With the death toll for U.S. troops in Iraq exceeding 1000, we cannot help but see these deaths reflected in the eyes of the students we teach. In fact, one of the first U.S. soldiers to die in the Iraq war was a former student of a Rethinking Schools editor.
When Bush led the United States into war in April 2003, millions around the world demonstrated against it. Since then, a growing body of evidence suggests the administration lied about the threat of weapons of mass destruction to justify an invasion. Rising death counts for both Iraq and the United States, prison abuse scandals, and escalating insurgencies in Iraq contribute to a growing dissatisfaction with the war.
We've watched our students, often students of color, deliberate about joining the military. Some of us attend funerals for students and family members of students. And we struggle to soothe the young children in our classes as they grow more fearful with each broadcast of the evening news.
The notion that aggression and war are the answer to human conflicts goes against the values we want to promote in our classrooms. From the "peace tables" in some elementary school classrooms where we encourage students to talk through disagreements to class meetings in high school where students take on issues, our practices as critical teachers center on nonviolent, positive, and proactive approaches to conflict. This task becomes even more difficult as pro-war messages continue to flood the airwaves.
The national conversation surrounding this war presents ample opportunities for classroom discussion regarding the U.S. role in the world today and in the past. As the 1971 John Kerry speech reprinted in this issue of the magazine shows, Kerry's testimony was a moving addition to the antiwar cause. As we go to press, Kerry has begun to speak out more forcefully against the Iraq war. If he revives his antiwar past — denouncing imperial arrogance, civilian casualties, war profiteering, the betrayal of soldiers' sacrifices, and official lies and incompetence — it will be because the antiwar movement pressures him to do so.