The Last Eight Years – Part 2

(See Part 1)

Year 13 (AP World, CP World, WASC)

Again I had another epic group of AP World students. This was the year of the revolution. My period 2 AP World History class staged a revolution in the weeks following our French Revolution unit. They had a series of demands. While I may have granted a few of them, it was only because I was secretly crushing their spirits. To this day, I reference it as just a mere failed rebellion. They closed out the year by putting post-its all over my car on the day of the final. I was neck deep in couple PBS projects all year and this when I took on the role of WASC Coordinator.

Year 14 (AP World, Photo, WASC)

After a part time Photography position opened up, I convinced my principal to let me take it on while keeping my two AP World History classes. As it turns out, this decision once again changed everything. I would find and embrace this new challenge by teaching a purely project-based class while getting my academic fix with a couple AP history classes. When I walked into the photo class, there were five digital cameras and six computers. We spent most of our time doing black and white film. Which is fun and all, but not as relevant in today’s world. When I left in October 2014, I had 60+ digital cameras and a computer for every kid. It also let me rediscover, refine, and redefine my style as a photographer and artist. Photography was always a personal journey for me, teaching brought together my worlds. I also stopped wearing ties.

This year’s AP students were the best I would have in my 6 year run. A huge group of them were pure academics, who embraced the class. Unlike most groups, they were also a community before and after my class – one that I would continue to be a part of for the next two years as many signed up for my photo classes. It was my finest and most rewarding year as a history teacher. Everything clicked. I just about fully flipped the classroom second semester and redefined my perception of being a teacher. It was my move to a totally student-centered class. This was also the year of the field trip-gone-wrong – one of those students made a pretty bad decision on a field trip that resulted in her arrest and the five other students getting suspended. The day after the trip was my lowest moment as a teacher.

Year 15 (AP World and Photo)

Can’t say I remember a lot about AP World History. Matt and I continued the transformation of the class to move it away from regular lectures. In photography, I was able to grow the digital resources. I connected with an inspiration photo teacher from another school and figured out how to teach the course in a way that made sense. We held the first annual READ contest (that continues in my absence today). I had a mixed Beginning and Advanced Photo class that pushed all the limits (artistic and others) and made me laugh every day (full of former AP World students from the last two years). Reuben and I began presenting workshops together as we took over the BTSA technology requirement.

Year 16 (AP World and Photo)

This year was another turning point. It was a year of travel. I started the summer with a trip to Philadelphia for ISTE, a trip to London and Paris with my wife, a week in Beijing doing technology staff development for my friend Scott’s international school, a trip for CUE to do PD in Cleveland, and finally 15 days in Europe with 25 students. I still have vivid memories of walking through the rubble of a Beijing hutong and along the Great Wall on a foggy afternoon. That summer trip allowed me to finally bring one group of students to Europe, fulfilling a teaching bucket list item from my own high school days.

While technology professional development was a constant throughout my career, Reuben and I stepped up our game significantly at the district, SDCUE, and around the county. It was also my AP World swan song. I had so many projects and plans that something had to give. We closed out the year with what I would consider the soul of the course – the movie Lagaan. In photography we, officially started our CTE Pathway with a great group of students demonstrated streaks of artistic genius and who would become family.

The Last Eight Years – Part 1

Perhaps I have always thought this way, but about eight years ago I really started to live and breathe my life as a teacher. I certainly worked hard enough in the beginning, but as I transition to AP World History and then Photography, teaching became who I was in a much more definitive manner.

Six months ago, I officially left the classroom for the job I always wanted – an admin educational technology job. I started this blog post about that time, but I started to avoid it when I got about halfway done. It is still a little surreal and I’m a sentimentalist who craves change. An odd mix, but here I am.

It has been eight years since I celebrated my 10 year anniversary of the classroom. At that time I felt it necessary to reflect on what had happened in those first ten years (Part 1 and Part 2). While I don’t update the blog much these days, I had planned to reflect on the next ten when I hit year 20. Since I didn’t make it 20, I wanted to get it down before the dark side of being an administrator clouded my thought process.

