Readers Write: Educating for survival of human race

The Island Now

In the fall of 1983, over 100 physicists, biologists and atmospheric scientists presented the findings of a two-year study on the effects of a nuclear holocaust.

Spokespersons for the group were Dr. Carl Sagan, director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University and Dr. Pail Ehrlich, professor of Biological Sciences and Population Studies at Stanford University.

The study’s principal new finding was that in a nuclear holocaust in which 5,000 megatons of explosive power was released…dust from the explosions and soot from the world’s burning cities and forests would create a blanket over the whole earth…that would block as much as 95 percent of the sunlight from reaching the ground and this would reduce temperatures, even in the summer, to 13 degrees below zero.

In the judgment of most of the scientists at the conference this newly discovered consequence…could result in the extermination of  Homo Sapiens.

If, as this study suggested, the species was in immediate peril of extinction, one would imagine that the coverage given to this storyb by the press and TV would be extensive.

But it was virtually ignored. The human race was in danger of freezing itself to death and no one was interested in talking about it.

Sagan and Ehrlich spoke before a group in Washington, but the president and Congress were mute.

This sounds like today’s Congress best known for its inability to pass legislation in spite of the Republicans constituting a majority in both Houses of the Congress as well as there being a Republican in the White House.

Each year in the U.S., millions of students graduate from high school and colleges. They take all the traditional courses from math and science to literature and social studies.

Yet they rarely study about war and peace, conflict resolution, or building community. They may discuss Dr. Martin Luther King, but never examine the philosophy of non-violence. They may be able to identify Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi but not the latter’s notion of “satyagraha” or non-violent resistance.

We may talk about the many wars in which the U.S. has participated, but we neglect the study or peace and diplomacy.

From time to time, individuals like Colman McCarthy author, pacifist and Washington Post columnist get to teach at prestigious universities, but this is no substitute for a mandatory, systematic approach to what is an organized body of knowledge.

The reason schools do not make teaching peace mandatory is the controversial nature of the subject.

Peace studies are tainted with a left-wing bias or so its enemies proclaim. And no one in academe wants to be charged with indoctrination.

Yet there are ways that the material can and should be presented objectively. Teachers talk much about critical thinking.

Here is an opportunity to make it part of every students’ curriculum.  And to avoid the charge of indoctrination, a student’s grade should depend entirely on the quality and logic of her presentation.

If our students are to be global citizens, it is up to America’s teachers to accept the challenge and to go beyond mundane fact memorization.

Here is an opportunity to enlarge the scope of traditional teaching – to study inequality, conflict, gender, race, and class, all of which lead to societal strife.

Colman McCarthy summed it all up when he wrote: “Give peace a chance…and give it a place in the curriculum: peace courses in every school, every grade, every nation. Unless we teach our children peace, someone else will teach them violence.”

Dr. Hal Sobel

Great Neck

Share this Article