Rationales & Curricula

"Unless we teach our children peace,
someone else will teach them violence." Colman McCarthy (I'd Rather Teach Peace, 2000, p. xvii)

Rationales for Teaching for Peace: What? Why? Where? How? When? Why again?

What is teaching for peace? 

What is peace education, and how does it differ from plain, old-fashioned good teaching? Indeed, there are similarities. Peace education is multi-dimensional, encompassing a wide variety of curricular content, from subject areas to areas of socialization. Peace education complies with numerous content standards, and is applicable to all ages of students. So, how does it differ? Teaching for peace takes a leap of imagination. Peace education transforms student and teacher alike, empowering us to look at the world through lenses of peace.

 Peace education aims to change an existing belief system—a culture of acceptance of war and violence as methods of solving international and local problems—to a new paradigm—one in which human rights, social justice, sustainable development, and creative diplomacy and conflict resolution are promoted as effective paths to local, national, and international security. Peace education helps children see themselves as integral parts of one human family and as capable actors for positive social change on a local and global stage. It is a long-term process, yielding a harvest that is often unseen. Seen or unseen, we must sow the seeds today for a harvest of peace.

Why teach for peace?

Educational, media, and other institutions are drowning our children in a sea of war culture. Too often, we fail to teach children a positive conception of peace as a natural part of the local and global landscape. On any given day, for example, I can ask my students to draw pictures of war, and they have no problem getting started, quickly filling the page with explosions, blood, and guns. Early in the year, however, when I ask them to draw pictures of peace, they sit at their desks, stare at the page, and ask me what I mean.

Researchers find that our understanding of war and peace is developed during childhood and becomes the enduring basis for our subsequent ideas about interpersonal and international conflict. We must help children see peace as a positive condition that includes constructive interpersonal and international relations, respect and empathy for all, and cooperative conflict resolution for the common good, rather than simply as an absence of conflict or violence.

Where can we teach for peace?

We can teach for peace during daily classroom lessons and in the ways we set up the classroom itself. Using topics from current events, scientific discovery, historical curricula, world languages, mathematics, arts, and literature, we can inspire debate, discussion, and exploration of peace and conflict concepts. We can create bulletin boards with inspirational, controversial, and thought-provoking messages. We can create cooperative learning opportunities to allow students to find their literal and figurative voices as they learn how to solve problems peacefully.  We can create an environment in which students feel safe to explore controversial issues and to make independent discoveries.

We can engage families in our classroom discussions as well. At home, families can discuss media consumption and content.  They can investigate healthy food options and opportunities to save energy.   Families can also engage children in faith-based or community efforts they find valuable. Think, Care, Act: Teaching for a Peaceful Future, details numerous classroom projects and curriculum units, including students’ feedback about the impact of the lessons on them and ways of including families in classroom efforts. 

How can we teach for peace?

We do this by teaching our students to think, care, and act. Helping our students think critically—especially in the face of constant media bombardment—will provide them with what scholar Noam Chomsky calls “intellectual self defense.” We teach them to care about their classmates, and to know them on a deep rather than superficial level. But we also teach them to be citizens of the world: embracing what Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams called in 1906—lacking a better term—“cosmic patriotism.” But it’s not enough for our students to think and care, we must also teach them to act positively, honorably, and effectively to create the change they wish to see in the world—locally and globally. Being able to think, care, and act enables students to become thoughtful, compassionate, and effective local and global citizens. Frankly, we can teach them all the content we want, but without teaching students to think, care, and act, we do not provide them with the tools to build a peaceful future.

My book details classroom lessons and ways of interacting with students.  In addition, there are numerous web and print resources that can help teachers sustain a curriculum rich in peace education concepts and methods.  Follow the links for resources to help students think, care, and act.  

When will we see the result of teaching for peace?
OR… Why do I teach for peace, in spite of the fact that peace education is such a long-term process?

Think. Care. Act. This is my attempt to change the culture of war to a culture of peace. I grew up listening to the nightly screams of my father, a man who had endured and perpetrated the horrors of war as a combat infantry soldier. I am a wife and the mother of two sons of military age. And, I teach eager young children, whom I believe can change the world. As I wrote these pages, the wind was raging in icy blasts. Yet tiny, yellow and purple crocuses and brilliant blue scilla flowers were in bloom, in spite of the cold wind. I took these flowers as symbolic of our efforts to cultivate the beauty of peace that can thrive in our chilling climate of war.

 Irwin Abrams was a friend of mine, an internationally recognized historian and biographer of Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at Antioch University, he researched the field of peace education since conducting his doctoral work at Harvard University in the 1930s. At 95, he continued to write, lecture, and travel in the cause of peace, and in the course of my research, I sought his advice. I shared with Irwin my quandary over the slow pace of peace education. It’s such a long-term solution to an imminent problem. “What do I answer those who criticize peace education as being too slow to be effective?” I asked. “What do I tell myself?” is what I really wondered.

Without missing a beat, Irwin replied, “We work for the unseen harvest. There are consequences of the work we do….”

 An inspiration for me has been the book and video, A Force More Powerful, in which several non-violent peace and social change movements are documented. In March 1930, Mohandas Gandhi launched his campaign of civil disobedience against the British with a 240 mile march to make salt from the sea. Seventeen years later, India gained independence from Great Britain. In December 1959, Reverend James Lawson began training young black college students in methods of non-violent social action. The students began a campaign of sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee, in February, 1960. Four months later, Nashville lunch counters were desegregated. Whether the results come slowly or quickly, those who work for a just cause must not lose hope, must be well organized, and must continue to strive for the harvest of peace, justice, and common good. Gandhi said, “If we are to reach real peace in the world, we shall have to begin with the children.” Let's begin today.

Why again? Hypotheses for teaching for peace:

As a middle school teacher and a student of moral development, I make the following assumptions in my work to devise a peace-promoting curriculum in my middle school classes. Many of the same assumptions can be made for younger and older students:

1. Adolescents, while egocentric and self-absorbed, have more anger, fear, and hope about social injustice, international relations, global security, environmental issues, and issues of war and peace than we think they do, and their fears undermine their academic and social success. They need the opportunity to express their fears and their hopes in a safe and supportive environment.

2. Media bombardment does not help them evaluate information effectively. They need guidance to become informed and to help them think critically about historical, current, and future events.

3. We do not properly educate young adolescents without teaching them about—and giving them opportunities to become—exemplars of nonviolent, courageous action for peace and justice. Often, this means supplementing textbooks that overemphasize military heroes and military approaches. For example, allowing middle school students to speak the words of Nobel Peace Prize laureates, to discuss and debate nonviolent prevention of deadly conflict, and to develop and implement social action projects on the local and global level will help them envision peaceful solutions to problems, help build cultural competence, and will make them feel powerful in the face of ongoing danger in the local and global community.

4. Teaching critical thinking, cultural competence, and moral action—teaching children to think, care, and act—is key to the development of future leaders able to peacefully and productively serve their fellow citizens.

Numerous research studies affirm what peace educator Ian Harris asserts, “Youth who are frightened cannot focus on their lessons. Children will learn better when their teachers use some of these different types of peace education to directly address the many forms of violence that scare them.” Teaching for peace can improve the classroom and school climate as well as the local and global culture. It can positively impact students' lives in the present and the future as well. Shouldn't we be teaching for peace every day?

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