Year 10 (AP World and CP World)

While I covered this year in the first edition, it was a pivotal point in my teaching career that would take me a couple years to fully feel its significance. This was when I started teaching AP World History.  That six year journey would shake everything I knew about teaching and really changed everything. I got to teach to a level that satisfied my intellectual yearnings. The course itself changed my worldview, forcing me to look well beyond the context of the Eurocentric world history class I had been teaching up to this point. My systems theory worldview just clicked about halfway through the year. My connection to this group of students was especially strong, we all journeyed through 10,000 years of history for the first time together. That year was also when I finally completed my MA in Educational Technology from SDSU.

Year 11 (AP World and CP World)

While the year before was amazing, the workload was suffocating. Four sections of AP World was just not healthy. My good friend Matt joined me for the AP World journey.  My three CP classes were exceptional this year as well. I made a series of game changing steps in my ed tech trajectory when I became a Google Certified Teacher, joined the PBS Advisory Board, and started writing curriculum for PBS. It was also when I moved classrooms and started sharing an office with Reuben Hoffman. On a personal note, my daughter was born that December.

Year 12 (AP World, CP World, and Web Design)

By year three, I finally felt comfortable with the AP curriculum. This was when I started using Google Docs with my students and our collaborative review project included another school from the Northern California. I worked on the World Without Oil curriculum and then implemented it in the CP classes. It was one of those moments where kids connected to the world in an authentic manner. I added Web Design to my class load. This was a tremendous challenge because I do not have a knack for code, but I was able to have a handful of my year 10 AP World students in my class again. Really solidified my connection to this group. This was also when I took over the school website. Towards the end of the school year, I was nominated for the school and then district Teacher of the Year award. I wouldn’t win at the county level, but it was an honor to make it as far as I did. It also kept me at West Hills when I was seriously considering a move to a different school.

(Part 2 and Part 3)

Looking Forward?

I am a big fan of all of the ed tech visionaries out there. My Bloglines account includes the likes of Will Richardson, David Warlick, Chris Lehmann, Vicki Davis, and about 50 others. Plus, in the last few months I have grown fond of Twitter (other than it’s regular downtime) and have followed what I will call the “conversation” that drives the cutting edge of educational technology as it currently exists. I respect the insight and discussions about where we should go shared by all of the edubloggers in extended (blogs) and abbreviated forms (Twitter). However, in the last few months I have begun to start asking myself where are they/we all going. The need for change is blaringly obvious – to me and most of those who are part of that community, but for most teachers, I don’t think they even know there is a conversation taking place. You certainly have your exceptions – Chris’s Science Leadership Academy sounds like an amazing place to work. There are a collection of teachers like myself who integrate these ideas into our classrooms and then share those experiences with the world through workshops and our blogs, but it isn’t enough to change the world.

There is a great quote from the movie Gandhi that I have been thinking about for the last few months (I have done some research and haven’t been able to confirm if he actually said this, but I know he believed at least in the spirit of the quote that appeared in the movie). Here it is:

This Congress (the Indian National Congress) tells the world it represents India. My brothers, India is seven hundred thousand “villages” not a few hundred lawyers in Delhi and Bombay. Until we stand in the fields with the millions who toil each day under the hot sun, we will not represent India – nor will we ever be able to challenge the British as one nation.

The plight of education differs significantly from the independence movement in India, but there are some parallels (While I won’t delve into the comparison between colonial Great Britain and NCLB, let’s not overlook that fun observation). There are a growing number of us (educational technologists) both in and out of the classroom who are participating in this conversation about how to bring technology and skills that will be valuable in the coming years to the classroom, but despite the explosion of educators participating there are thousands who aren’t. Those thousands of classroom teachers are literally bound by state standards, limited/no access to technology, a lack of institutional support, little/no understanding of the importance, and even an outright reluctance to break with our industrial revolution model of education (it was good enough for me….). You start talking about blogs, wikis, social networking, and podcasts with educators in anyone of those categories and most of it will be lost (or at least filed away) when they return to their classrooms. I think in a lot of ways many of those who talk about Web 2.0 and widespread technology integration are as disconnected to the real situation that most teachers face as the British-educated Indian National Congress was to the rural population of India. I don’t know that we have Gandhi in our midst. Plus I don’t think hunger strikes will get teachers to start a blog, but hey – who knows? Any takers? I’ll write about it.

