David Cook: Testing for war

David Cook: Testing for war

February 20th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

The point of education is not to provide bodies for war.

The work of our schools and teachers is to enlighten, uplift and engage our kids. To humanize.

Not militarize. Not hand the names of our kids over to the Pentagon.

Bill Ketron, are you listening?

Ketron, a Republican from Murfreesboro, wants to require -- like a draft -- all students in Tennessee public schools to take a military recruiting test in 10th grade.

It's called the ASVAB: the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Every person who joins the U.S. military takes it.

Ketron's bill (SB1329, and its House counterpart HB1283) would make the test part of every public school calendar in the state. (Private schools are exempt.)

Why not force every student to fill out an ACLU application form? Or take the handgun ownership test? (Whoops, don't want to give any ideas to the NRA and its loyal Nashville lawmakers.)

The process of joining the military shouldn't become a required part of the school year. (The Hamilton County Department of Education does not currently administer the ASVAB, officials say.)

Schools shouldn't grease the pathways for teenagers into the never-ending wars our nation seems to fight.

"An absurd double standard exists in American schools: Parental consent is required for a trip to the museum, but not for military recruitment," writes Dr. Teresa Whitehurst on antiwar.com.

Hmmm. Maybe it's time for a compromise. Ketron, I'll support your idea if you agree to mine:

Require all students to take a semester-long course in Peace Studies.

We mandate years of instruction in science, math, English, history. But not one minute is devoted to understanding the dynamics of how to reduce violence and make peace.

Isn't violence, like, the biggest problem out there? Shouldn't we take it seriously enough to study it? Don't we have enough faith in peace-making to give it classroom time?

"If the ASVAB is required, let's have a similar test for the Peace Corps," Colman McCarthy said Tuesday. "The country will be far better off if we have fewer warriors and more peacemakers, more Dorothy Days and Jeannette Rankins and fewer Norman Schwarzkopfs and Tommy Franks."

For decades, McCarthy, a former Washington Post columnist and current director of the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington, has taught courses in Peace Studies. High school. Universities. Thousands of kids.

"If we don't teach our children peace, someone else will teach them violence," he loves to say.

It's not Puff the Magic Dragon. Not Woodstocky. It is a serious academic discipline that is part of schools and universities across the globe.

I'd wager that so many indexes of violence would go down (suicides, eating disorders, gang membership, depression) if we began to teach peace in a serious way in our schools.

The ethics of Gandhi. His history. The philosophy of King. The stories of abolitionists and suffragists. The fact that far more 20th century revolutions happened because of nonviolence than violence.

How to forgive your enemies.

(Any school in Hamilton County want to give it a try?)

When 21st-century students encounter the legacy of American nonviolence, something awakes within them. This world they're inheriting is so puzzling, like a cultural compass that can't find north. Peace-making provides an alternative to the social distortion of today.

Isn't that what education is supposed to be about?