We Say, They Say
by Leah Wells*, May 2002
They say Peace Education is dangerous and subversive
and teaches students to be rabble-rousers.
We say Peace Education empowers students to live
happier, healthier and more productive lives. It teaches them
the value of contributing to society and to their community. It
teaches them that creating positive change is not up to someone
else, it is up to them! Peace Education provides tools for better
communication, for better relationships and more healthy interactions
with the people in the students' daily lives - their parents,
their teachers, their friends and their community. Peace Education
provides a context for students to develop compassion, better
listening skills and tangible conflict transformation techniques
which will help them throughout their lives.
The "Solutions to Violence" class explores
peacemaking through the eyes of Gandhi, Dr. King and a host of
other famous peacemakers whose lives and teachings are revered
worldwide. The class promotes thoughtful discussion, respect,
creativity and critical thinking and writing. Students become
better writers and articulators during the semester and often
take on special projects outside of class which contribute to
a more peaceful community, like organizing canned food drives,
becoming part of youth resource councils for their cities and
writing grants for renewable energy resources, to name a few.
They say Peace Education should be extra-curricular,
not a part of the regular school day.
We say that Peace Education must be a part of the
standard curriculum so that students can learn the legitimacy
of nonviolence and peacemakers throughout history. If Peace Education
is relegated to a "once-a-year" event, it will not receive
the credibility and thoughtful study which it requires to internalize
peacemaking. If we want our young people to go out and become
the peacemakers of the world, we must give them the classroom
instructional time to develop those skills. We would not expect
them to grasp all the finite details of Algebra in a one-day seminar
- why would we expect the same about peacemaking?
Many schools have Anger Management groups, Peer
Mediation and Leadership classes. "Solutions to Violence"
is special because it examines peacemaking from a historical perspective
and makes the material relevant to students' lives in a meaningful
way. Students report healthier and happier attitudes and behaviors
after taking "Solutions to Violence." Their grades tend
to improve in their other classes, as well. This class is important
because it follows the Patch Adams philosophy - that every teacher
is a student and every student is a teacher.
They say there is not enough time in the school
day to address peacemaking. Teachers are already too busy!
We say teachers *are* too busy to add extra lesson
plans. They have so many needs and requirements with the advancement
of placement tests, standardized tests and teaching students to
take these tests and pass them! One of the goals of peace education
is to partner with colleges, universities and credentialing programs
so that teachers are being trained to teach peace education in
schools as a permanent part of the curriculum.
"Solutions to Violence" explores many
kinds of violence in our world - like hot and cold violence, structural
violence, interpersonal violence and academic violence. Academic
violence is particularly relevant to students who have been continually
let down by our educational system and who have grown to distrust
teachers, administrators and school in general. There are students
for whom tests are daunting and depressing, and after each multiple-choice
exam feel like failures. There are teachers who feel stifled and
offended by the trend toward standardized testing which limits
their creative license as a teacher and human being.
The strategy of implementing "Solutions to
Violence" as a standard part of high school curriculum works
in tandem with training teachers to fill the needs of schools
utilizing this semester-long class. Eventually, student teachers
will be able to teach "Solutions to Violence" in preparation
for teaching future classes.
They say it's too difficult to fund Peace Education.
We say it is far more costly not to fund Peace
Education. What will be the cost to future generations who grow
up without knowing the fundamental skills necessary to be peacemakers?
We must believe that Peace Education is worthy
of receiving funding through grants, through permanent teachers'
salaries, and through community-based initiatives. Where we spend
our money gives clues to where our priorities lie. Therefore,
we must find creative and permanent ways to compensate teachers
for teaching the most important subject in school: Getting Along
It is important to be thinking about funding Peace
Education, to be partnering with peace and justice groups, with
school districts, and with organizations whose donors believe
in teaching peace. There is no right or wrong way to approach
funding for peace education. Many communities have anti-violence
grants which never get spent. Many district have student needs
which go unfulfilled due to the lack of funding. It is up to us
to be resourceful and to make sure that Peace Education is on
the radar screen in our lifetime.
*Leah C. Wells serves
as the Peace Education Coordinator at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.