Age Peace Foundation has announced the winners of its
2003 Swackhamer Peace Essay Contest. Established in 1985,
the contest serves to encourage high school students worldwide
to think about and contribute to creating a more peaceful,
just and secure world. Winners receive a total of $3,000
"How would a Peace Education course in your school
benefit students, the school, the community and the
world? What lessons and issues do you think should be
included in such a course?"
Back to Swackhammer
Essay Contest Main Page
Realizing Democratic Ideals through Peace Education
I became convinced of the need
for a Peace Education course while organizing a
student walk-out at my high school to protest the
then-impending war with Iraq. As 499 of my classmates
and I walked out of second period on a snowy morning
last March, I realized that this was the first experience
of activism or civil disobedience that most of us
had ever had. Our suburban environment kept us comfortably
removed from the conflicts in the Middle East and
even from the perpetual gang warfare just a few
blocks away on the west side of Chicago. We rarely
discussed contemporary world events in our classes,
which for the most part, stuck closely to a standard
course outline. Our chief exposure to current events
came from watching televised coverage, which we
recognized rarely provided an unbiased stance.
The overwhelming feeling among
the protesting students that day was the desire
for access to truth, and for our voices to be valued.
Why did we have to cut class to learn the day's
lessons? The students should have had access to
media analysis, current events and knowledge of
effective political action right in our classrooms.
In the weeks before the outbreak of the war, young
people sought not only peace, but the intellectual
tools to analyze the conflict from all sides; to
think critically, to form opinions based upon solid
information and to discuss and debate in an atmosphere
that encouraged exploration, rather than blind acceptance
of prevailing sentiment.
The state of Illinois mandates
that every high school student take Consumer Education,
Health Education and Driver Education in order to
graduate. This is a case of misplaced priorities.
While the life skills that those courses teach are
certainly essential, young people in today's increasingly
violent society also need to become skilled in analyzing
and dealing with conflict. For this reason, a course
in peace studies would be a positive addition to
Two recent watershed events have
focused public attention on violence: the first,
the 1999 Columbine High School shootings compelled
school districts across the country to spend enormous
sums upon “violence prevention” measures,
such as metal detectors, pervasive use of security
cameras, locker searches and armed police on campus.
The fear of being another Columbine has caused public
schools in inner cities and suburbs alike to become
militarized zones. Surveillance gadgets may make
schools feel safer, but real security depends on
community, communication and empathy, as well as
upon knowledge of how to defuse tensions and how
to negotiate and mediate conflict. This is where
a Peace Education class could make a substantial
The next major event that drew
focus to violence was, of course, September 11,
2001. The terrorist attack quite naturally provoked
in many people a powerful desire to avenge the lives
that were lost and to lash out at any scapegoat.
In the weeks immediately after September 11 th ,
Muslim students in public schools were reportedly
subject to attacks and intimidation. In the Chicago
area, Muslim girls reported having their religious
head-coverings grabbed and pulled off. Several local
mosques were vandalized. Had peace studies classes
been in place, students could have more constructively
and rationally examined the roots of the attacks
in class, first by trying to understand it, then
by considering how best to respond.
A Peace Education course would
not only equip students with skills for discourse
and debate, but would also provide a safe space
for and encourage dialogue, rather than mute it.
A Chicago high school student recently received
a ten-day suspension for attempting to assemble
a group of students interested in anti-war actions.
When asked for a reason for the suspension, the
principal cited “disruption of the educational
process.” What could be more disruptive to
the educational process than being barred from entering
a classroom for ten days?
Schools could benefit from creating
a climate of engagement, attention to events and
open, respectful discussion, rather than an atmosphere
of silencing. Dr. Martin Luther King pointed out
the vital role of a critical voice in society when
he stated, “Just as Socrates felt that it
was necessary to create a tension in the mind so
that individuals could rise from the bondage of
myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of
creative analysis and objective appraisal, so we
must see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create
the kind of tension in society that will help men
rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism
to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”
The availability of a Peace Education course would
create an environment where everyone, even those
with controversial views, would have the opportunity
to speak freely on issues of peace and conflict,
without fear of persecution.
“What is really needed to
make democracy function is not knowledge of facts,
but right education,” Mahatma Gandhi once
wrote. In other words, simply memorizing facts is
ineffective at creating a setting for social progress
unless there is analysis and comprehension. A peace
studies course should at least be on the menu of
any well-rounded educational opportunity, just as
military studies are included among today's high
school course catalogues. Right now, students in
the public school system in the United States have
the option to receive a “war education,”
but not peace education.
ROTC is a staple in many high schools,
especially those serving low-income communities.
