Orginally published in the Los Angeles Times Ventura County Edition
Martin Luther King, Jr. said that our choice is not between nonviolence and violence, but a choice between nonviolence and nonexistence. Statistically we are told that crime has steadily decreased for the past eight years, however we also feel an increasingly random, yet eerily personalized, degree of susceptibility to being victimized. Our neighborhoods and schools, once thought inviolable, are now the target of more bold perpetrators. And yet we have a choice: be a part of the problem or a part of the solution.
But what’s the solution?
How do we fix our ‘gated community’ mentality, mend our broken relationships, care for the castaways in society, and work toward achieving solidarity, tolerance, and peace? By making a commitment to educating the next generation of leaders, our young people, in the ways of nonviolence. If our human species is to survive, we must change the way we are doing things. Many of us feel helpless to fix our own personal troubles, much less rid the world of nuclear weapons, abolish the death penalty, make a more egalitarian economy, and protect global human rights. Violence originates in fear, which is rooted in misunderstanding, which comes from ignorance. And you fix ignorance through education.
Violence is like a dandelion-filled yard. We tug at the stems and step on the flowers – and rather than ridding the yard of this nuisance weed, we beget more of them. Yet when we pull up the flower by the roots, we have isolated the problem and fixed it. Nonviolence education is like this. Educating young people about how to deal with the problems they face on a daily basis, as well as how to organize to fix world issues, is the most effective means to solving the endemic violence which has infiltrated nearly every corner of society.
Through a structured, semester-long curriculum, students from junior high through college can read about the foundations, successes, and actors in the nonviolence movement. Exposing a young student to Gandhi and Thoreau can cause a permanent commitment to living a life of nonviolence. At the very least, it allows students to examine the institutional paradigms which govern their lives, like selective service registration, disparity of allocated funds for violent causes versus nonviolent ones, or perhaps conscientious purchasing power and food consumption. Nonviolence education stresses the availability of alternative options in conflict, like mediation and creative dispute resolution. Making an educational commitment to studying peace in our violence-inundated world is the very least we owe our future generations to whom we have left a legacy of destruction and might-makes-right domination.
Societal trends seem to be working against the nonviolence cause. For example,our government allocates $289 billion for the Pentagon, and only $25 billion to Aid for Families with Dependent Children. Our justice system continues to be punitive rather than restorative, with little or no rehabilitation occurring in detention facilities despite the obvious need. New laws penalize communities and provide nothing for the welfare of victims nor restore the dignity of offenders, like the juvenile justice legislation Proposition 21 which was passed on March 7. We teach our children capitalistic consumerism yet tell them nothing about the lives of the workers who slave to assemble designer clothing, nor do we tell them about the animals which suffered to create fashion or food, nor do we inform them of the environmental impact of the trash which they create. And by no means do we tell them that these situations are inextricably linked, either.
Yet there is hope! Learning about peacemaking is the first step to righting these inegalitarian situations. Students become aware that injustices exist; they then accept these injustices as tangible and real. Next, students must absorb this information in a utilitarian way; finally, they are ready to take action. The beauty of nonviolence curriculum is that it is available to everyone: it works at Georgetown University, as well as at maximum-security juvenile detention facilities. Deep-thinking is highly encouraged, and reflective and action-oriented writing is often assigned to students in nonviolence classes. Because this material speaks to students as co-proprietors of authority, rather than as subordinates, they tend to internalize the pacifist messages quickly and discreetly. It subtly permeates their thoughts and actions.
We cannot continue to cheat our students by doling out tidbits of revisionist history. They deserve to know about Jeanette Rankin, Dorothy Day, and Oscar Romero. Institutionalizing nonviolence remains the goal, and to clearly send that message we must bring this peace studies class to our school boards and curriculum committees, and maintain persistence and fidelity to the cause of peacemaker education.