If all goes as planned, the Los Angeles Unified School District next spring will begin teaching what is billed as the nation's first comprehensive course on Nuclear Age issues.
But first the teachers have to be taught, and the process has taken two years since the Board of Education ordered district officials to create a "balanced curriculum" to teach the politically charged subject.
The first step was a course guide, which the district began circulating in June. Appropriately titled "Nuclear Age Issues," the 211-page guide includes input from both sides of the political divide.
It was coordinated by Sid Sitkoff, the district's science instructional specialist, and Allan Scholl, the district's social studies instructional specialist, and included articles by science and social studies teachers.
Other districts have offered courses on nuclear defense, but Scholl said the 592,000-student Los Angeles district--second largest in the nation--will have the first comprehensive course on the Nuclear Age.
Sitkoff said it will not only deal with war, "but other facets of nuclear technology, such as nuclear power and nuclear medicine, as well as other issues, such as nuclear waste and radiation problems."
Previous nuclear defense courses, Scholl said, have been taught primarily to secondary students by history teachers using textbooks that "contain very little detailed information on nuclear topics."
"Our curriculum will be taught not just by science teachers, but by social studies teachers, so it'll be interdisciplinary," he said. "It'll also be taught from kindergarten through 12th grades.
Teachers will not be compelled to teach the course, but Scholl said the response has been "overwhelmingly" positive from the district's 5,000 science and social studies instructors.
In June, the district conducted a 16-hour workshop at USC that was attended by about 100 district teachers and administrators who listened to a panel of experts.
The purpose was to introduce the teachers to the guide and to instruct them on how to use it, Scholl said.
On Oct. 28, the district will hold a second workshop at USC, this time to train teams of instructors who will pass along their knowledge to the rest of the science and social studies teachers in the district.
"We're looking at taking the course into the classrooms in early spring," Scholl said. "But the Board of Education and superintendents have the final say, so it's tentative."
Anxiety among children about living in a nuclear society prompted the school board to order the development of comprehensive instructional materials to better inform students.
The course, Scholl said, could easily be titled "Education for Social Responsibility" with objective presentations that dispel misinformation and allow students to express their own thoughts.
"It's an important topic," Scholl said. "We want them (instructors) to be able to teach, hopefully, in a non-biased, non-judgmental way so that when students get out of school and begin voting they can make decisions that are well thought out."
Both Sides of Issue Involved
To present a balanced curriculum, Sitkoff and Scholl solicited the assistance of experts in academia and government as well as pro- and anti-nuclear groups.
The introduction to the teacher guide, which Scholl said has generated interest from districts throughout the nation, states:
- Students should have the opportunity to examine a variety of viewpoints.
- The function of the teacher is neither to advocate nor to encourage a particular point of view.
- Emphasis is placed on investigative activities, interpreting graphic material and data, exercising critical and creative thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills, valuing and participating in society.