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More courses on nuclear issues -- information and advocacy

The increased attention given to peace education in colleges around the United States is being paralleled, to a degree, in elementary and secondary schools. These schools are adopting curricula and organizing activities designed to build an awareness of global interdependence and to inform students about the problems posed by nuclear arms, environmental pollution and depletion of resources, overpopulation, and hunger.

Previous generations of Americans have not had to deal quite so immediately with such a range of global concerns, say advocates of the ``new education.'' They say that even though students see these issues raised on TV, in newspapers, and in daily life, the schools seldom equip students with the information and perspective they need to address them. Decisionmakers of the future

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``These kids are the ones who will be making the decisions in the world in 30 years,'' says Pam Judson, a member of Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR), a Boston-based teachers' organization with chapters around the country, whose goal is to introduce peace studies to the schools. ``School is important in shaping their thinking.''

Ms. Judson hopes efforts her organization is making here in Boston to acquaint children with alternatives to violence in problem solving will be part of that shaping. The organization's national membership has jumped from 300 teachers in 1983 to 7,000 today. It is one of the more visible groups lobbying for the new curriculum.

In addition to the efforts of ESR and other groups, much more is happening.

For example, Ohio State University is developing peace-related curricula for high school students under a half-million-dollar grant from the Ford Foundation.

Of the courses already being offered, ``the most systematic teaching of nuclear-age education,'' says Betty Reardon of Columbia Teachers College, ``is taking place in the private Catholic schools.''

Last year a report by the Stanford University Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education indicated that most of the new curricula it had surveyed ``presented issues in a context of advocacy.'' The Stanford survey dealt with more than 70 kinds of peace curricula in use at schools in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Advocacy, of course, has been a sticking point among those who oppose the whole concept of peace education. But it is also a problem in the view of some advocates of peace education -- people like Bob Freeman, president of Global Educators in San Francisco, which helps local schools develop peace and intercultural studies. Mr. Freeman says too much of the new peace education does not provide sufficient background or critical thinking skills. Betty Reardon agrees. ``Peace and global studies curricula is still very weak,'' she says.

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Randall Forsberg, a MacArthur Foundation fellow and head of the Institute for Defense Disarmament Studies in Brookline, Mass., says many of the newer forms of nuclear education actually ``dis-educate'' students, by focusing mainly on the destructive power of nuclear weapons. This approach ignores a 30-year policy rationale, she says, pointing out that nuclear arms deter conventional as well as nuclear warfare among superpowers. The necessity posed by nuclear arms, says Ms. Forsberg, is to abolish war. To admit that, she says, involves approaching policy questions and international relations in a fundamentally deeper and different way than to work mainly to reduce the number of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Freeman notes that an increasing number of summer institutes are being organized to teach secondary school teachers how to present nuclear-age issues in a balanced and forthright manner. The two biggest ones are at Columbia Teachers College and at different University of California campuses. Current programs a mixed bag

A November visit to a school north of San Francisco let one see examples of both the strength and weakness attributed to some current programs. The school was putting on a program related to the then-upcoming Reagan-Gorbachev summit.

One hour was devoted to an incisive discussion of what it means to think critically. But in the following hour, a presenter who purported to be a ``Russian expert'' showed slides of her recent trip to the Soviet Union. Flipping through images of smiling Russians, she commented, ``Aren't these people evil-looking? . . . These are the people we are planning to annihilate. . . . If we fear anybody, we should fear Reagan.'' It must be added, however, that students aren't necessarily gullible. Of the slide presentation, one 17-year-old remarked, ``She thought she was freeing us from our stereotypes, but she was really the one stereotyping us.''

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