There remains no simple solution. Really widespread institutional change needs to occur within the educational system. I do not believe I will see that level of change in my career. We have too many standards, tests, textbook companies, federal acts, and even unions. So now what? We do the best we can. We recognize our limitations and work with them. We will not see these changes permeate all classrooms in the immediate future, but hopefully the movement will grow. Certainly it won’t be fast enough, but it will have to do.

I know this sounds a little pessimistic. As a history teacher I’ve come to recognize that many great ideas that should be implemented are often ignored, corrupted by politicians, or lost amongst bad ones. I have the spirit of an idealist and the mind of a pragmatist. Sometimes I hate myself 🙂

I have another post in draft form to follow up on what I think we should do.

Plagiarism, Just Fine

OK, it’s not. However, a group of students are suing for archiving their papers after they submit them so they can later be referenced. Make sense? If you are not familiar with, it is a service used by universities and high schools to check for plagiarism. A teacher sets up a class on the web site and requires students to submit their work through this site. Student then get to see the results of the plagiarism scan and resubmit if necessary. The teacher can also see the results of any paper officially submitted (although I think a student can have the paper scanned before he/she actually turns it in). The program checks the submitted papers against the Internet as a whole and thousands (millions?) of other papers submitted into the service.

The lawsuit alleges that the company is violating the high school students’ rights under U.S. copyright law. The students are required by their schools to submit some essays to, a Web-based service that compares the documents against a massive internal database and other sources to look for signs of plagiarism. It then places the student works in an electronic archive. (from Education Week)

Interesting approach. Actually, you could argue just opposite! By archiving student work, students can be ensured that one will take credit for their personal work. Buy, anyway…

Well I don’t specifically use (my school pays for the service, I just haven’t had the time…), I’ve caught too many students over the years plagiarizing information by typing in a particular un-student-like line of text into Google. Most of the time, that does the trick. Some inventive students actually pull resource from a number of sources and paste them all together, creating the Frankenstein of essays and term papers. Needless to say, these are particularly easy to spot.

However, over the last few years, I’ve changed my approach to academic papers. I no longer ask for the standard report or general essay on a topic. I force them to think about the information and do something with it. I’ve done many different versions of a WebQuest on the Industrial Revolution where students create a newspaper. In the original version, students had to do a short news story on an invention and/or an inventor from the era. Sounded good at the time and it hit the standards. What I discovered was that numerous students simply copied and pasted that section from a source I PROVIDED! The first year I caught almost ten students. Even the second year when I WARNED them I would be looking specifically for plagiarism, three students committed the same offense. The next year I reworked that section and instead of the bio/report, I required students to create an advertisement for an invention. A much more creative task where students demonstrate their understanding. Plus there are no advertisements “out there” for the spinning jenny or early steam engine.

With the massive of amount of information online and the numerous services that sell term papers, it seems we (the teachers) need to re-think the term paper. We have to get beyond the write a report mentality. We need to teach them to use the information out there in some way, not just regurgitate information on a topic. While there are elements of formal research papers that we need to teach, I believe the traditional term paper of my youth (80’s and 90’s) is dead. Yes, dead. We can get a dozens of these papers with a few directed searches, why make the students reinvent the wheel? Why tempt the students? Instead we need to find better ways to get our students to think about the material.

What do you do beyond the term paper?


