Teaching About War

Introduction

War is defined as “a state of armed conflict between different nations or states or different groups within a nation or state” (Oxford Dictionary). War breaks out for a variety of reasons, including economic gain, territorial expansion, religion, nationalism, and more. Teaching students about war is important because war and conflict have significantly shaped human history. Studying war is also about understanding what happened so we do not repeat the same mistakes in the future!

Resources

There are many available resources online for teaching about war. Many of the resources below will aid educators in teaching about war in a general sense or introducing U.S. involvement in conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan to students. However, there are also an abundance of resources online for teaching about specific wars, including World War II and World War I, that are easy to find!

Lesson Plans

  1. A Guide to Teaching and Talking About War With Books for Children and Teens: Scholastic has put together a guide to teaching and talking about war using books for children and teens. The guide provides teachers with useful ideas for learning, discussion, and understanding, and the books on the list allow readers to explore the difficult issues according to their age and level of understanding. Along with the book lists for each of the age levels, there are a series of discussion questions to guide students in their learning. This resource will be very helpful for educators who would prefer to utilize a book to talk to their students about war!
  2. What is War?: TeacherVision provides an excerpted lesson from Making Choices About Conflict, Security, and Peacemaking by Carol Miller Lieber focused on what war is. In this lesson, students will consider the meaning of war and examine various definitions of war and types of warfare, especially as related to wars we have witnessed in recent years. For educators who are looking for their students to learn about war more generally, this lesson is a good starting point!
  3. Making Sense of World Conflicts: LSF, Learning for a Sustainable Future, has shared and reviewed a collection of lesson plans from Oxfam dedicated to helping students investigate conflict around the world. There are 8 lessons: Finding Out About Conflict, The Increasing Use of Small Arms – Putting Over a Message, The Arms Bazaar – A Mystery?, Futures, Is it War?, Conflict – Are You Buying It?, Million Faces – Evaluating a Campaign, and Corneille. The lessons utilize the approaches of individual reflection, think-pair-share, small group discussion, true or false statements, documentary storyboarding and teacher led discussions. 
  4. Lessons for War: Education World offers a list of sites containing some lesson plans and classroom activities for all grade levels about the war in Iraq and related issues. Topics of recommended lessons include the standoff with Iraq, the history of 9/11, helping students cope with uncertain times, and more!
  5. Global Conflicts Lesson Plans & Activities: Share My Lesson offers a variety of lesson plans and activities on global conflicts for students in grades 9-12. Some topics of these lessons include the history of what it was like for children to live in the Second World War, the origins of the Cold War (1945-1955), the causes of World War II, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  6. Zinn Education Project – Teaching About the Wars: Zinn Education Project shares a teaching guide from Rethinking Schools that focuses on United States military engagement in Afghanistan and the Middle East in an effort to break the silence on this seemingly endless violence in the classroom. Teaching About the Wars is divided into five chapters: Introduction: Breaking the Silence on War, the Road to War, The Human Face of War, Military Recruitment, and Anti-War Resistance. 

Articles

  1. Teaching War: edutopia has published an article in which the author, Todd Finley, delves into the complexities of teaching war and offers some tools and solutions. Finley explains the danger of asking hard questions, some good news regarding words and war, focusing on vocabulary, studying empathy, embracing media, and re-framing metaphors. While discussing these points, Finley also informs teachers about resources they can use to teach their students about war most effectively!
  2. Talking With Children About War and Violence In the World: TeacherVision has prepared a guide for teachers (and other adults) who are concerned about how to communicate with children about difficult issues in the world, specifically war and violence. In this article, answers to over twenty questions about talking to children about war and violence are provided by the TeacherVision Staff. These detailed answers will help teachers decide how to best broach this topic with students in their classrooms!
  3. The Challenge of Teaching War to Today’s Students: The Atlantic provides an article about the challenge of teaching war to today’s students. This article is the first installment in the site’s series of essays written by veterans. In this article, Tyler Bonin discusses his experience with trying to teach his students about the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts that have more recently shaped history. He noticed his students were disconnected from the war that has shaped their lives, unlike prior generations, and warns that remaining uninformed could be dangerous.
  4. ‘War: How Conflict Shaped Us,’ by Margaret MacMillan: An Excerpt: The New York Times provides an excerpt from Margaret MacMillan’s War: How Conflict Shaped Us. Educators may share this excerpt with their students to introduce the conversation of how war has had significant impacts on many aspects of human history!
  5. Talking to Your Kids About War: Verywell Family offers an article for teaching children about war. The article recommends that teachers bring up the subject, find out what the children know, explain the purpose of war, hold back when necessary, and avoid harmful stereotypes. Though this piece was written with an audience of parents in mind, the information is still beneficial for teachers who are looking to teach their students about war.
  6. How to Talk to Children About War – An Age-By-Age Guide: Today.com has created an age-by-age guide for explaining war to children. The guide explains how to talk to children in preschool to age 8, children ages 8 to 10, middle school students, and high school students. Again, despite the fact that this guide was designed for parents, teachers can also take notes and use this information to enhance their understanding of how to broach the topic of war with their students age-appropriately.
  7. ‘What Every Person Should Know About War’: The New York Times provides a brief article on what every person should know about war. The article contains a series of questions and answers about war. Because this article was published in 2003, some of the information is a bit old. However, much of the information will help students understand the basics about war, so it may still be worth taking a look at!

Informational Sites

  1. Britannica – War | History, Causes, Types, Meaning, Examples, & Facts: Britannica provides a multitude of information on war, including evolution of theories of war, the causes of war (biological and social), and the control of war.
  2. National Geographic – War: National Geographic provides a brief informational article on war, specifically focusing on the meaning of war, the just war theory, and the law of war.
  3. Britannica – Wars, Battles & Armed Conflicts: Britannica offers a collection of articles on specific wars, battles, and armed conflicts. Featured articles include World War I, World War II, Crusades, Hundred Years’ War, Cuban Revolution, and others.
  4. War and Peace: Our World in Data provides an abundance of charts on war and peace. There are charts on world conflict deaths, terrorism deaths vs. conflict deaths, incidents of conflict and one-sided violence since 1989, etc.

Conclusion

Teaching about war may seem like a difficult task, but it’s an important one. When teaching about this topic, it is essential for educators to remember that war is a sensitive issue. Not only may students have friends and relatives who have fought in wars overseas, but war, in general, is often a frightening and uncomfortable thought for people. Therefore, educators should be sure to create a safe space for students to ask questions and have meaningful conversations about war.

Additional Resources

  1. Peace and Security: This article discusses how the United Nations is working “to save succeeding generations from scourge of war” through ensuring peace and security.
  2. War and Conflict: PBS provides on-the-ground reports and documentaries that explore global war zones and the U.S.’s involvement.

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