Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Just War Theory for Teenagers-Musings on my Lesson Plans!

As you might know, I've been teaching senior cycle Religious Education in my hometown, Dundalk since September and as such I've had to move away from my comfort zone of the Bible (no bad thing you might say) and have been dipping my toes in other topics. For the next few weeks, I am working on Just War Theory with my fifth years. The school I teach in is Catholic but does not offer RE as a Leaving Cert subject so my students do not have to sit an exam-just participate. This you may think would be a dream come true for an RE teacher-the freedom to explore and debate without the looming fear of exams. For those who have ever come across a teenager before, you will recognise that for most teenagers, a bit of a looming fear is the only thing to get them to do anything. This coupled with issue of ability and time constraints (I have two 35-minute classes a week) means I have had to juggle a bit. My lovely lesson plans go out the window when I have to spend an entire class either keeping order (if a teenager wants to talk, talk they will) or explaining something I thought would be easy to grasp.

I also went to some lengths to see what the students would like to study (within reason. Moreover, never ask what films they think would be suitable. You will never persuade them why you cannot in loco parentis show a group of 16 year olds an 18s Cert film) and they liked the idea of War and the morality of it so this is where we are going to explore. I spend the first class after the midterm "brainstorming" (oh the glamour of it all) to see where we might take the debate. I seem to have a great even divide of pacifists and war hungry Medal of Honour gamers and all in between in the class so I'm going to try the debate route (again being careful-one class cannot handle debates-the idea of one person talking without interruption is not yet a class rule but we're working on it.) They are also obsessed with the idea of "the Muslims" being at fault for everything and I have one student who readily admits to watching too many conspiracy theory videos on YouTube so this should be fun if nothing else.

While looking for some online resources I found some great starts for teaching the about Just War Theory. Trocaire has two Pdf resources on conflict Give Peace a Chance (This is an educational resource for post-primary educators on the conflict in Gaza. It contains information and activities to help you explore the issue with Junior and Senior Cycle students) and Bread and Bombs (An educational resource on war & Afghanistan for post primary teachers. Produced after the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, this resource offers educational activities for the classroom as well as suggestions for CSPE action projects.)

Tomorrow I'm planning on working through these edited ideas of Just War principles:

Principles of a Just War

1. A just war can only be fought as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.

2. A war is just only if it is fought by a valid authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.

3. A just war can only be fought to put right a wrong suffered. For example, self-defence against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause. Further, a just war can only be fought with "right" intentions: the only allowed aim of a just war is to put right the injury.

4. A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.

5. The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. The peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.

6. The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. Countries are not allowed to use force excessive force.

7. The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

to work up to the United Nations documents on peacekeeping and the Geneva Conventions. I will let you know how it goes!


  1. Dear Maire,
    I am Francesco Bianchi and I am writing from Rome. I find your blog very useful as I too teach Catholic Religion but in a intermediate school (from 11 to 13 years). Especially in the last year I use movies for debating some hot problems (racism, war - I guess I shall use the subject about just war in future - life of some saints), although I have only an hour of lesson in each class. It is quite fun to deal with such a public, after having get a MA and a PH.D in Hebrew Studies and worked for a long while at University. It is another world and you need a new language to be understood. francesco bianchi francesco_bianch@hotmail.com

  2. Thanks so much for the comment Francesco-glad you find the blog somewhat useful! I have 3 great films for Just War and I'll be blogging on them when I get a spare moment. I know exactly what you mean by the "new language"-you can never stop being aware that the faces in front of you are not your postgraduate students!
    Thanks again!