Contemporary definition of disarmament education and training: An American perspective

Very little comprehensive education on disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons exists for students prior to entering college. Considering the natural audience of high school and the importance of reaching students at a young age, a focused curriculum for high school students would best serve the goal of creating a good foundation for lifetime commitment and involvement in these areas.

In order that there be fuller participation in disarmament and non-proliferation from a wider variety of ages, races, classes, etc., the participants must be able to take ownership in the issue. This means that the terminology, access to information, and input credibility must exist in a more user-friendly version. The reason that younger generations are less invested in non-proliferation, disarmament and abolition is their lack of exposure to peace-oriented education. The standard American high school curriculum for history is chronicled from war to war, general to general, and battle to battle with little coverage of the pacifist contingency nor the strides made for humankind by nonviolent activists. In fact, they are generally dismissed as dangerous or destructive rather than principled, disciplined individuals trying to create dynamic changes toward equality and justice.

Those with the greatest potential for power, our young people, are not treated as viable candidates in the process of peacemaking. Peacemaking itself is an afterthought, a hopeful goal once the objectives ridding the world of nuclear weapons, civil conflicts, and chemical and biological warfare have been attained. Peacemaking can no longer be viewed as tangential to disarmament, but must become the sustenance which propels the disarmament and non-proliferation movement. Nonviolence and education are not the goals at the end of the road; they are the road.

Assessment of the current situation of disarmament and non-proliferation education

Access to information on disarmament and non-proliferation is limited to a specific group of people, namely college and post-graduate students whose academic interests focus primarily on these topics. A program for educating a wider audience through high schools is limited in existence. Yet education on disarmament and non-proliferation should not be limited to the academic elite, but should be available to the rising voters and general public, because fundamentally the topics concern everyone. The well educated have a responsibility to widen the circle of public involvement in eliminating the threat of weapons proliferation, and this task mandates dialogue with young people. The nongovernmental organizations and academics must utilize high school venues and assist in classroom education for both teachers and students, being mindful of the current trends in American public education.

Education in the United States is experiencing a period of review and increased “accountability” where teachers are disencouraged to explore curricula outside the standard material and adhere to rigid testing aimed to prove that students are learning. The standardized tests are largely disliked by teachers and administrators because of the limited practical knowledge they measure; these tests are indicative of whether or not students are learning how to be good test takers, rather than common sense thinkers. This phenomenon of multiple choice testing has many effects, both for classroom learning and for societal implications. First, teachers have little time to explore creative and diverse learning styles because the standardized tests cover specific information, the majority of which does not cover multi-dimensional thinking. Second, because of the time constraints of the school year and the financial incentives offered to teachers whose students succeed, teachers must rush through all the material to be covered on the examinations. Third, the current system of schooling school does encourage character development through service to others nor does it endear students to explore other contexts outside their own experiences, like becoming involved in any social movements or positive change for society.

Thus, for young people to become active in disarmament and non-proliferation, they must first have the opportunity to come to some understanding and awareness that these two topics are global problems with personal implications. Students are not taught to be system-oriented, seeing the world as living organism and acknowledging the web of interconnections that span the globe. If our goal is to educate kids about disarmament and non-proliferation, then our first step is getting them to believe that our world is worth saving. The military now has direct access into high schools in America through programming called Channel One, which broadcasts “news” into schools for fifteen minutes every day. ROTC recruiters are allowed onto campuses, but conscientious objectors are thrown off school grounds. Specific classes in nonviolence education are few and far between in the United States, and many teachers are too overwhelmed with their current curriculum to believe that themes of peace and justice infused into their existing lesson plans could work.

Furthermore, disarmament and non-proliferation are at the end of a long path of exploration into issues of economic and social justice. Schools must first provide kids with the tools to handle their own personal conflicts and more importantly must make the existing subject matter, and the way it is presented, less violent. Visual media shows terrorism, civil strife and full-scale war as a real-life video game. For students to have some ownership in the problem, they need to understand where the countries obtain their weapons, who profits, and who uses the weapons. We must not treat the loss of human life as the military does, calling it “collateral damage”. Education for young people on disarmament and non-proliferation has varying implications based on where it will be implemented, i.e. gun control laws in the United States require a unique strategy, as do the problems of disarmament in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe.