WWI Poetry/Visualization Wiki Project

WWI Poetry AssignmentThis year I decided to take my WWI Poetry Activity a step further. In years past, towards the end of the WWI unit we completed the linked handout together in class. By this time the students were well versed in the horrors of this war (from the poison gas to the machine guns to trench foot). Based upon all of this information students were to write a poem from the perspective of a WWI soldier. It has always been a great assignment. I already shared the most memorable poem written by a student.

In 2000, I decided that I wanted to publish some of their poems on my classroom web site. I did not have time to actually teach them how to make a web page, so I asked students to e-mail me their poems or type them in on one of my classroom computers. I then copy and pasted them and put them on html page in Dreamweaver. I repeated that time consuming process several times. Students shared their poems with their parents and family members outside of the area and it was generally well received. I once showed this project off to some teachers at a “general” technology presentation I did and was asked how I did it. I knew as soon as I started that I had lost most of them. They weren’t web designers and they did have the time to become one.

Due to time constraints I dropped the publishing aspect of the poetry assignment in the last couple years. This time around however, I had a new plan. It was time to put that publishing power into the hands of the students (a la Web 2.0). The basic assignment remained the same, but now the students type their poems directly into a wiki I set up at Wikispaces for the project. Then to take it a step further, I had them find five images from World War I and integrate them into the poem.

Here is the basic lesson plan.

  1. Conduct my WWI Poetry lesson plan (the same one I’ve done for years). Assign the poem to be finished by the end of the week. The rest of the week I did other lessons.
  2. After I checked off the poem, we went to the computer lab for two days. A good chunk of the first day was spent getting the students signed up with Wikispaces and into my WWI Poetry Wiki (I’ll discuss the logistics of this another time).
  3. Next students typed their poems into a page I set up for each student (I just typed their names and made them links). Many of the students had e-mailed their poems to themselves so this was a quick process for most students.
  4. Most of the second day was spent sifting through hundreds of photographs, propaganda posters, and paintings from WWI.
  5. Finally they posted the pictures in their poems. Some did not finish in class and had to finish it up at home.
  6. The final aspect had them read each others poems. We finished with a short class discussion.

I know this lesson is not ground breaking, but it is cool none-the-less. I think lessons like this is a good first step for many teachers who might be overwhelmed and not quite ready for a larger scale project. I also intend to do a couple other wiki-based projects with this group that will be a bit more complex. This project essentially gave them a wiki primer and got them Wikispaces accounts that they can use in the future projects. The biggest hassle ended up having to use old technology. Our lab still runs OS9 (won’t run OSX) and none of the available browsers support the visual editor in Wikispaces, something I didn’t realize until I had 35 kids trying to get it work. Fortunately, brand new computers have been ordered and will be ready for use in the next month!
Wikis (and blogs) allow students to publish for a world wide audience without actually spending a lot of time on technology. I spent only moments instructing them how to use the wiki.

Want to see the World War I Poetry/Visualization Project? Here it is.


Teaching War

Like many of my 15 year old students, I am fascinated by war, but for entirely different reasons. I am not a military historian. The details of each battle and the weaponry used have never been something with which I’ve been obsessed. I have always been more interested in two other elements of war, the politics of war and the plight of the individuals who do the fighting. As a result, I find myself looking critically at the reasons wars are fought, the tactics used, and the results. As a history teacher, I have always tried to find an appropriate balance in how I teach units dealing with war. I want students to be able to critically analyze a conflict and make a reasonable assessment. All without trying to sound like a hawk or a dove.

This obviously requires some balance, especially in today’s political climate. When I first started teaching World War I in my world history classes eight years ago, the emphasis was centered upon the causes of the war, the impact on the individual soldier, and the results. While it was certainly pro-soldier, the tone of the unit had an anti-war feeling to it. Years ago I even had one student who requested a transfer to another teacher (it was denied) because this approach offended her beliefs. I went on to create an activity that centered around the Just War Theory which uses a number of factors to determine if a war is justified. Early versions of the theory date back to Classical Greece and were later refined during the European Middle Ages to help balance Christianity with the need to fight wars. The items to consider include:

  • Comparative justice: While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to override the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other;
  • Legitimate authority: Only duly constituted public authorities may use deadly force or wage war;
  • Right intention: Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain or maintaining economies is not.
  • Probability of success: Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;
  • Proportionality: The overall destruction expected from the use of force must be outweighed by the good to be achieved.
  • Last resort: Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted.
    (From Wikipedia, 12/20/06)

World War I fails most of these elements and then when you take into account the devastating effects of the Versailles Treaty it is difficult for any student or historian to argue the merits of the Great War. The Allied efforts in World War II obviously are a different story. During that unit, the tone shifts completely.

