Trying to Help Children Create a Peaceful World

by on October 29, 2019 · 4 comments

in Education, From the Soul, Military

Ernie (2nd from left) with other members of Project YANO.

by Ernie McCray  

Trying to help children create a peaceful world is difficult, to say the least. The reason being, I suppose, is because war seems to be the default way human beings have chosen, over time, to solve problems between nations.

Children are groomed to accept armed conflict in such a world.

I mean I grew up in the 40’s running around with my buddies, loudly mouthing the whistling and booming noises of bombs exploding and the rat-a-tat-tat sounds of war we learned how to playfully mimic at the movies on many a Saturday afternoon.

We were grunts and swabbies and jarheads and flyboys all wrapped in one, anchoring aweigh and flying off into the wild blue yonder and storming beaches and rolling those caissons along, practically every day.

Nobody ever said “Hey, haven’t you children ‘play killed’ enough people today?”

So, joining the marine corps reserves at age 17 seemed natural to me, a mere extension of my childhood play, considering all the marching and crawling and climbing and running and jumping over things to get at the “enemy” that was part of our training.

And, being an athlete, a lot of what we did was fun and challenging to me.

But I’m a loving being too, by nature, and one day the thought of being a “lean mean killing machine” lost all its appeal to me and, in the blinking of an eye, I was in lockstep with the peace movement.

And my first class of sixth graders revealed to me what a key role educators can play in helping young people think along the lines of creating a more peaceful world.

Most of my students’ fathers were fighting in Vietnam and as we dealt with our worries about what was happening, we, letting our imaginations run free, would entertain in our conversations and in our writings and improvisations what a better world would look like and how we might achieve such.

Later in my career when I was a principal I happened upon and got involved with Project YANO (Youth and Non-Military Opportunities), an organization that tries to counter the massive influence on students the military has in our schools.

I’ve always appreciated them because students are too often led to believe that the armed forces are the only game in town when it comes to opportunities, and they simply let them know that they have other options available to them: job training, internships, information regarding financial aid for college, careers in social change…

But there’s very little support for such work. It’s like society doesn’t want children to question whether or not they want to go to war.

That was made so clear to me one September day back in 2006 when reporters from KGTV, Channel 10, showed up at my house to ask me about what was going on with the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice, in which Project YANO is linked.

I was so excited to get a chance to speak to my city about the leafletting we were doing at a few high schools to get a word in edgewise in an atmosphere where recruiters had free range on campuses wowing students, especially those of color, with “interactive” websites and slick pamphlets and exciting images that show them how they can join the “Few and the Proud” or become an “Army of One.” All they had to do was sign their name.

It felt so good standing in front of the camera on the front porch of my house, talking about how our leaflets let students know they have the right to their privacy, the right to opt out, to say “No” to giving their names and addresses and phone numbers to recruiters who were working hard to meet quotas that would keep them from having to go off to war (a big incentive for them to succeed in their mission).

Oh, I was in my element, waxing poetically, I thought, about how what we were doing, basically, was enlightening students, helping them to look at their world critically, nurturing ideas of peace in their fertile yet innocent minds.

I nailed it, if you asked me, getting in everything I wanted to say, fulfilling what I try to do every day: make the world a little better in some way.

That evening I turned on the “Eleven O’clock News” and they began by highlighting that the military was offering recruits more pay and up to $40,000 in bonus pay. They made Uncle Sam sound like the most generous citizen of the USA.

A recruiting sergeant, standing proudly as I had, spoke about lives being impacted for the better.

Then there I was, on the screen, like an afterthought, out of context, saying a few words regarding how students need to know that joining the military is like no other job in that it’s not one you can walk away from if you decide it’s not your cup of tea.

Then, poof, my image was gone. And, in a beat, the sergeant is saying: “It’s a volunteer force. We don’t twist anybody’s arm. And all positions aren’t combat positions.”

And, in synch with him, the reporter says: “That’s right. They’re looking for skilled people of all kinds.”

I sat in my living room with my jaw dropped to my knees (it seemed). I had to fight back a few tears, thinking how activists for peace and justice have to have bake sales and work-a-thons and go caroling at Christmas to hustle a few pennies so that we can give students some news they can use and a television station gives the Pentagon, which has an open-ended budget to come after them, free air to express their views.

I was more disappointed than surprised since keeping one’s “eyes on the prize” is an exhausting enterprise.

Nothing has changed in our society’s general lack of concern about our children going off to fight in ill-begotten and ill-conceived wars.

But I have nothing better to do than helping them develop the kind of sensitivity and intelligence they need to turn their troubled world around.

So, I will keep on trying.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Molly October 29, 2019 at 11:23 am

Way to go Ernie. Thanks for what you’re doing. We’ve got to break the chain of sending kids off to war for no good reason (Vietnam, Iraq).


Shirley Sprinkles, Ph.D October 30, 2019 at 7:29 am

So eloquently written! Keep doing your
“good-est” to enlighten our youth.


Rick Jahnkow October 30, 2019 at 4:19 pm

Thank you, Ernie, for raising awareness of this issue. Over the years, Project YANO has had to face frustrating barriers when seeking equal school access–from school superintendents, principals and counselors (you’ve always been an exception, of course, Ernie). But that’s to be expected in a place like San Diego County. What’s equally frustrating, however, has been the lack of attention given to the militarization of schools by people who consider themselves anti-war or “progressive”–including, no doubt, some readers of Until more individuals focus on the dangerous long-term implications of allowing the military’s influence to grow in our schools, I don’t see how we can prevent repetition of the same political cycles (not just the wars) that have brought us to where we are today. Schools are where seeds are planted that sustain the status quo. We can’t continue to focus solely on immediate crises that are handed to us. We need to pursue a long game based on the educational system.


Thomas Gayton November 7, 2019 at 1:50 pm



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