“If we wish to create a lasting peace we must begin with the children.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Sixth graders enrolled in the “Blue Track” at Mililani Middle School hosted a peace ceremony on June 20, just before the end of their school year. The ceremony was the final activity of their social studies unit on conflict and war and lessons of World War II. During the ceremony, each student placed a rock they had painted in the school’s Peace Garden.
The Peace Garden project, which began in 2000, contains rocks painted with symbols of the students’ thoughts on peace. Although all sixth graders in Mililani Middle School’s multitrack system learn about conflict and war, only the Blue Track’s lessons coincide with the peace ceremony.
“When we originally planned the unit, we were trying to find a culminating activity that allowed the students to reflect on what they learned,” wrote sixth grade social studies teacher Keri Coloma in an email. “I don’t even remember how the idea of the peace garden came about, but it was an idea that everyone was excited about from the beginning. We all felt that it wasn’t enough just to teach the students about historical facts — we really wanted them to learn from it — and reflect on the lessons that history teaches us.”
“We needed the kids to understand that war is not fun and that every freedom we have today, we owe to someone else’s sacrifice,” said fellow teacher Harriet Carmody in a video shown at the ceremony.
During the social studies conflict and war unit, the students researched the causes and effects of major events during World War II. They were then divided into groups and asked to take a stand on an issue. For the students who researched the attack on Pearl Harbor and the internment of Japanese Americans, the question posed to them was: “Did the United States take reasonable action when they interned Japanese Americans?” Other students researched the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and were asked: “Did the United States take reasonable action when they bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki?”
The students also visited with veterans at the 100th Infantry Battalion clubhouse and listened to “details and stories about World War II that we would never find in any history book,” as Coloma describes it, by 100th Battalion veterans Sonsei Nakamura and Kenneth Higa, who described their experiences as soldiers during World War II.
In the course of studying the subject, some of the students discovered that they had a relative who was a World War II veteran. Some Japanese American students learned that their family members were interned in camps on the Mainland following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, or were affected by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
Each year, Coloma is pleasantly surprised at how mature the students become upon completion of the unit.
“I feel that the students really mature during this unit. Through the argumentative paragraph, we really try to encourage them to take a stance on the issue and it’s so amazing to see some of the students debate an issue that they normally wouldn’t discuss at their age. It’s exciting to see them choose a side of an issue and support it with facts they’ve learned through their research.
“As adults, I think we often think that children are too young to learn about war and we try to protect them from it, but I believe that even at sixth grade, students can be challenged to think critically and once they’ve learned all the facts, are able to make informed opinions about issues,” she wrote.
Hiroshi Shimazu, a 100th Infantry Battalion veteran, and Robert Kishinami, a 442nd Regimental Combat Team veteran, attended the June 20 event at the school.
During the ceremony, the students sang their alma mater, “We Will Honor You,” and John Lennon’s “Imagine.” The approximately 150 students then went up on the stage in groups of three, introduced themselves and explained why they had chosen their symbol or picture for their rock. Symbols and their meanings ranged from crosses, representing God; to peace signs; to activities they feel at peace doing, such as going to the beach, listening to music, reading books or playing their favorite sport. One student painted a picture of a handshake, “because a handshake can sometimes make a difference between hate and peace.” Another drew a picture of a kite because “all my fears fly away and I am at peace.”
I asked my son McGwire, who is in the Blue Track, what he had learned from the unit. “Before I learned about war, I just thought it was just mindless fighting. After I learned what war was about, I know that the soldiers were fighting to help their country find freedom and peace.” McGwire chose a cross as the symbol for his rock because, he said, “The cross represents Jesus, who died for us so that we can have peace.”
Aaron Puchalski “learned that the 1940s were tough times and that World War II was really tough for many people and many countries.” He chose the American flag as the symbol for his rock because “the United States was very calm and peaceful.”
Once the unit is completed, teacher Keri Coloma had the students write a reflection piece. “One of my favorite parts of the project is the reflection piece. I enjoy reading this piece the most because it really shows me what the students have learned. Many of the students’ reflections are so thoughtful that I am often moved to tears. Their reflections remind me of why we do this project every year,” she wrote. Here are a few of the students’ thoughts:
– “After all the things I have learned about this war, it made me think that I should be happy with my life, because I have not been through hard times like the way people in the 1940s have. I have never suffered through radiation sickness or my skin peeling off, so knowing that many other people did, makes me unhappy.”
– “We should not repeat the same mistakes as people have done in the past. We must learn from them and try to do better and be stronger. I now understand what revenge, hatred, and greed can do not only to you, but to the whole world.”
– “I realize now that peace comes with a price. Also, peace is something I take for granted because I’ve always lived during a peaceful time unlike the people who lived during WWII.”