One of my major goals is to teach students to critically examine why nations decide to fight a war. The current conflict certainly complicates this approach. Many Americans, including myself, have reservations about the justifications for the war and the manner in which it has been executed. However, in the years since the Iraq War began, I have seen a shift in my students’ opinions. Initially in the build up and the first year, perceptions were very positive. I felt that I had to walk a very thin line. While I tried to get them to look at the conflict as a historian might, many only heard the arguments provided by the government. In the last couple years, my students (generally) have been much more critical of the war. It is still very far removed from our immediate lives and only a minority of us actually have a friend or family member serving overseas. Despite this change in opinion, that line still needs to be watched. My role is not to influence their political beliefs, but to create an academic environment in which they can figure it all out.

In many ways our culture glorifies war. I hear my students talking how great the latest war movie was or discuss staying up all night playing first-person shooters (many with a military theme). I once heard a student compare Saving Private Ryan to some video game he was playing. In further conversations with the student, I discovered that he had missed the point of the movie and only thought the special effects were “sick.” This over-exposure to the violence of war has created a disconnect between the popular imagery of war and the reality of war.

I don’t believe my role as a history teacher, or more generally – just a teacher, is to teach a series of facts. Let’s be serious, other than an appearance on a game show, most of the small detailed facts will do little to actually help students later in life – if they even remember them beyond the test. The conceptual and big picture ideas define my class. If a student leaves my class with an understanding of the world, I have done my part on leading them towards becoming a citizen of this great nation. The skills (critical thinking, assessing for bias, information management, etc.) they hopefully develop while learning about history are as important as the actual content.

The Dead Marshes and WWI

Harvest of Battle, C.R.W. Nevinson, 1919

As part of my World War I unit, I do an Art and Music of WWI lecture. When I showed this image someone in one of my classes said it looked like the Dead Marshes from the Lord of the Rings movies (The Two Towers). I had a vague memory of Tolkien serving in WWI so I did a little research and apparently it looks like there is a connection.

Tolkien’s experience in the war and the encouragement of his only friend who survived the war ultimately led him to write the Lord of the Rings. His service in the British army, his contemplation of the enemy, and landscape scarred by the first modern war (mixed with a lot of rain) can all be seen in his books.

I probably would never say it out loud, but I have been a LOTR fan dating back to when I read the series in elementary school. Since I started teaching world history, I’ve always had the closest connection to my World War I unit. Interesting how those two things were actually related.

I think I may include a short clip of the movie to this lecture next year and add literature to the discussion (All Quiet on the Western Front, Her Private We, etc.). I often find that my students think everything is created in isolation, without influences from the past – from music and movies to current events. This could be a good illustration.


My Castle

Conditions in schools throughout the country are varied. While some have idealized conditions, some teachers attempt to create learning environments in buildings infested with mice and mold. It amazes me to hear that there are classrooms that don’t keep out the rain!

In the spirit of raising awareness to this national problem, I am participating in the AFT’s Let’s Get it Right open house. AFT (American Federation of Teachers) recently released a report documenting some of the conditions (many of them horrible) found in our classrooms. In addition to the report, the folks over at the NCLBlog are asking teacher bloggers from around the nation to share their teaching environment.

Classroom Photo

I have to admit I am lucky. My school is just turning 20 and while there are some run down qualities throughout the campus we are in pretty good shape. No doubt a harsher climate then southern California would take a higher toll. Other then a slight odor in my room (some days it is more slight then others), I have few complaints. I did find a mouse trap in the ceiling over the summer when I moved into the classroom with three decaying bodies, but they were small and I haven’t seen any other signs of them.