Military recruiters are welcomed into student centers
and cafeterias, while anti-war advocates are barred
or suspended. Of course, ROTC is effective in instilling
leadership qualities in its participants and many
students sign up because of their heartfelt concerns
about the future safety of the world. But, there
is no reason why the military should be a student's
only option in receiving such training. In schools
that promote militarization, the students become
militarized. A Peace Education course could compensate
for this, allowing for an alternate opportunity
for leadership and exploration of geopolitical issues.
This is not only a matter of individual rights and
choices, it is also a matter of balance and fairness
within public institutions, which are as fundamental
and influential in shaping our society as are public
A Peace Education course would
have to be carefully planned. Obviously, no particular
doctrine could be imposed upon students. The teaching
should encourage students to form their own conclusions.
However, a distinction should be made between a
Peace Education course and a class on peace and
conflict. A Peace Education course would be focused
on finding solutions to conflict other than war
or violence. It would have to reach a deeper level
of exploration, going beyond the clichéd
conflict resolution and peer mediation training
used in many schools, to a deep examination of the
roots of conflict.
Perhaps the most important areas
to be covered by such a course would be peace movements,
social change and the effect that nonviolent thinkers
and movements have had throughout history. One can
imagine a peace studies course formatted as a laboratory
science class in which, just as in a physics or
chemistry class, students explore principles through
experimentation, model-building and other forms
of research. In this case, the “labs”
might include field trips to the Holocaust Memorial
Museum in Washington, D.C. These outings would encourage
further exploration of the horrors of war, debate
on the principles of just and unjust war, discussion
of civilian casualties, the gathering of oral histories
from survivors of wars of various types, collection
of data about a particular conflict or region, such
as the current tension between India and Pakistan
and the opportunity to practice the art of mediation
Diplomacy and mediation in government
could be a major unit of study, perhaps even having
former or current government diplomats as guest
speakers. For direct exposure to conflicts and a
deeper understanding of what citizens in conflict
countries experience, students could also make use
of web-based discussion with youth in these countries.
A curriculum based on discussion and experience,
with a focus on understanding the need for a peaceful
world, would certainly fill a void in today's standard
If the cycle of violence at home
and internationally is ever to be broken, we must
make a change in how young people are educated.
The recourse to violence is an old habit, but not
an unbreakable one. What better place than the public
school to take up this subject? In this nuclear
age, the stakes are far too high to ignore this
necessity. American educator John Dewey said it
well, “The notion that the ‘essentials'
of elementary education are the three R's mechanically
treated, is based upon ignorance of the essentials
needed for realization of democratic ideals. Unconsciously
it assumes that these ideals are unrealizable.”
Our public schools should be the breeding ground
for critical thinking, for seeking of alternatives
to a future of perpetual war and destruction and
in the final analysis, for hope.
Peace, Beginning Now
by Bryn Horrocks
“Peace is not an absence
of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind,
a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice."
In 1865, the Russian novelist Leo
Tolstoy wrote the epic novel Voyna i Mir—War
and Peace. The pairing of these two words has been
almost formulaic since. Peace is most often defined
as a noun in diametric opposition to war. In reality,
peace is effective only as a verb, or a state of
being. As Spinoza stated, “it is a virtue,
a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence.
. .” These traits are not something that can
be legislated, imposed, or decreed. They are qualities
of one’s character and being that must be
planted as seeds in the minds and hearts of the
young, and nurtured and developed into adulthood.
Teaching values that support and
embrace the idea of peace should be part of a prolonged
program, begun in the primary years, and continued
and built upon through high school. This approach
would instill, from the earliest years of character
formation, the desire to pursue peace in every area
of life. A child should be able to listen with tolerance
to new ideas, debate with patience opposing views
and live with forbearance among disparate values;
not because this way of interacting is mandated
and politically correct, but because it has been
part of the child’s nature from the beginning.
Laudable efforts have been made
in school districts to initiate programs that teach
tolerance and peace, and punish bias and abuse.
While these have improved the school environment,
they do not necessarily change the character or
belief systems of the population. One might adhere
to certain principles out of fear of consequences,
but not because of one’s own convictions.
If schools are to produce young adults who will
go on to be leaders who promote peace, they must
begin early to build those values into the character
and moral fiber of youth, not wait until character
is molded and attempt to control behavior through
imposed consequences. As David Borenstein said,
“One cannot subdue a man by holding back his
hands, lasting peace comes not from force.”
(October 1999) Our youth should wish to reach for
peace once their hands are free.
