How do we explain war?

What is our message to kids about violence and war? We teach them not to solve problems with violence yet we go to war to defend our interests and values. How do we explain that we are attempting to solve our and other countries’ problems with violence?

In schools, we spend a lot of time teaching students how to solve their conflicts without violence. We teach them to use their words when they are upset and to bring their concerns to a teacher or other adult rather than resort to violence. The adult figure generally sits down with the concerned student and sometimes others involved in the conflict to find solutions. We teach that retaliation is wrong—sometimes the student who “started it” gets a harsher consequence but anyone involved in violence at school is held accountable for seriously breaking the rules. We want to educate students to be assertive about their needs and stand up to bullies—but not with violence. Instead, we want them to find smart, creative, compassionate ways to handle conflict that don’t compromise the safety and values of the school community.

Recently in a humanities department around curriculum, we were discussing American history. It hit me just how large a role war has played in the development of our country. The Revolutionary War. The Civil War. These were moments where the fate of the country was decided based on bloody wars. When we learn about these wars, we generally don’t question the fact that violence was the vehicle for resolving conflict.

In the mind of a child, how does this contradiction play out? How do kids learn to file away the messages of “don’t solve problems with violence” and “our country goes to war to defend its interests and values?”

I mention those two wars, in particular, because they took place inside our borders and are clearly examples of us resolving our own conflicts right here with violence. What about the wars we are waging today in other countries? How do we explain to children that we are attempting to solve not only our own problems but the problems of other countries with violence?

The issue becomes all the more perplexing as the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death by American military circulates. Yes, he perpetrated violence on our people—our city. But it’s impossible to ignore that this is a case of retaliation, something we explicitly teach children is wrong.

What is our message to kids around violence and war? Is there a difference between the two?

 

[Image credit: peaceaware.com]

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