I have new carpet, air conditioning/heat most of the time, seven good sized cabinets, a long counter, an office that I share with a colleague, and now a telephone in the room. My only complaint is that my department has been trying to get our video projectors mounted for closing on three years – I have part of the mount hanging about six feet about where my projector sits on a rolling cart (complete with three long cords connecting it to the computer, DVD player, and wall). But compared to many teachers out there, I’m just spoiled.

Other classrooms in my building (including my previous one) have carpet coming off the floor, but that is the worst of it.

I have had my own classroom for all but one of my 11 years teaching, so I’ve had a chance to settle in and create an environment that I think best suits my teaching style. For the items I used the monies passed down by the district, written grants, and even spent a decent chunk of my own money.

Some of my classroom customizations include:

  • A nice stereo (grant money) with six speakers (personal money) to create the full surround sound experience
  • A large desk (given to me by another teacher) completely covered in papers.
  • Plants (personal money – they’ve lasted almost five years now!)
  • Video projector (grant money) and large projection screen (department money)
  • New laptop (district money)
  • Posters – a different set for each semester (district money)
  • Extra file cabinet and small couch (personal – old furniture)
  • Lots of books (district and personal money)

Everything was arranged and installed on my own personal time. Having all of this stuff really makes it so I don’t have to worry about my classroom (other then a little organization). The students are comfortable. I’m comfortable. It is too bad that this isn’t the rule. How can we (the American people) allow poor conditions in our schools?

Great Lessons Left Behind?

I will not claim to be an expert on No Child Left Behind. I know enough that it doesn’t seem to be solution to an expanding educational crisis in many schools AND the challenges of a globalized economy. It seems to work against the latter. Call me a bad teacher, but for the last ten years, I have not thought about how my students have performed on the standardized tests given by the state of California. Instead, I have spent that time focusing on developing curriculum and teaching core concepts and skills that will help my students understand the world around them, prepare them to be global and American citizens, and succeed “out there” in the “real world.” Generally, I believe I have been successful. However, in the last three years the results on the social studies portion of the California exam has decreased – as have the school’s API score.

Now it doesn’t matter that the manner in which the scores are weighted changes from year to year – even the literature provided by the state clearly states that these scores cannot be studied longitudely. It also doesn’t seem to matter that last year all of the sophomores were piled into the gym (400+) students to take the exam to a take a test they know didn’t matter to them personally (in contrast to the CA High School Exit Exam). Nor does it matter that California has left its proficiency level at 62% while Texas lowered its level to somewhere around 50%.

As my school starts to examine ways to improve measurable school achievement (which really takes the form of D/F rates and/or scores on the state tests) and my district is pushing us towards Professional Learning Community which seem to have a data analysis emphasis, I am finally thinking about standardized tests. While I always considered the standards (specific content and generalized skills), I used them as a guide, not a map. As the content matter expert and the teacher in the classroom, I make judgments as to what areas need the most emphasis. For instance, the Holocaust is just a single point in the CA world history standards, but I spend three weeks on it. Why? Well, the community in which I teach has issues with tolerance and racism. I once had a student question the validity of the Holocaust IN CLASS. I need the students in my classes who live in this community to all understand the seriousness of the issue of tolerance.
This year, I (and the other world history teachers) have decided to move the Propaganda Video Project, which has been a part of the world history curriculum for years, back until after exam season so we can get through more content before the test. No matter that the project served as an anchor for the Rise of Totalitarianism unit or that it teaches important skills like video planning and production, group work, and recognizing media manipulation. The independent teacher in me is angry. I don’t think this is the best solution for my students, it fits here – not there. However, the rational, level-head pragmatist in me recognizes that preparing students for these exams is part of my job description. Those scores help determine how others see the school. In the private sector, I couldn’t just blow off an element of my job because of philosophical differences with my boss. The hard part now is trying to find that balance of doing what we think is best and what politicians think is best. I just hope I get to keep most of my soul.