What would a program to teach peace
look like? It should first provide an authentic
and compelling impetus. Children and adults need
to see that something is worthwhile, of value, and
has application to their lives, if they are to commit
to it. Teaching peace as an abstract and intangible
principle may be a worthwhile intellectual pursuit,
but is unlikely to provide the impetus for one to
make it a part of one’s nature and habit.
A teaching approach, which uses an interdisciplinary
method to examine the benefits of pursuing peace
and the consequences of conflict, would help young
people to establish a habit of examining every aspect
of their lives and to consider how choosing peace
could affect them. This method of teaching, both
interdisciplinary and authentic, has a proven track
record. Its benefits are already embraced by educators
which removes the additional step of having to convince
teachers of its worth. Asking teachers to add the
perspective of peace to their already established
lessons is more likely to be successful than asking
them to embrace yet another program on top of what
they already teach.
Lessons of history could be greatly
enriched with this approach. What were the consequences
when leaders, both contemporary and historic, chose
war and conflict? How might a decision to choose
peace have changed those consequences? What other
choices might have been possible? How might the
lives of individuals and societies been different
if leaders had chosen peace in each circumstance?
Such questions could be applied to a vast spectrum
of learning, from the conquests of the Roman Empire
and its subsequent fall, to the Bay of Pigs and
the Cuban missile crisis. Literature, too, is a
rich arena for teaching peace. The same prompts
and meta-cognitive processes can be used when teaching
works of literature from The Iliad and The Odyssey
to The Diary of Anne Frank. Students can use debate,
response journals, simulations and story prompts
to re-examine what they have read and offer an analysis
of how the work might have looked if peaceful solutions
had been found to the conflicts presented.
Even the disciplines of math and
science could encourage students to examine the
consequences of conflict. How have these disciplines
been used to support conflict? How have they, or
might they, be used to promote peace? While any
study of human enterprise must realistically include
a study of human conflict, it would be much more
useful to also include a discussion of lessons that
could be learned from those conflicts. An example
might be a dialogue about World War II including
Albert Einstein’s regrets about his contribution
to the atom bomb. "I made one great mistake
in my life... when I signed the letter to President
Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made;
but there was some justification - the danger that
the Germans would make them." (Clark, pg. 752)
In his later correspondence he wrote, "when
the war is over, then there will be in all countries
a pursuit of secret war preparations with technological
means which will lead inevitably to preventative
wars and to destruction even more terrible than
the present destruction of life." (Clark, pg.
A stimulating class discussion
could be had around the question of “What
could have been done to end World War II other than
dropping an atomic bomb?” Establishing a school-wide
commitment to include “teaching moments”
in every discipline that examine the possibilities
of pursuing peace would be a major step in instilling
this approach as a part of the student’s natural
thinking process throughout his or her life.
A second necessary part of a program
to teach peace would be to teach skills. Believing
in and embracing peace is a necessary first step,
but knowing how to apply these beliefs in a practical
way is crucial to real-life application. This approach
would give “students the tools to constructively
deal with the problems they encounter on both a
personal and global level, as well as help them
understand their responsibility for elevating the
collective human experience.” (Waging Peace.org)
Communication and responsive listening skills are
an essential foundation to peaceful cohabitation
with our fellow human beings. These are already
established as learning standards in most states.
Using existing programs such as language arts and
communication classes to teach responsive communication
skills, but emphasize the objective of promoting
peace as the vehicle, would be most effective.
Mandating that all students complete
a peer mediation course would also give them a way
to practically apply a growing penchant for peace.
School discipline procedures should include a student
court, made up of students who have gone through
mediation and communication training, to not only
assign consequences for unacceptable behavior, but
also to work with students as peer tutors to teach
them the skills to solve conflict peacefully. It
is well-established that students embrace principles
modeled by peers faster than those imposed by adults.
A crucial part of developing a school plan to promote
peace would have to include student leaders who
embrace, model, and propound the principles. A core
of trained student volunteers on a steering committee
for the development of any peace program would give
it legitimacy for the rest of the student body and
model peaceful processes for change.
A final component of a program
to teach peace would be commitment. Teachers and
students are constantly exposed to new theories,
ideas, programs and mandates that flash and die.
These are often imposed from the top down, unsupported
and unsolicited. Veteran teachers know that they
can ignore these programs and wait until they die
a death of attrition. (Horrocks) Schools that are
sincere in their desire to teach and promote peace
education must commit to a long, involved and sometimes
painful process. The process must include significant
representation from the community, the staff, administration
and students. All must have input from the beginning
that is listened to and respected. The program must
be fully supported, returning again and again to
examine its efficacy and implementation. It will
be most effective if it does not impose, but invites,
does not add to, but integrates.
