NORTHBROOK — A group of Wood Oaks Junior High School eighth graders got a firsthand look at a Washington think tank—virtually that is.
The students interviewed Kingston Reif, the director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association in Washington by Skype Jan. 28 as part of their study of the world’s nuclear arms threat.
By the time the teens, two classes of eighth-grade social studies students, finished questioning Reif along with their class work, they might be in a position to teach a thing or two to their elders.
“We’re really spending so much money for weapons we’re not going to use,” Inhyeok Oh said.
“If they’re there as a deterrent no one is going to use them,” Sabastian Klein added. “We could be using the money for so many other things, especially with our debt.”
Liza Shakhlevich, another of the students, said the opportunity to talk directly to Reif was a good complement to her education.
“It’s cool to talk to an expert in the field,” Shakhlevich said. “He knows so much first hand and has talked to (other) experts in the field.”
Gella Meyerhoff, one of three eighth grade social studies teachers instructing the unit along with Geoff Marshall and Chris Beck, said she hears from parents they have to do some homework to talk to their kids. She said the eighth grade curriculum is global studies.
“Some parents tell me they have to watch the news to keep up with their kids,” Meyerhoff said. “This course gives (the students) something to think about and make social studies totally relevant to today.”
One thing the students learned was the nations that possess nuclear weapons whether those countries have said they have them or have openly tested them. Beside the United States, Shakhlevich said Reif told them the nations were Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea.
The students have been engaged in a unit on nuclear proliferation, which includes the Cuban Missile Crisis and the current Middle East, according to Marshall. This included the agreement between Iran, the United States and other world powers to curb the Iranians’ ability to develop atomic arms. Part of Reif’s job is educating members of Congress.
Sam Rosen, another one of the students, said Reif told them about the deal with Iran and how staff members from Congress came to him to learn more.
“Mr. Reif told us about the Iran deal and how this is going to make it harder for them to get nuclear weapons and make the world safer,” Rosen said. “It will be harder for Iran to make one.”
When asked if he feared Israel might use its nuclear weapons to destroy Iran’s atomic facilities should the Iranians break the deal struck last year, Rosen dismissed the idea.
“Israel won’t use one to strike first,” Rosen said. “They are such a small country. Two or three (nuclear bombs) could wipe them out,” he added, referring to potential retaliation.
The youngsters also learned from Reif how much he has to educate Congressional staffers.
“He said we were much better informed than some of the staff from the Hill,” Shakhlevich said.
The interview with Reif is not new at Wood Oaks. Marshall said it was the fifth consecutive year. Reif’s cousin is a physical education teacher at the school and helped arrange it, Marshall said.
“It’s about who you know,” Meyerhoff said.