Each year, Election Day is also Staff Development Day for teachers at New York City Public Schools. They are given a half day to participate in continuing education activities. This year, on 6 November 2012, Hibakusha Stories in collaboration with Peace Boat and the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) organized a workshop at United Nations Headquarters on nuclear disarmament.
Thirty teachers specializing in social studies, global studies, government and history from seventeen New York City high schools participated in the workshop. The day began at the United Nations with a guided tour of the disarmament corridor part of the larger visitor tour route which has the overall theme “From War to Development”. A number of teachers noted how emotionally powerful it was to see the artefacts from the nuclear blasts which devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Immediately following the tour, the workshop commenced, exploring the subjects of nuclear disarmament and the role of the United Nations, the dawn of the nuclear age and the Manhattan Project, the human dimensions of World War II and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In addition to the substantive curriculum, the workshop also focused on pedagogical approaches including multidisciplinary and student-focussed learning methods as well as tapping into online resources.
Teachers were introduced to the UN’s Cyberschoolbus Classroom Toolkit on Disarmament and also experienced the “BB demonstration.” The demonstration, using round metallic pellets (known as BBs), allows the blindfolded listeners to hear the sound of one small pellet dropping into a large tin can. The small ping of the one pellet represents all the firepower used during World War II including the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The sound of that small ping is then compared to the huge crashing sound of 2,225 pellets falling into the same tin which represents the potential impact from the magnitude of the world’s present-day nuclear arsenal. The effect is quite chilling on listeners and reminds them that the threat from nuclear weapons still exists. And even today, after substantial reductions in the nuclear arsenals, the potential effects of the use of nuclear weapons would be absolutely devastating for mankind and the planet.
In addition to the training activities, the participants received a number of resources they could bring back to their classrooms including “Disarmament: A Basic Guide”, produced by UNODA. This publication, written for a lay audience, covers nuclear disarmament and conventional weapons, military spending, and multilateral treaties that promote disarmament and arms control.
One of the organizers from Hibakusha Stories, Robert Croonquist said that “this group of teachers will return to the classroom with standards-based content, methodology and resources in the field of disarmament education that they will integrate into the curriculum and teach to over 4,000 students annually.” Kathleen Sullivan, also from Hibakusha Stories, said that “several of the educators remarked that this professional development workshop was the best they had ever attended”, and she added, “May it be the first of many.”