The effort needed may be Herculean,
but the results well worth the struggle--results
that ultimately reach far beyond the walls of the
school into the community and the world. To ignore
the need for this kind of program is to risk turning
out a generation of youth who are not prepared to
lead a world full of conflict. Again, Albert Einstein
sums up this need, “The world is a dangerous
place to live, not because of the people who are
evil, but because of the people who don't do anything
about it." We can do something about it. We
need to begin now.
“About Peace Education.”
Waging Peace Website of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
Accessed December 14, 2002.
Clark, Ronald. Einstein: The Life and Times. New
York: Morrow, William and Co., 1972.
Kelly Horrocks (Educator). Ithaca City School District.
Personal Interview December 14, 2002.
begins in the minds of men...”
By James McSpadden
wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds
of men that the defences of peace must be constructed...”
(UNESCO Preamble) When Archibald MacLeish of the
United States provided these opening words for the
preamble of the Constitution of the United Nations
Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization,
he captured the goal and philosophy of peace education
in one sentence. Peace education attempts to build
“defences of peace” by providing
students with the intellectual understanding of
a peaceful society and lifestyle in the hopes that
the “minds of men” will be turned toward
non-violence rather than devastation. With global
catastrophes such as the Middle East crises, terrorism,
poverty, and hunger, peace education has become
more relevant and imperative in the world since
the inception of UNESCO in November 1945. (Meisler
Despite the idealism of MacLeish's
words and the devastation of war currently afflicting
our world, many educational institutions still do
not include peace activities, curricula, or courses.
For example, at my high school in South Carolina
instead of learning about peace, we focus on past
military tactics in history and the pervasiveness
of war in anthropology. Peace education seems lacking
in academic subjects and in my school environment.
Fights break out on campus and many students do
not contribute to the community. My school, and
many others around the world, could benefit from
peace education courses that would awaken the desire
for peace and, more importantly, provide the knowledge
necessary for critical thinking and an enlightened
Peace education has an important
history within the framework of international education.
This form of teaching can trace its roots back to
the educational philosophies of Maria Montessori,
Paulo Freire, and others. (UN.org) For example,
educator John Dewey wrote that education consists
of people “consciously striving to educate
their successors not for the existing state of affairs
but so as to make possible a future better humanity.”
(UN.org) Inspiring this dynamic change is fundamental
for peace educators.
One example of an extraordinary
peace education program is the Seeds of Peace organization.
This group opened an educational summer camp for
youth of Israel and Palestine in 1993; now, the
attendees include teenagers from twenty-two belligerent
states who come together in a spirit of peace. (Shaw
132) By providing an opportunity for young people
to encounter those of warring states, this camp
affirms its purpose: “Treaties are negotiated
by governments. Peace is made by people.”
(Seedsofpeace.org) Seeds of Peace has an outstanding
track record, and the organization has inspired
young people to live lives of awareness, compassion,
and peace. This program provides a true paradigm
of the success of peace education. If Seeds of Peace
has had so much success internationally, then peace
education within the established local education
framework would, likewise, drastically advance the
cause of peace. (Shaw 132)
Peace education is based on a general
definition of peace that provides the context for
academic discussion and learning. The Yamoussoukra
Declaration aptly provided this:
Peace is reverence for life.
Peace is the most precious possession of humanity.
Peace is more than the end of armed conflict.
Peace is a mode of behaviour.
Peace is a deep-rooted commitment to the principles
of liberty, justice, equality,
and solidarity among all human beings.
...peace is within our reach. (UNESCO)
Thus, following the tenets of this
definition, an ideal peace education course at my
school should outline peacemaking topics with a
“four circle” approach. The “circles”
should be the self, community, nation, and world;
and each unit should reflect the peace issues in
each sphere. For example, the personal circle would
include discussions of individual mindsets compatible
with the goal of a “culture of peace.”
The detrimental nature of racism, xenophobia, and
intolerance should be included to provide students
with examples of incompatible constructs that destroy
the advances of peace. Likewise, the other three
circles should include issues relating to peace
in their sphere.
The community circle could address
care for the environment, the national circle might
look at active citizenship, and the global circle
could focus on alternatives to war. Any understanding
about peace in the modern world would also be incomplete
without review of the United Nations system designed
to “save succeeding generations from the scourge
of war” and promote peace in a plethora of
ways. (Sarnoff 405) A thorough discussion of “peace
heroes” such as Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther
King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Jimmy Carter who
devoted their lives to the cause of non-violence
and compassion must also be in a good class on peace.
