Teach-ins are about learning, but some feel are slanted against war.

By Gus Bode

Teach-ins are about informing the uninformed, not preaching to the choir, said Hugh Muldoon, director of the Interfaith Center and co-coordinator of a series of teach-ins about the possibility of war in Iraq.

But some members of the attending audience, and several who say they don’t feel welcome, have raised some questions about the real motives of the teach-ins. Some ask if the motives behind them are really educating about the current conflict and possible war between the United States and Iraq or rather persuading all attendees against it.

But according to members of the organizations that sponsor the teach-ins, including the Committee Against War, the name gives it all away.

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“It is unreasonable to expect us to sponsor a pro-war side,” Muldoon said. “We wouldn’t expect the NAACP to allow the Ku Klux Klan side in. They just wouldn’t be expected to. And it’s not our fault that other groups aren’t standing up and saying why we should get rid of Saddam Hussein.”

But that policy isn’t one that Emily Ostendorf, a senior in English from Litchfield, thinks advances their cause.

Though Ostendoft said she enjoyed the Jan. 16 teach-in titled Martin Luther King Jr. and the War in Iraq, she said she got the impression that it was about giving the audience what they want to hear.

“What went on was like-minded people patting each other on the back,” Ostendoft said after the teach-in.

Muldoon and other organizers of the teach-ins say they are motivated by two goals:They want to inform the audience and they would like to do so in a way that offers non-violent resolutions to the conflict in the first place.

Attempts have been made to get a speaker to represent some other views at the teach-ins. In fact, the first speaker at the first teach-in, James Downhour, a history lecturer at SIUC, presented Bush’s argument for a possible attack on Iraq. He is the only speaker who would take on the opposing role in a room full of anti-war sentiments. And he did receive oppositions to his position.

Since the first couple of teach-ins, the possibility of war has crept closer. Thus, organizers say they have no more time to worry about getting both sides – especially when they don’t believe in both sides.

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“There is a real urgency here,” Muldoon said. “We don’t have time to sit down and present an educational forum. We need to present why this is wrong. Troops are being sent out everyday, so we have a real sense of urgency to educate people now.”

Lisa Tozer, a senior in political science from Fort Madison, Iowa, agrees.

“We are not objective; we never claimed to be,” Tozer said of herself and the Committee Against War. “We have a goal and it is not to be objective, but to educate about why we are against war.”

Deidre Hughes, a graduate student in history, and an organizer of the teach-ins, says although they are against war, they do welcome everyone and hope everyone feels welcome to attend. To make everyone feel that way, Hughes introduces the subject of the teach-in and the speakers. She thanks the speakers and the audience for coming. And she encourages them to use the teach-in as a learning tool.

“People who come to the teach-ins learn a lot from them. We have seen that,” said Hughes, who is also a member of the Committee Against War. “Then they do research on their own. We want people to take away information and then want to go and look for more.”

And that is just what Nicole Sack, a senior in journalism from Oak Park, did. In fact, Sack looked for more than more information. She got involved.

After attending every teach-in – alone – she became so motivated that a United States led attack on Iraq would be wrong, she decide to take it all the way to the White House, as she traveled to Washington, D.C., with many other protesters from Carbondale during the Martin Luther King holiday.

“I try to talk to my friends about this, but they just think if you close your eyes, it will all go away,” Sack said.

Sack says the issues won’t go away without a lot of work and dialog, which she says start at the teach-ins.

Organizers say they encourage other groups to sponsor the same types of teach-ins. They say the organization of teach-ins is somewhat time consuming, as a date has to be chosen, a room reserved and speakers scheduled. But they say everyone is usually cooperative and the process moves smoothly. And they all agree that a story like Sack’s makes it all worth it.

Reporter Kristina Herrndobler can be reached at [email protected]

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