Finally, A School that Teaches Kids to Protest War and Support Peace

Peace walk. Photo by Gary Ingraham

The Maine-Endwell School District in Upstate New York Set a Wonderful Precedent By Hosting a Peace Day on September 21

Children around the world need to be taught that killing brothers and sisters, and fellow humans anywhere is murder and should never be allowed. 

In the United States, the vast majority of teachers hide that fact from their children for fear of being unpatriotic or even worse—losing their jobs. Instead, they praise the military and teach their kids to say “thank you for your service” to men and women whose base job is to kill others before they might kill us. Some Middle and High Schools actually have military training for their children. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines are accepted into schools to train and recruit kids to be part of the killing machine of the U.S. military.

Children are sheltered from the lie of militarism by teachers who in turn are controlled by demands of a system that has war industries in every congressional district in the United States. Children are not to be told that the U.S. Department of Defense is a lie and that its industries called Defense Industries are a lie. And the biggest lie of all is not told: that war is a lie.

Teachers might teach about Martin Luther King but sidestep his honest analysis of the war-making USA when he said in 1967: “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world: My own Government, I can not be Silent.” 

Former Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy once was able to write about this sad state of American education, but the Post moved his column from the editorial page to Style, a way of saying his call for teaching peace was quaint, not suitable for editorial page norms.

McCarthy left the Washington Post and spent decades teaching peace. He peddled his bicycle through Washington D.C. area traffic to morning classes at Chevy-Chase High School to Georgetown University and American University.

Asked by an interviewer why his focus was on students, McCarthy said:

“This country has 4500 colleges and universities. We have about 36,000 high schools and about 78,000 elementary schools. That’s where the peace movement needs to be. Marches are fine, protests are fine, but it’s in schools where things really happen.”

Colman McCarthy led a conference of Upstate New York Maine-Endwell students and teachers over three decades ago urging all to start a Peace Studies course. It was a successful conference with high praise for McCarthy. 

Predictably, no Peace Studies course was ever accepted by the Maine-Endwell School District that is flanked by the nearby #1 war maker industry, Lockheed Martin, and, BAE, #4 war-making industry, which is walking distance from Maine Endwell School District offices while military electronic contractor, Amphenol, is surrounded by Endwell residential homes.

It’s unlikely that the influence of Colman McCarthy led the Maine-Endwell School District to set an example for teaching peace by focusing on a whole day of peace activities for their ten-year-old students. The Maine section of the school district is rural and the Endwell region is suburban.

One hundred and twenty-five fifth graders from the suburban school were bussed to the rural school to celebrate the International Day of Peace this past September 21st, with a similar number of fifth graders in the rural school.

The leadership of just one Maine-Endwell elementary teacher, Hilary Rozek, a teacher in the Endwell part of the geographically divided school district made the day happen. Hilary took command arriving at the Peace Fair setting in fog and dark at 5 AM to post Peace Day events on trees surrounding the park behind the school.  
Assisting were members of Veterans for Peace, Chapter 90, and Peace Action of Binghamton, NY. The coalition of these groups came about several years ago when they had their first children’s peace fair, the only known children’s fair that focuses on peace:

Over 200 fifth graders sat on benches or on the grass to watch and hear Magician David Black connect magic with real-life needs to make peace with one another. Jennifer, the Bird Lady’s parrots, squawked loudly from the gazebo and kids flocked to see the birds up close. Others went to hear bird songs by flute musician Anne Austin, paint peace rocks, or get drumming lessons and then be part of an orchestrated twenty-five drummers beating to the tune of Celebration. Others learned how to write their names in Arabic or Russian or Mandarin, or hop over to a peace photo booth where teacher Terry Dempsey and her psychologist husband, Jody, engaged the kids with peace focused games as nearby boys had their photo taken holding the flag of the only veterans organization against all war, Veterans for Peace.

Bee Keeper John Patterson was surrounded by 10-year-olds with lots of questions and invited kids to taste fresh honey while nearby, under a shagbark hickory tree, arborist Ed Nizalowski, explained tree burs and rings that defined the weather in past years. Helena Garan, a lady who hiked over 500 miles in Japan as she visited Shinto Shrines, fitted kimonos on eager girls, and nearby, a  former elementary school teacher, Ann Clune, illustrated the art of origami, hoping the real story behind Sadako and the 1000 cranes was already learned in class. 

Should ten-year-olds be taught about the horror of nuclear weapons and Hiroshima and Nagasaki? That’s up to the teachers internationally. The teachers at Maine-Endwell shy away from this topic as “too horrific” for ten-year-olds. 

It would be fitting if each elementary school around the world would plant a male Ginko Tree on school property as was done at the Peace Day event. Ginko trees have become an iconic symbol of hope since they survived the nuclear holocaust with their deep roots. But symbols need explaining.

Before Endwell kids got on the bus, Jim Tokas, the Maine-Memorial rural fifth-grade teacher asked for a minute of silence and told students that he would lead them in a silent walk around the district solar farm. Mr.Tokos told the kids that the environmentally friendly solar farm supplies the electric needs for all of the school buildings in the Maine-Endwell District.

Will teachers internationally, but especially in the war-addicted USA, ever teach the truth to their children? Will they teach that all killing is murder and war is a lie? 

Should teachers out of fear of retaliation by those who live the lie of our war addiction be silent and by their silence teach kids to accept the equivocation of the system?

Teachers need to have the courage to tell the truth as soldiers have the courage to die for the lie of war. The International Day of Peace is just one day of truth-telling versus the need to be truthful every day of the year.

The often-given advice about teaching peace by Colman McCarthy, the author of I’d Rather Teach Peace, was simply one word: Start!

Originally published in Covert Magazine online.

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