The educational system is beginning to grapple with nuclear war, and war is winning.
The few course outlines on arms control issues that are available for pre-college use, all of which are less than a year old, are under attack by critics who say that they are biased. None is widely used. College-level offerings are largely invented on the spot by teachers, and there are no standard texts.
"You can give a course with emphasis on science, or history, or technology, the Soviet Union, foreign policy--there are at least 16 different ways to go at it," said Harmon C. Dunathan, dean of the faculty at Hobart & William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., who organized the first major academic conference on the field last year.
"I never get any argument on the point that this is the issue of our time and that colleges and universities have been notably irresponsible in not addressing it," he added.
The National Education Association, feeling the same way about lack of course outlines at the secondary school level, produced one in January called "Choices: A Unit on Conflict and Nuclear War." The 144-page booklet, outlining 10 lessons for junior high school students over two to four weeks, was criticized immediately by the conservative weekly Human Events as "designed to create a new generation of anti-nuclear activists."
That verdict was echoed by the American Federation of Teachers, NEA's rival teacher union, and by several newspaper editorials, including one in The Washington Post that was widely reprinted. All said the outline's choice of facts, its nuclear-weapons count and some of the activities it recommended for students might bias pupils toward the Soviet view of the arms race.
Although the initial press run of 1,500 copies sold out at $9.90 each to individual teachers, the program is not in wide use. Robert McClure, the NEA's program manager for teacher education, who headed the joint project with the University of Massachusetts and the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an interview that "strenuous efforts" were made to remain neutral.
"It is not biased," he said. "All points of view are presented." Pre-publication tests last year involved 44 teachers in 35 states, many of whom recommended changes that then were made to eliminate bias, he said.
The critics nevertheless complained that the final version fails to include "deterrence" in a list of policy options, omits mention of the failure of appeasement policies toward Hitler and measures nuclear capacity only in terms of warheads, omitting other techniques. Human Events was concerned that students were asked to write letters expressing their views to public officials.
"The NEA guide presumes there are two sides, one in favor of peace and the other in favor of war, rather than that there are two legitimate points of view on how best to achieve peace--through deterrence and strength, or through allaying the fears of the Soviet Union by cooperation with them," the AFT's Linda Chavez said.
Natalie Goldring, an arms control analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, who co-authored the guide, denied the criticism. A four-week course for 11- to 14-year-olds cannot cover all history or every nuclear measurement technique, she said. The concept of deterrence through continued strength of arms is implicit in any policy option other than disarmament, she added.
As for student activism, she said, "I think that's great."
Educators for Social Responsibility has published a curriculum resource guide for teachers, while ESR board member Roberta Snow wrote a book, "Decisionmaking in the Nuclear Age," intended as a high-school text.
But no comprehensive secondary school-level work on the overall debate exists, according to Education Week writer Ward Wilson. The first comprehensive college-level text on nuclear issues is scheduled for publication this summer by Harvard University.
Another high school curriculum guide, produced by the antiwar educational group Ground Zero, provides 57 pages of suggested lecture outlines, discussion topics and background data. More than 800 have been sold, according to spokesman Ellis Woodard, who noted that a Ground Zero "Pentagon-style, role-playing game" has sold more than 5,000 copies. "We got some complaints of bias," he said. "Anyone preparing these materials has to be very, very careful."
After Dunathan and the American Council on Education organized a conference on educators and nuclear war issues here last year, at least two groups were formed to promote college-level courses. These include University Professors Against Nuclear War, with headquarters here and claiming more than 50 active chapters, and Countdown, an educational project of the Federation of American Scientists.
Although courses on nuclear issues have existed for years at Harvard, Ohio State and a few other institutions, most are new. A course called "War and Peace in the Nuclear Age" was jointly offered this spring by professors of physics and political science and the campus Naval ROTC officer at Cornell. More than 250 enrolled, Dunathan said