classes at the Academy of Greater Cincinnati in Amberley Village, the fifth-sixth-grade is learning about Islam from a cultural point of view. Seventh- through ninth-graders are discussing Middle East geography, history and politics.

"We didn't think this was something they should learn about because of current events - we felt it was important for the kids to learn more about this area of the world, period," said Kelley, the assistant head of school.

Conversation has been steered toward current events even in classes that aren't traditionally political.

"My math students are praying for peace each day," said Sister Jeanine Marie Holthouse, math teacher at Seton High School.

While some schools are gearing up for even more discussion on the topic, others have bigger worries - safety.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation sent a directive to law enforcement across the country informing them to expect a backlash against Muslim schools, said Karen Keyworth, co-founder of the Islamic Schools League of America.

"There should never be a choice of `I have to be an American' or `I have to be a Muslim,' " she said. "You don't give somebody the choice of being either an American or a Catholic. So the children need to feel that there is no conflict of loyalties here."

Many students feel passionately about the issue.

"I truly feel that I can't sit back and watch this happen," said 18-year-old Abi Carlin of Lakota West High School in West Chester. "I will be vocal. I will express my opinions. ... And I will continue to call my French fries `French fries.' Not `Freedom fries.'"

The war worries Tony Fischer of Anderson Township, who turns 18 on March 27.

"I know it sounds goofy and all, but to have this conflict around the time I am of military age," he said. "It rattles me a bit."


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