War reaches the classroom

21st March 2003 at 00:00
As The TES went to press this week, the citizens and children of Iraq were bracing themselves for a terrible onslaught while we in Britain find ourselves committed to a controversial war to which most were opposed. That conflict is thousands of miles away. But it is viewable almost every minute of the day from the living room sofa. Television has brought a new meaning to the term "theatre of war". Its images may even provide audiences with a wider picture of the action - or at least the visual highlights of it - than that experienced by those fighting through the smoke and dust of a desert war.

A full range of views on the justness of this war is likely to be represented in staffrooms. For some there are real consequences. We have reported on both teacher reservists serving in the Gulf and those staff who have abandoned the classroom to act as human shields in Baghdad (page 37, FEFocus).

Even on the home front, UK schools deemed vulnerable to terrorism linked to the war are having to contemplate direct attacks (page 8). Others will have anxious children with close relatives in the armed forces. And every school needs to be ready to allow pupils to share and confront their feelings and to counter any friction between Muslims and non-Muslims that some will use this conflict to exploit.

Images of violence and its consequences provoke strong and conflicting emotions in adults, let alone children. Where real people are fighting and dying, the imperfect imagery of televised warfare can be more disturbing than the fictionalised, but more graphic, horror of the special effects studio.

Few pupils will escape the horrifying but compelling images of modern warfare that we are likely to witness over and over again. And whether that experience evokes excitement, anger, sadness or fear, they will bring that response to school with them. So will their teachers. They now have to draw on their deepest reserves of professionalism to set aside their own strong feelings in order to provide whatever perspective, comfort, understanding and empathy their pupils need.

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