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Ted's teaching tips

The women of Greenham may have left when the US military base was closed, but the issues of nuclear weapons and what citizens can and should do to protest over things they dislike are still with us, and are often controversial.

Greenham

Why did groups of women camp outside the military base for nearly a decade (they objected to US cruise nuclear missiles being kept there)? Where is Greenham (near Newbury in Berkshire)? Why were US weapons on our soil (we and the Americans belonged to Nato, while Russia and former Eastern bloc countries such as Poland and East Germany were members of the Warsaw Pact; Britain was geographically nearer than the US to Nato's perceived enemies)? How do nuclear weapons work (by fission - the splitting of uranium atoms, or fusion - the joining of hydrogen atoms to make helium)? Why is so much damage caused (huge amounts of energy are released, which leads to massive destruction and deaths from radiation and its effects)?

Women and politics

Ask pupils to write down the issues about which they feel strongly, then let the class analyse whether or not there are gender differences. Greenham was a "women-only" protest: do you think that women, or men, should stage separate actions? What might be the differences, if any, between campaigns run by women compared with those run by men? What issues have led to women protesting in the past (not being allowed to vote, the suffragettes, nearly 100 years ago, eventually won the right in 1928; unequal opportunities at work; anti-war and human rights campaigns)?

Protest

Would you stage a protest - if so, about what? Why did Greenham attract media publicity (the unusual involvement of women only; visual displays, singing, organised invasions of the camp)? How can people express their objections legally (campaign, petition, write to newspapers, MPs, councillors, attend meetings, march, produce and distribute leaflets)? What is illegal (damage to people or property, theft or other crimes, parading or blocking traffic when the police have forbidden it or prescribed an alternative route, making defamatory remarks)? Do you think protests are effective, or do decision-makers ignore them?

Writing

(a) Describe the issue likely to make you want to stage a protest; (b) write an imaginary letter to your MP giving your views on something you feel strongly about; (c) write a story about a group of children who successfully take (legal) action to change events in their area.

Ted Wragg is professor of education at Exeter University

Talking points

Should we in Britain give up our nuclear weapons even if others do not?

For

Nuclear bombs could devastate the planet, so they should be banned completely, but unless a major power such as Britain takes the lead, no other country will agree. They are costly to produce and maintain; we could spend the money on better things. Keeping them risks a Chernobyl-type disaster on our doorstep.

Against

It is naive to assume others would follow Britain's lead. Membership of the nuclear club acts as a deterrent when enemies know that we could retaliate with such weapons. If a terrorist state or crazed dictator acquired nuclear weapons, we would have no means of protection. Safeguards ensure there is no risk to citizens.

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