Students talk about war

Teachers, administrators taking cautious approach with children

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— Like a lot of kids her age, seventh-grader Erin Van Patten is scared by war.

"I wish we could have peace," she said. "I felt scared (watching television) because I know if I had an older brother or sister, they could be there. It might sound corny, but I just want peace."

Even with the classroom television off, talk of war thrived in Bruce Wenzlau's Thursday afternoon world history class at Steamboat Springs Middle School.

"How come we're fighting there and not here?" one student asked.

"Why is it all right for us to have nuclear weapons and not other countries?" asked another.

Teachers around the nation will likely face similarly difficult questions as the war against Iraq and the subsequent media coverage continues to escalate.

Here in Steamboat Springs, teachers and administrators are taking a cautious approach to discussing the conflict with their students.

"We want to be factual and age-appropriate," Superintendent Cyndy Simms said. "As far as our personal opinions are concerned, we must present all perspectives in the war or not express our opinion."

That's sometimes easier said than done, middle school Principal Tim Bishop said.

"It's a fine line of not going over the edge but still creating the opportunity for dialogue," Bishop said.

Encouraging dialogue is important, particularly when it addresses students' fears, Wenzlau said.

"It's good for them to talk about it," he said. "(Seventh-graders) were all born in 1989 or 1990, so they know nothing about the first Gulf War. Their first (war) experience was Afghanistan."

"They had a lot of fears in the beginning," Wenzlau said. "I think we can relieve some of those fears by talking about it."

At Steamboat Springs High School, Dexter Mahaffey's 10th-grade American literature class combined with Kelly Erickson's 10th-grade American history class for a war discussion Thursday.

Unlike those at the middle school, high school discussions focused more on the politics involved rather than battlefield specifics.

"It seems the U.S. has changed a lot in the past 50 years," one student said. "Before, it seemed we'd only get into wars if we had to."

"We have to tell Saddam that we're not bluffing," countered another.

Strawberry Park Elementary School Principal John DeVincentis encouraged his teachers to keep any war conversations as light as possible.

He has also suggested that teachers keep classroom televisions off and let parents decide what they want their young children exposed to.

Memories of his childhood during the Cold War are still very vivid, DeVincentis said.

"For me, it was very scary," he said. "I hope if we talk about (war) in school it's in a very general sense. What I hope is that it's at a level where it's not frightening."

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