Saturday, March 5, 2022

Neutrality and complexity in a war

In a teacher's meeting last friday, we discussed whether teachers should stay neutral in the current war in Ukraine. Someone said that things were so complex that we shouldn't even raise the issue in class. The context is of teachers in an international program for foreign students in Barcelona.

I defended that neutrality should not be an option when the fight is between agression by an autocrat and a democracy. I argued that neutrality of foreign governments is what killed democracy in Spain in 1939. I know things are complex. I also know that the war in Ukraine is very different from the Spanish Civil War, but then as now the agressor was well identified, as were the victims. And then as now there are things in the "good side" that make us (or at least me) feel uncomfortable. I wouldn't have liked the weight of stalinism among the Spanish Republicans, and I don't like to defend Ukraine's democracy in the name of a Ukrainian nationalism that signs the national anthem at any occasion. Defending democracy in the name of nationalism only plants the seeds for the next war, in my modest view.

But the truth is the truth, and those who are suffering in millions now are the citizens of Ukraine, and they deserve all the solidarity of people who could be like them in other European cities, and beyond. It should also be a reminder that making Molotov cocktails is an act of defense in Kiev as it is in Gaza. And that if Abramovich is an oligarch (he is), Egon Musk and other Western tax-dodging billionaires belong to the same category.

Teachers (especially in international programs) should get ready to discuss the war with students. That does not mean that we "explain" the war to them, but that we give them tools to use it as what it is, a tragic learning opportunity.

In war and peace, truth does exist. Teachers must be neutral between sports clubs, or even between different democratic ideologies. But we must teach the difference between fascism and freedom, as much as we must teach that evolution is science and creationism is not. At the same time, we must encourage critical thinking, and care in the reading of news (and the use of social media), especially in a war. This is not incompatible with solidarity with the victims (including in this case the Russian citizens who suffer an increasingly paranoid dictator at home).

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