As a West Point graduate, Iraq war veteran, and former U.S. army captain who has struggled through extreme childhood trauma, racism, and rage, NAPF Peace Leadership Director Paul K. Chappell will bring his hopeful message of equity in education, our shared humanity, and the skills of peace literacy to the Minneapolis area from November 1-5, 2016. He will address the plenary session of the annual Missing Voices conference at St. Mary’s University on November 3. The audience will include 350 educators, administrators, and students.
Part African-American, part Asian, and part Caucasian, Chappell grew up in Alabama with a father who suffered severe war trauma from combat roles in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. Growing up in a violent household, Chappell has sought answers to the issues of war and peace; rage and trauma; and vision, purpose, and hope.
Chappell explains, “The extreme childhood trauma I experienced led to many behavioral problems during my childhood. I was kicked out of elementary school for fighting, almost kicked out of middle school, and suspended in high school for fighting. When I had trouble paying attention in class or acted out aggressively, my teachers would often become angry and yell at me. They did not see me as a child in pain, but seemed to imagine that I had woken up in the morning with the goal of making their life difficult. This does not mean that every child with behavioral problems is suffering from the same level of extreme trauma as I was, but recognizing that aggression is caused by some form of discomfort can give us a more realistic understanding of what a child is going through, rather than taking the child’s aggression personally.”
For Chappell it was an English teacher who changed his life and gave him the tools he needed for self-expression and to begin to deal with his rage. “I learned about the positive difference words can make when I was fifteen years old. Back then a few simple words changed my life and I don’t think I would be alive today if those words had not been spoken to me. After I wrote a short story for an English class my tenth grade English teacher Janice Vaughn said, ‘I really liked your story. You should think about being a writer.’ I had never thought about being a writer before, because I had never liked reading books. But I pondered what she said and realized I had enjoyed writing that story. So I wrote another, and another, and another. I began writing obsessively, and when I went to West Point I spent more time writing than doing my homework.
“A teacher might be the only person who can be a positive influence on students suffering from trauma, the only living example of how to live skillfully and constructively with strong emotion and hardship. Many parents model bad conflict resolution and listening skills for their children, and how often do people turn on their television and see people resolve conflict in a peaceful and loving way? Peace literacy helps teachers and students to model the behaviors that bring increased respect, self-worth, and a sense of belonging into our communities.”
Now the author of five books on waging peace, ending war, the art of living, and what it means to be human, Chappell has developed the new NAPF Peace Literacy Initiative. Peace literacy skills are life skills, and the ability to resolve conflict and wage peace not only allows us to make a positive difference in the world, but in our communities, families, and personal lives. These skills include understanding and healing aggression, learning the three elements of universal respect, and maintaining empathy during those times when it seems most difficult to do so.
Chappell has already begun to promote peace literacy through student and faculty leadership workshops, campus-wide lectures, and classroom events. “Peace literacy educates us on solving the root causes of our problems rather than merely dealing with symptoms. During an era when humanity has the technological capacity to destroy itself, peace literacy also means survival literacy. Because of the dangers posed by nuclear weapons, war, and environmental destruction, the survival and well-being of our country and planet depend on peace literacy.”