Students at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Maryland have launched a campaign to reform the teaching of peace studies at their school after discovering that the course is regularly used to indoctrinate students in antiwar ideology and to disparage conservative views.
Andrew Saraf and Avishek Panth, both 17-year-old seniors at the school, became concerned after their classmates approached them with tales of their experiences in Colman McCarthy’s Peace Studies course, an elective class for seniors. Though not a student in the course himself, Saraf was incensed by his classmates’ descriptions of McCarthy’s class, where the textbook is a collection of essays on peace edited by McCarthy himself and where students are regularly subjected to one-sided guest lecturers and diatribes. Saraf sent an e-mail questioning McCarthy’s use of the class to promote his political agendas to the school e-mail list, sparking a fiery debate leading to press coverage in the Washington Post.
Saraf contacted Students for Academic Freedom last week for advice on how to challenge the course’s exclusionary political content. Sara Dogan, the national campus director for Students for Academic Freedom, urged him to carefully document student complaints about the course and suggested that he meet with the school’s top administrators to recommend that they adopt the Academic Bill of Rights. She also suggested that he put out a press release and seek media attention to spur administrative action to address the course’s one-sided content. Students at B-CC are also considering organizing a chapter of Students for Academic Freedom.
“It’s not acceptable for a public high school to be used to push a political agenda. That’s not what education is about,” Saraf commented. “The ‘class’ is headed by an individual with a political agenda, who wants to teach students the ‘right’ way of thinking by giving them facts that are skewed in one direction.”
Colman McCarthy, the teacher of the course, is the founder and president of the Center for Teaching Peace, an organization which works with teachers and school districts to start or expand education in peace studies. McCarthy has defended his teaching style, saying, “Unless we teach them peace, someone else will teach them violence,” although he claims to welcome conservative dissenters in his class.
“It is outrageous that this indoctrination course in Peace Studies has been allowed to be taught unchallenged for nearly two decades,” Dogan said. “Andrew Saraf and his classmates have set a courageous example of how students who refuse to accept classroom indoctrination can make a true difference in their schools.”
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