Harry Truman and the Atomic Bomb: An Excursion into Character Education through Storytelling

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This article asserts the importance of character education through the utilization of historical storytelling in the social studies classroom. After briefly noting the value of the historical story in this regard, a specific, ready-made example is provided concerning Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb and includes a crucial set of follow-up questions.

As character education continues to be an objective of the social studies, the more effective secondary school educators have taken up the challenge by first understanding the opportunities their discipline provides for examining the values of character. Strategy then comes to the forefront. Social studies teachers are rediscovering how a focus on the actual men and women of history (past and present) can play a major role in teaching character. This is a method that John Dewey asserted was once widely used in American secondary schools and one that is currently used successfully in foreign schools (Brooks & Coble, 1997). A focus on historical individuals cannot, however, be a matter of relating simple, irrelevant facts. Rather, it requires the element of story-telling.

History abounds with stories of the human struggle. When approached from that perspective, a myriad of opportunities for teaching are available. Lockwood and Harris (1985) noted that true historical stories involving dramatic moments of moral conflict are especially useful in engaging students to reflect upon values. These stories tell how individuals make personal decisions involving truth, integrity, honesty, and loyalty, and they encourage students to analyze the issues and choices made. At the very least, such stories help students realize that others before them have faced the same dilemmas that they do and that, by making the right choices, they persevered. More importantly, historical stories prove that the values of good character are not restricted to people of a particular time or place and counteract the sometimes irresistible tendency to elevate individuals into mythical heroes (Sanchez, 1998).

Campbell (1988) noted the sheer power of historical/cultural stories to impart important ideas and values to ensuing generations, stating that such stories "are about the wisdom of life" (p.24). He also lamented that present education lacks such emphasis. If secondary educators are unable or reluctant to use the story-telling strategy and to relate learning to life values, high school students are learning not the wisdom of life but merely information and technology. This is a historically precipitous circumstance. The great civilizations of the world point out a disconcertingly common denominator of survival: a civilization's citizenry could to varying degrees be academically competent, but once that same citizenry failed to be educated in the virtue of character, it steadily declined (Sanchez & Mills, 2005).

America's past, present, and promise are comprised of stories involving individuals and groups facing life's challenges. Their encounters with personal tribulations, successes, failures, and, ultimately, resolution, reflect values inherent in a democratic society. Further, the stories "are likely to attract the attention of [secondary] learners to arouse their interest and to raise questions among them that lead to discussion and reflection about values" (Sanchez, 1998, p.1). As Leming (1996) asserted, it is against the backdrop of information from our culture's stories that high school students must evaluate the present state of our values as they relate to their own lives and the future of America.

Every era of our history provides opportunities to pinpoint and explore specific values. These stories invite us to examine the issues, circumstances, choices, and consequences, and ultimately to relate them to our own lives. It comes down to real-life people involved in real-life situations. Sanchez(2000) stated that an examination of their stories

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