Recommendation for promoting education

First, we must make our American schools more nonviolent institutions. Nonviolence education should be a mandatory component in all high schools, and the corporations providing the “news” to ripe young audiences should be forced to remove any marketing by the military branches. Our classrooms are not corporate experiments. Additionally, nongovernmental organizations should utilize the “news” networks to encourage coverage of peace-friendly programming to an already captive audience. Second, nongovernmental organizations should interface the existing material on disarmament and non-proliferation and compile a “user-friendly” seminar, video and worksheet questionnaire as well as a framework for allowing student participation in this issue, i.e. how to write to a newspaper, congressperson, how to create press releases and petitions, and how to engage their creativity toward a positive goal. Fourth, students must be sent on study abroad delegations to experience firsthand effects of governmental policies on other countries. Other options for field trips are visiting sites of nuclear testing as well as the companies and factories where the many different weapons are produced, and touring countries whose young people actively participate in conflict. We need to encourage students to see a more complete, real picture of the problem rather than blaming the warring parties for their reliance on weapons to settle conflicts. American students need to know that the number one export in their country is weapons and that America sponsors nearly three-fourths of the ongoing conflicts worldwide.

Examining pedagogic methods

The Internet can be a powerful tool to relate stories and facilitate dialogue between students in different countries. Academics and nongovernmental organizations can serve as moderators for communication between cultures on the topics of disarmament and non-proliferation. In addition, the Internet may be used to display “video diaries” of firsthand experiences from students in regions like East Timor and Cambodia to enhance the personalization of distance learning. Through these “video diaries”, students in different countries can hear their counterparts’ stories in their own voices, making a more real connection between their cultures.

The Internet can also be used to disseminate teacher training materials and resources while providing a network of educators who have elected to participate in disarmament and non-proliferation education. Through this network, teachers and administrators can secure guest speakers, classroom activities worksheets and background materials, and an array of videos for their students. Students and teachers may also pose questions directly to the nongovernmental organizations’ educational liaisons through email and online discussion forums.

Recommendations for the United Nations Organizations

If peace education toward the goals of disarmament and non-proliferation is to work, then adequate funding must be provided for its implementation. First, the United Nations can exert pressure on national governments to evaluate the compensation teachers receive for the demands of their jobs. Currently, the priorities of the government of the United States focus on war making and funding programs through the Department of Defense. Cushioning the budgets of the Department of Education and ensuring adequate grants for States and Local Municipalities will increase the viability as well as the legitimacy of disarmament and non-proliferation education. Second, the United Nations can suggest that nongovernmental organizations pertaining to disarmament and non-proliferation take their messages into school board meetings and classrooms, and provide classes at the college level for teachers-in-training as a part of a Credential program. Third, textbook writers and manufacturers must accept a new version of history, and nongovernmental organizations must begin consulting with writers of world and American history texts to ensure accuracy and fair and adequate coverage of nuclear and weapons-oriented themes. To acquire authenticity in the classroom, these ideas of disarmament and non-proliferation must be written and viewed in print by students.

Introducing disarmament and non-proliferation in post-conflict societies: Aceh, Indonesia case study

UNICEF currently funds a peace-building educational program in Banda Aceh, Indonesia for young people who have been exposed to war throughout their lives. This experimental program combines nonviolent theory with practical applications of peacemaking and disarmament. It provides a forum for people to tell their stories and heal from their experiences, as well as create for themselves a more peaceable society. Nonviolence trainers are currently conducting teacher trainings in Aceh, and beginning in early September, the teachers will begin classes for young people in the province.

In addition, the concept of “peacekeeping forces” must be reevaluated to incorporate more than reassigning soldiers to forcibly keep the peace in a region. Peacekeepers must be unarmed as well as trained in conflict management and crowd dynamics. The concept of disarmament and non-proliferation must grow from citizen awareness to government and military implementation of more peaceable resolutions for global problems.

*Leah C. Wells is Peace Education Coordinator at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.