Why Education Activists Must Act To Oppose Military Intervention in Syria
I write this on the occasion of the start of the Jewish High Holy Days, which start with a celebration of the New Year that coincides with the start of our new school year.
I write to ask that all consider why we are concerned with public education, and what implications that has for the looming decision about whether our country should engage in unilateral military intervention against Syria.
For me, as I know for many of you, public education is not just to provide for the economic benefits we hope it will make available to all children.
It is as much to prepare them to be involved in influencing the public policy of their government, regarding the world affecting decisions of the most powerful nation on earth. These will impact them and everyone else with the consequences of climate change and the use of violence to attempt to resolve conflicts, as well as impact the allocation of resources in ways other than to meet the basic needs of the American people.
Unless our students are motivated to be involved with these matters, and knowledgeable enough to know how to make a difference, they will leave these world effecting decisions to others to make, often even unwittingly in their name as American citizens.
We face such a crisis now with the debate about whether our country should, almost unilaterally, engage in military action against Syria.
I believe that this would involve our country in the perilous position of having stoked further animosity towards us, squandering both our moral and political credibility as a nation, but also continuing to squander vital resources that are needed for students and families.
Some of you know that in addition to my many years of activity on behalf of the Campaign For Fiscal Equity, I have also made it my mission to promote programs of peaceful conflict resolution. Not only do I believe such processes are essential in their own right, helping to build humane relationships between individuals as well as between nations, but I also believe that they are central to creating the conditions for academic and creative schooling to be effective.
I helped bring such programs, of the Morningside Center For Teaching Social Responsibility, to three District 6 schools in 2009 when there was Federal ARAS Act money to help pay for them. These programs were terminated one year later in District 6 after the Federal ARAS funding ended, unfortunately before these school administrations could develop the understanding that providing peaceful conflict resolution training to staff, and peer mediation training to students, can be vital to establishing a school climate whereby so much more can therefore be accomplished. PS 24 in Brooklyn has come to recognize this, and for the past dozen years has made these an integral component of its curricula, paying for these programs itself.
What will we be teaching our students if they witness their country becoming involved in yet another military confrontation?
1) War is normal --- they have seen it their entire lives since 2001, thus deadening their sensitivity to any other ways of resolving conflicts
2) The biggest and baddest gets to impose their way --- no need to involve others -- mentors and colleagues in the case of student bullies, or the United Nations, NATO, or the Arab League in the case of the contemplated US action vs Syria
3) Money is to be spent on such actions --- to the economic benefit of the armaments industry, and the politicians who depend on it for campaign contributions --- instead of on programs for peaceful conflict resolution, class size reduction, the arts,
as well as jobs, housing, health care and all the other needs which have been neglected in the past decade during which we spent trillions of dollars on war
4) It is ok to act precipitously, without exploring all the possible unintended consequences of actions --- whether those be regarding the petty acts of children, which can get them into grave situations they did not expect, or those of adults, which have lead to the out of control spending on military adventures, and the deaths and displacement of millions of people in the past dozen years, though we were promised quick results at the cost of one tenth of what has been spent, and with the recipients of our actions deriving improved lives as a result of them.
These are some of the lessons that are at stake for me as an education activist which prompt my concern.
I am entirely secular.
But as usual, no one expresses my thoughts and beliefs better than Rabbi Arthur Waskoff, originator of the Freedom Seder, a colleague of Martin Luther King, who at 80 years old is still a prophet, and unfortunately also often still a voice in the wilderness. Below I attach you his proposals on how to address the current Syrian crises regarding the existence and use of chemical weapons.
While many of us are rightly focused on the NYC primary elections next Tuesday, that can so greatly shape the direction of education in the coming years, I ask you to also turn your attention to what can be an historic vote in Congress as early as next week about whether the United States will again commit itself to war, for the third time in 12 years, or whether we have learned that other solutions must be sought.
I urge you to sign the petition linked to below, being circulated by moveon.org
But this is not enough: call your Congressperson and Senators Schumer and Gilibrand to tell them that a combination of diplomacy, sanctions, and humanitarian aid are what the American people want and need not more war. They are the ones who will be voting on this, in our name.
Immediate action is required if we are to avoid what can become another potential disaster.
SHANA TOVA (A Healthy & Happy New Year To All)
ARTHUR WASKOFF STATEMENT