Peter G. Anderheggen | Originally published in Draft NOtices - August/September, 2017
Winsted Area Peace Action has been visiting high schools in northwestern Connecticut for at least ten years. The purpose of our visits has been to introduce and discuss with students alternative methods of service to the country and non-military means of earning money after high school. Our goal is to bring some contrast to the appeal of the military, which spends many millions of dollars in its recruiting efforts. We make information available on such organizations as AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, Peace Brigades International and Heifer International, all of which take people who are age 18 or older.
We are usually invited during the lunch periods, often with a table set up in the vicinity of the cafeteria. There are several lunch sessions and invariably the students arrive in droves, hungry and eager to visit with friends. Our challenge is to present something that catches their eyes and engages them.
About five years ago, one of our members who was carrying out research for a book, Seth Kershner, went to Austin, Texas, and visited a high school along with Sustainable Options for Youth (SOY). He saw how a peace wheel could be effectively used to attract students to a table. The wheel intrigued our members and we ordered one from Thomas Heikkala, a Vietnam veteran and skilled carpenter who was one of the founding members of SOY.
So, what is a peace wheel and how do we use it? Ours is a piece of plywood about twenty-four inches in diameter attached to a tripod. The wheel is divided into 12 segments separated by wooden pegs on the outer edge of the wheel. There is a small piece of plastic at the top of the tripod that hits the pegs as the wheel spins. When the wheel stops spinning it leaves the piece of plastic pointing to one of the segments, each of which contains a question. The student who spins the wheel is asked to answer or discuss the question. The purpose at this point is to engage the student, who is rewarded with a prize even if he or she cannot answer the question correctly. These days the prize is an apple; previously, members of our group handed out candy. About 25 percent of the time the experience leads to a deeper and more informative conversation and follow-up questions from the students. The major problem these days is that we have four or five students waiting in line to spin the wheel.
The questions vary in difficulty and we keep developing new ones. We also distribute sheets to students that contain all the questions and answers.
Following are a few examples of the questions:
Q. In what year and under what president was the Peace Corp established?
A. In 1961 under President Kennedy.
Q. About how many volunteers have served in the Peace Corps since it was established in 1961?
A. About 215,000 volunteers.
Q. What is AmeriCorps NCCC?
A. AmeriCorps NCCC is a team-based civilian service program inside the United States. Teams travel to projects focusing on disaster relief, the environment, housing and youth. Each year about 1,100 young people, ages 18 to 24, serve for ten months. (www.Americorps.gov.)
Q. If a high school graduate joins AmeriCorps NCCC, what benefits are received?
A. Money to live on, $5,550 for future education, health care, three meals a day, housing and an opportunity to defer qualified student loans. Also valuable leadership skills and a sense of personal empowerment.
Q. Who won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize?
A. Malala Yousafzai and Kallash Satyarthi. Malala (17 years old) won for her work promoting education for girls in Pakistan. Kallash (about 60 years old) won for his work against child slavery in India.
Q. What method of conflict resolution has resolved the greatest number of conflicts, violence or nonviolence?
A. Nonviolent actions (strikes, boycotts, petitions) have resolved twice as many conflicts both within and between nations as violent actions such as war and the threat of violence (Erica Chenwith and Maria J. Stephen, Why Civil Resistance Works). Gene Sharp in Waging Nonviolent Struggles identifies 198 methods of conflict resolution that have been used, past and present, including marches, occupations, strikes and refusal to pay taxes.
This is just a sample of the questions we ask students. It is in no way the purpose of the questions to stump the students, but rather to engage them, so it is good to include on the peace wheel some questions that they may be able to answer.
For more information on Winsted Area Peace Action, visit them on Facebook.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org/).