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6th Graders Confront Theories and Realities of War As a Project Topic

The Einsteinium Tungsten class has voted to make “war” the topic for their first project of the year. The sixth graders and their teacher, Mr. Will Hudson, arrived at the decision through an extended process of brainstorming, collaborative group work and discussion. “It goes without saying that this is a challenging area of study that must be handled respectfully, carefully, and with an awareness of what is developmentally appropriate for all students,” says Mr. Hudson. “I will be working closely with students as we try to develop an understanding of the deep complexities of war, balancing its sanitization and glorification with its reality for individuals, families and communities.”

One of the students’ first activities was to develop their own definitions of war, and also of peace. One area of exploration for the group will be the issue of how conflict manifests within community and the lives of individuals.

"This week we had a few discussions during project work debating whether there can be conflict in peace. We all pretty much agreed that there can be conflict in peace, so we started writing down on the board what we thought were conflicts to avoid all the time, and what were conflicts that were sometimes needed," says Charlie, an Einsteinium Tungsten student.

“One of the questions we've tried to answer is whether war is ever justified and, if so, what is the criteria for a ‘just’ war. In our case, we chose to proceed with the assumption that there are just and unjust wars while also recognizing that this does not represent all perspectives, and there are strong arguments against all wars,” says Mr. Hudson, who introduced the students to St. Augustine’s and St. Aquinas’ contributions to the Just War Theory.

Students are exploring the impact of war on everyday life and on special areas of interest to each individual student. “Mr. Hudson and I have been talking about how to connect baseball and sports to our topic. I read a book called Barbed-Wire Baseball about Japanese Americans in internment camps during WWII and how Kenichi Zenimura started a baseball league," says Noah, another Einsteinium Tungsten student.

The entire class got a deeper view of the complexity of war on a field trip to the National Veteran's Art Museum in Chicago. Students had the opportunity to experience both the physical and emotional weight of combat and warfare on soldiers, families, and civilians: they handled artifacts, tried on weighted packs similar to those carried by soldiers in Vietnam, and read letters written home to families and loved ones. They were also able to ask questions of a veteran volunteer about his service and his perspective on contemporary conflicts and the challenges of returning to civilian life.

Mr. Hudson says “Personally, war has impacted my family, friends, and acquaintances both through service and loss, and I have shared this with students as an example. My hope is that students can have similar conversations and opportunities for learning and sharing with their own family members."

The sixth graders' current experience illustrates how emergent curriculum unfolds at TCS. The students as a group expressed curiosity about the topic of war, and the teacher serves as a guide in order to make possible a deeper exploration and understanding of war and its related issues. During this process, academic skills such as research, reading, writing, art appreciation, and more have already come into play. As the year progresses, the topic will become the focal point of additional project work.

Explore more about our emergent curriculum, or our middle school program, by scheduling a tour or attending an open house.

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