Orginally published in the Los Angeles Times Ventura County Edition
The degree of violence in our world today, represented in our media via the television, newspapers, and internet, is deplorable. We are continuously handed pre-formulated thoughts that bombing, divorcing, and fighting are the only ways to solve disputes. With overflowing prison populations, guns in school, and escalating domestic abuse, it is no wonder that profound powerlessness and despair fester within our culture. What do we do about these problems? How do we go about reversing the cycles of inegalitarian practices which oppress so many? Whom can we solicit to address the questions of bringing peace to our disquieted world? I think I have the answer.
Nonviolence education is a systematic curriculum designed to awaken students’ minds to the possibilities of thinking outside the ‘might makes right’ paradigm, allowing them to view global human rights as a part of their own cause, not something distinct from their own personal life experience. Peace studies education teaches the view of history from those who have worked for radical social change and fighting injustices; it promotes the values of constructive conflict prevention and resolution as well as nonviolent resistance and direct social action. Students acquire a comprehensive view of the current global situation by learning the links between poverty, religion, economics, governmental policies, technology, environment and education. In exploring alternatives to violence, students gain knowledge about their life choices, for example selective service registration. They also gain a context for their daily lives, like investigating the origins of the products they purchase and consume, i.e. whether they were tested on animals sprayed with pesticides, or what the lives, wages, and treatment of the producers are like. Peace studies education gives students the tools to constructively deal with the problems they encounter on both a personal and worldly level, as well as helping them to understand their responsibility for elevating the collective human experience.
After teaching a revolutionary and widely successful class through the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington, D.C. last year in an urban high school and a juvenile prison, I can see a change in students’ attitudes: a motivation to mobilize toward the common cause of improving the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants. Colman McCarthy, who directs the aforementioned Center, suggests that peace rooms be designated in all schools for the resolution of disputes, and that programs be implemented so that students can become ‘peer mediators’ who serve as impartial negotiators for conflicts between fellow students. Why is peace studies not a mandatory class in school, especially when it reaches the core of how to interact and get along? What is so subversive about teaching the origins of the Hague Court, rooted in the early peace churches of Colonial America? Why is there suspicion with regards to questioning where our tax dollars go? Why is conflict management not an integral part of our school curriculum, like math or science?
There is more money in a wartime economy than peacetime.
We can fund an eighty-billion-dollar war, but not nonviolence classes. We can supply over three-fourths of the weapons used in the nearly forty ongoing conflicts worldwide, overtly profiting from the massacre of others, but no money can be found for teaching conflict management. At high school commencement speeches, we tell our graduating seniors to go out and be the peacemakers of the world, and yet we withhold the tools necessary to do so. Learning to co-exist with others is a fundamental component to surviving in life, and it does not necessarily come naturally or easily, especially in a world where images of violence are the norm to the point of desensitization. Our government, our leaders, our schools continuously tell us that there is just not enough money to expand the curriculum to incorporate peace studies.
We owe it to our children to teach them that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. By implementing nonviolence classes, we can subvert the far-reaching problems associated with intolerance and mishandled anger. When we explore nonviolence curriculum we can address the problems of injustice and teach young people how to make the world more egalitarian. To effect real change and truly make a difference, each parent, each teacher-parent association, each school board, and most importantly, each student should lobby for peace studies education in each school.
Leah Wells is a high school teacher in Ventura County, a member of Amnesty International, and personally committed to spreading nonviolence curriculum throughout our schools. She volunteers with Interface in the Youth Crisis Intervention department, as well as with the Juvenile Detention division of Ventura County.