Everything in this ideal peace
education course should provide the tools for a
student to view the world critically. By learning
about peace topics, students see an avenue other
than violence and hate. The best peace education
course is one that shows the route of peace not
by forced indoctrination but by intellectual discussion
If this type of peace education
was instituted in my school, I feel confident that
it would alter the school environment. Naturally,
one goal of any peace program is to minimize superficial
violent behavior. Perhaps peace education will result
in fewer fights and less bullying, but this is not
the real measure of success. Now, my high school's
population has elements of ignorant racism, blind
anger, and useless violence. For example, one day
I sat in a restaurant with students involved with
the Model United Nations program and was shocked
to hear one younger delegate refer to minorities
as “lazy” and use racial slurs. This
girl was blinded by racism that is a part of her
family life. A peace education course would force
students like this girl to evaluate their thoughts
and mental constructs about violence and intolerance
in a critical light. Peace education will give students
the intellectual material to transform their minds
and the school environment if they choose to do
so. An atmosphere of intellectual discussion and
peace awareness could transform the ignorance of
high school into a more positive, enlightened force.
Good peace education will transcend
the students and school to the community. In the
local community, the success of peace education
cannot be judged solely by a decreasing number of
violent crimes or an increase in volunteers. Peace
education in the schools creates an informed, aware
atmosphere in to the community as well. Ideally,
local peacemaking and community service would thrive
with these educational programs, but the community's
“defences of peace” may only be the
awareness that comes with peace education. Awareness
can later become action, but awareness of peace
is enough to spark some change. The awakening of
a community's understanding of peace concerns is
fundamental to building the global "culture
of peace" to which peace education is dedicated
Moreover, once peace education
is embraced by students, schools, and communities,
it can begin to shape the world. Like the school
and community, peace education can change the world
with innovative thought processes and new information.
Unfortunately, humanity still holds to the philosophy
of Adolf Hitler: “Mankind has grown strong
in eternal struggles and it will only perish in
eternal peace.” (Freeman 209) Peace education
can show that peace is a positive force that provides
opportunities for development, learning, and life
that do not exist in war. Mankind must reject the
Hitleresque desire for struggle within the global
community. Peace education strives to provide the
critical thinking context that enables people to
discover, on their own, that war, hate, and suffering
is wrong and should be fixed. Within the global
sphere, peace education can teach about conflict
resolution and successes of the international community
to provide the knowledge necessary to understand
the framework of global peace. The peace consciousness
instilled by peace education will gradually provide
the mental basis for a global “culture of
peace.” (United Nations)
Although war seems omnipresent
in the modern world, this should not preclude the
development of a comprehensive peace education program.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted
in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture, “Most nations
have monuments or memorials to war, bronze salutations
to heroic battles, archways of triumph. Peace has
no parade, no pantheon of victory.” (“Kofi
Annan”) Peace does, however, have new opportunities
to make gains in the modern world. From the local
school to the entire world, peace education can
change the mindset of war, selfishness, death, and
destruction that has plagued humans for too many
centuries. By kindling the light of understanding,
this form of education will light the fire of change.
Pragmatist Richard Burton said in 1865, “Peace
is the dream of the wise; war is the history of
mankind.” (Freeman 211) Because of the goals
of peace education starting locally, peace no longer
has to be the dream of the wise; peace can be the
future of humanity.
Freeman, Chas. W. Jr. The Diplomat's
Dictionary. Washington: United States Institute
of Peace, 1997.
“Kofi Annan-Nobel Lecture.”
Nobel e-Museum. 26 May 2003. <http://www.nobel.se/peace/laureates/2001/annan-lecture.html>.
“Links and Resources: Next
Steps.” United Nations Cyberschoolbus. UnitedNations.
15 May 2003. <http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/peace/frame4.htm>.
Meisler, Stanley. United Nations:
The First Fifty Years. New York: Atlantic Monthly
Preamble and Article 1 of the Constitution
of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and
Cultural Organization. UNESCO. 22 May 2003. <http://www.unesco.org/human_rights/hrpreamble.htm>.
Sarnoff, Irving. ed. International
Instruments of the United Nations. New York: United
Nations Publications, 1997.
Seeds of Peace: Empowering Children
of War to Break the Cycle of Violence. 15 May 2003.
Shaw, Tucker. Peace. New York: Alloy
"Teacher as Learner: Theory
and Pedagogy." United Nations Cyberschoolbus.
United Nations. 15 May 2003. <http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/peace/frame.htm>.
UNESCO. Culture of Peace Program.
Yamoussoukro Declaration on Peace in the Minds of
Men. Paris: UNESCO.