Individual and Communal Responsibility

Who gets to decide if I go to war? We opened our segment on “Conscientious Objector” with a deep looking at Picasso’s Guernica, and most middle schoolers zeroed in on that part with the mom holding her dead child. Oh, my goodness.

Should my country get to decide if I serve? Should I have the right to refuse to serve in a particular war, or do I have to believe that all fighting is wrong? We looked at the draft in WWI Britain and in the U.S. during the Vietnam War. What did it take to declare yourself a conscientious objector, and how were you treated? What inspired people to serve?

“Thank goodness my dad and brother wouldn’t have to serve,” said one girl. (The middle schoolers had, in typical middle school fashion, divided themselves into gender-separated groups.) And, when I pressed both groups to say a little more about the Selective Service registry today, we weren’t ready. No one wanted to set themselves inside that Guernica painting. We moved on.

As we work through these topics in which values we care about come into conflict, yet decisions must be made, common questions are emerging: how does being Jewish influence my decision-making? what do I do when my Jewishness conflicts with American society? how much of “me” do I allow to be shaped by a larger group, and in what situations do I do that?

We play games every time we’re together (we’re reteaching the middle schoolers how to speak kindly to one another), but when we’re back in the Middle School room, we’ve been pretty serious lately.

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