From Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Nuclear Weapons Today: A Professional Development Workshop for High School Educators

November 24th, 2017

     On 7 November 2017, Hibakusha Stories, an initiative of Youth Arts New York, collaborated with the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) to hold a professional development workshop for high school educators entitled “From Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Nuclear Weapons Today”. This was the sixth consecutive year that a nuclear disarmament education workshop took place at United Nations Headquarters on the day of the United States election, when teachers at New York City public schools receive time off to participate in continuing education activities.

     The event attracted 24 teachers specializing in social studies, global studies, government and history from 17 New York City high schools. The day at the United Nations began with a guided visit to the Permanent disarmament exhibit in the general Assembly building. A number of the teachers noted the emotional power of seeing the displayed artifacts from the nuclear blasts that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

     Immediately following the tour and introductions by the teachers, the workshop commenced with a briefing by Ms. Ray Acheson, Director of the NGO “Reaching Critical Will”. Ms. Acheson described historical and recent developments in the field of nuclear disarmament, noting the role of the United Nations and the importance of educating the public, and she urged for cooperation between civil society and the Member States of the United Nations to outline a different path forward. Courage, she said, is the missing key ingredient to achieving progress towards nuclear disarmament. She also pointed out the important attention that nuclear disarmament efforts received when the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its work on the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

     Mr. John Ennis, Chief of the Information and Outreach Branch of UNODA, then provided remarks linking the global work of disarmament to the activities of that day’s workshop. The event, he said, highlighted the important role that education plays in teaching younger generations about disarmament.

     The workshop continued in the afternoon with a presentation by Ms. Rose Welsch, United Nations Liaison Officer of the International Action Network on Small Arms. Ms. Welsch compared small arms to a weapon of mass destruction acting in “slow motion”, and she described negative impacts of their proliferation and use on economic development, public health and education. She pointed to a need for greater women’s involvement in political efforts to address such weapons, noting that existing international frameworks on the matter contain relatively few references to participation by women.

     Additional activities explored multidisciplinary and student-focused approaches to engagement, including the “BB demonstration” highlighting the devastating power of the world’s nuclear arsenals [1], as well as disarmament-related online curriculum resources. A testimony by Ms. Mitchie Takeuchi, a second-generation atomic bomb survivor from Hiroshima, gave the teachers a solemn reminder of the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons.

     The participants also received several UNODA resources they could take back to their classrooms, including copies of “Disarmament: A Basic Guide”. This publication, written for a lay audience, provides a broad overview of nuclear and conventional weapons, military spending and multilateral treaties that promote disarmament and arms control.

     In addition, an interactive session gave the teachers an opportunity to discuss disarmament issues in pairs and small groups, using open-ended phrases such as, “When I think about nuclear weapons in the world today…”; “What and how I want to teach my students about nuclear weapons is…”; and “Some of the things I really love about being alive today are…”.

     The workshop received enthusiastic praise from the participating teachers who felt it equipped them with information and ideas to better integrate disarmament issues into their course curricula, whether they were teaching classes in literature, social studies or science.



Text and Photos by Gillian Linden

[1] The demonstration, using round metallic pellets (known as BBs), allows the blindfolded listeners to hear the sound of one small pellet dropping into a large tin can. The small ping of the one pellet represents all the firepower used during World War II including the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The sound of that small ping is then compared to the huge crashing sound of 2,225 pellets falling into the same tin which represents the potential impact from the magnitude of the world’s present-day nuclear arsenal. The effect is quite chilling for listeners, and it reminds them that the threat from nuclear weapons still exists.