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Educators answering questions about war

March 27, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Washington County educators are fielding questions from students about the war instead of teaching about it in a school system effort to keep classes as normal as possible.

Leigh Green, who teaches United States history to eighth-graders at Springfield Middle School, said she doesn't bring up the war, but she has had to answer some questions about presidential powers, weapons being used in combat and the differences between biological and chemical weapons.

"A lot of kids are trying to make sense of all the bad things that could happen," she said.

Bob Hornbecker, who teaches government at South Hagerstown High School, said his ninth-grade students haven't asked a lot of questions about the war, which he thinks might be attributed to the amount of news they are taking in at home.

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Hornbecker said discussions about United Nations resolutions a couple of weeks ago prompted him to teach an early lesson on the U.N. and its powers. Normally, students wouldn't get that lecture until May.

"When what happens in the world gives you a lesson, you step out of sequence," he said.

Students in his class are learning about legislative powers now so he's had an opportunity to differentiate between Bush's executive power to start the war and Congress' power to declare war.

JoEtta Palkovitz-Brown, Washington County Public Schools' executive director of elementary education, said she's seen elementary school teachers read books about fighting to students and related the books to war.

"They're pulling down lots of maps and looking at globes to find Iraq," she said. "They're trying to explain at an elementary level what war is."

Green said that when asked questions they cannot answer, teachers can refer students to such publications as Time for Kids and Teen Newsweek, to which the school subscribes.

"It can be a learning experience for both" students and teachers, Hornbecker said. "We just try to stay one step ahead of them."

Jim Hutson, who teaches U.S. history at Clear Spring High School, said that for the most part his class is sticking to the curriculum, but he does spend some time keeping his students posted on how troops in Iraq are faring.

He said that after the war began, he opened the classroom for discussion as Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan had suggested in a letter sent to middle and high school teachers.

Morgan also asked staff not to allow students to watch media coverage of the war in school unless there was a direct connection to a planned lesson.

Due to the potential that anxiety levels might be high as a result of the hostilities, Morgan asked that administrators avoid scheduling fire drills or other events that might aggravate already high tension.

"I don't see them as upset as they were back in '91 during Desert Storm," said Ed Gift, who teaches U.S. history at Smithsburg High School.

Green said she hasn't seen any students appear to be visibly upset or anxious.

"The ones that stay quiet, it's hard to tell if they're quiet because they're thinking about it or because they just don't understand," she said.

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