NAGASAKI – Ideas are shifting about what constitutes the nebulously named concept of “peace education” in Nagasaki, the second city ever to suffer an atomic attack, as its educators look to create a new approach to learning about their city’s difficult history.
Educators say too much emphasis has been placed on relaying the brutal reality of A-bomb strikes to new generations, resulting in students forming a myopic view of the incidents rather than questioning and debating everything that culminated in the use of atomic weapons toward the end of World War II.
The program of so-called peace education has aimed to inform and educate children about war, but has used traditional, textbook-driven teaching techniques that may have failed to give students an understanding of the A-bomb strikes in the wider context of the war.
The key word is dialogue, educators say — conducting conceptual experiments that question the meaning of peace and war by getting children to react, express opinions and discuss less-considered viewpoints.
Students are asked to consider, for example, the moral implications of being a brilliant scientist during wartime. They are asked to mull over such questions as: “If the government demanded that you work on the development of a weapon of mass destruction, would you accept the task?”
This was an actual question posed by a teacher in a workshop at Yamazato Junior High School in Nagasaki. True accounts of scientists who were involved in the U.S.-led Manhattan Project during the war were used to make the activities feel real.
Third-year students, 32 in all, took turns playing the role of the scientists: arguing for taking part in the bomb program, wanting to but being conflicted, saying no but being conflicted, and rejecting it outright.
Some argued that they could not assist a program that would result in taking so many lives, while others made the case that weapons of mass destruction are necessary to bring the war to an end.
Some students argued that the scientist’s choices might have been limited.
“I was completely against it at first, but if you turned this down, your future as a scientist might have been over,” said Ryosuke Ashida, a 15-year-old student who took part in the experiment.
Masahiro Yamakawa, 48, chief director in charge of the Nagasaki Board of Education’s school division, said, “It was a first step in getting students to talk about peace in their own words.”
Revisions to the education program were launched after a survey was conducted on third-year junior high school students in the city in 2016. As many as 94 percent of the respondents knew Aug. 9, 1945, was the date for the A-bombing of Nagasaki, but only 72 percent knew the date for Hiroshima, 14 points lower than a similar survey in 1991.
“Because there has been special emphasis given to relaying the experiences of Nagasaki atomic bomb victims, there has been a lack of study from a broad perspective,” said Yamakawa.
Starting in the current school year, educational booklets on the topic have been substantially revised to get rid of the textbook-like descriptive tone. More photos and diagrams have been included with the mind-set of stirring students’ imaginations, educators say.
Students are now required to do “investigative learning” by preparing advance questions for the annual lectures given by A-bomb survivors.
Reiko Hada, 82, a hibakusha from Nagasaki who gives talks on her experience at around 60 schools in and outside the prefecture each year, said, “I felt like there was a passiveness to children in Nagasaki.”
So when she went to elementary schools that had introduced interactive dialogue about the attacks, she said she was surprised to see so many students raising their hands to ask questions.
“I want them to take home what they learn about the atomic bombs and to discuss it with their families and friends,” Hada said.
More than 70 years have passed since the attacks, and both the teachers and their pupils are from generations that do not have any direct experience with war. Schools must continue their efforts through trial and error, teachers say.
“I always ask myself whether peace education has not become just a customary thing,” said Shizuka Taniguchi, 53, a teacher in charge of the program at Mikawa Junior High School in the city. “For the children, the war is something that occurred in the distant past. We want them to gain the power to think of it, even a little, as something that is relevant to their life.”