When the current school year started, I intended to continue discussions of the war with my new class of 5th graders at La Escuela Fratney, an inner-city bilingual school that is predominantly Latino but also has whites and African Americans. We did some Middle East geography and discussed a couple of news stories. But other curricular issues started asserting themselves and, once again, the war became a very minor focus in my classroom.
Over winter break, however, with time to think about my curriculum and with media reports predicting that soon the 3000th U.S. soldier would be killed, I once again decided I could not ignore the issue. I felt guilty realizing my renewed interest was sparked by the deaths of U.S. soldiers — not the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have died. Regardless, I decided I had to do something.
On the first day after vacation I wrote the number "3,000" on the board and asked if anyone knew its significance. "It's a lot," ventured one student, but there was not much more. After I gave a hint that the number had "something to do with what's going on in the world," John raised his hand and said he thought it was the number of soldiers killed in Iraq. After clarifying that it was the number of U.S. soldiers, I asked for comments or questions. One student wanted to know how many Iraqi soldiers had been killed. Another asked how many had been hurt. We also defined "civilian" — a word none of them was familiar with.
One of my students started going off on the "stupid war" and said some derogatory comments about Bush. I made clear that name-calling — even of a political figure you disagree with — is not allowed in my classroom. I also stressed that students were welcome to discuss different points of view.
A normally quiet child then raised her hand and shared that her cousin was in the military. Another boy said that his sister was in Afghanistan. At one point I asked if anyone had family or close friends in the military, and a third of the 25 students raised their hands.