As I want to continue to try new projects and technologies with my students, I now have to consider if they cover the standards. Does it hit all of the fine points of industrialization in England or imperialism in India, Africa, and Hawaii? Can I really spend three days on a WWI Poetry Wiki mini-project? (The answer to that last question is yes). It is no wonder some teachers won’t/can’t put in the effort to explore new technologies and skills related to these advancements. While they are important to our student’s success, there is little time and resources available AND they won’t be on the test. Online collaboration, video editing, and critical searching for digital resources are never going to become core curriculum until our priorities shift.

It’s too bad the pendulum never really sits right in the middle, it always has to swing too far to one side or the other.

What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing. Two stories, one topic.

Story 1.

My oldest son (5) has been into a series of books called the Magic Tree House. A brother and sister find a tree house that can transport them through time and around the world. In ten chapters and about 80 pages we’ve visited Pompeii, the Titanic, the age of dinosaurs, the ice age, Ancient China, and about fifteen other destinations. They usually involve a riddle or simple mystery and have served as a good learning tool.

When the latest group of books came into the library, my wife and I noticed that two of the books were about war – the Civil War and the Revolutionary War. My children are probably a bit sheltered. We do not let them watch much television, and even then, it is stuff that both the five and three year old can watch together. We do not own a toy gun, nor do we let them play with them at other kid’s houses. We know that will change eventually, but we are not looking forward to that day.

Last night I tried to explain the concept of war to him.

“Sometimes groups of people fight one another”


“For lots of reasons. For this war, there were two groups fighting. The Northerners were trying to stop the Southerners from hurting another group of people.”

“Well, why didn’t they just ask them to stop?”

“They did, but they didn’t listen. So they started to fight about it. Now we try to avoid fighting, right?”


“But does it make sense that somebody is doing something wrong you might have to fight them to get them to stop?”

“Yes.” (still a little puzzled)

So I start reading the book. The tree house takes them back in a Civil War battlefield where injured soldiers are walking towards some destination.

“Why are they hurt?”

“Well, people can get hurt when fighting a war.”

“Do people die?”

“Yes, sometimes people die.”

Tears start to well up, “Why do people fight then?”

“They fight to stop other people from doing bad things. Or they fight because they are making bad choices. Or they fight because they just can’t agree.”

Tears turn into sobs. “I don’t like this, I don’t want to read this.”

After he calmed down, I read him a nice book about jungle animals.

He was probably too young, for this book and conversation. As are the children who actually have to witness war firsthand.

Story 2.

Last February, I wrote about a former student who visited me after his second tour in Iraq. Today, I got another visit from him. As soon as I saw him walk in I knew something wasn’t right. He was shipped out for his third tour in March. He still had several months before his tour was up. Then he limped through the door. I left the front of class – the students were involved in a self directed activity for the time – and went back to talk to him. His leg had almost been “blown off.” Had it not been for the swift reactions of his friends, he would have died. He spent two weeks in a medically induced coma and was able to wake to the face of his wife.

I didn’t feel comfortable asking him too much about his injury, but he pulled up his pant leg and showed a nasty wound, now filled with scar tissue and skin grafts from his upper thigh.

He stayed only a few minutes. I shook his hand. As he left, I thought, at least HE does not have to go back.


While I am a pacifist at heart, I do recognize that war is part of humanity. One thing I always tell my students is that people, human beings as a whole, have issues. Humanity has always needed a good therapist – self help books just don’t work. Religion doesn’t seem to be the answer for world peace either.

Some times wars have to be fought. Sometimes they are fought over pettiness and greed. In middle of any war are the innocent, the children who just don’t understand why people would kill each on purpose. In the middle of any war are the young men (and women today) who follow orders, fight, and die for what they, or what their leaders, believe is right. When is a sacrifice for the common good, just a waste and when it is it justified.

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