Peace Literacy: A change of paradigm for the promotion of a culture of peace

By |2019-10-01T12:30:04-07:00October 1, 2019|

*Translated by Silvia De Michelis from Inform-Action: The Manitoba Review for Francophone Educators (MAI / JUIN 2019 REVUE DES ÉDUCATRICES ET ÉDUCATEURS FRANCOPHONES DU MANITOBA)

‘Literacy,’ a word that has become popular within the field of education in the 21st century. The world changes rapidly, and, as teachers, we are compelled to offer our students skills that will help them navigate the technological era we are currently living in. We teach a mix of different types of subjects: math; visual literacy; finance; ethics; and media; alongside, obviously, the basics, namely reading and writing. But what about “Peace Literacy?” How does this type of literacy fit into our classrooms?

Paul K. Chappell – West Point Military Academy graduate, Iraq War veteran, author, public speaker, and director of the Peace Literacy program at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation – offers a new peace paradigm that challenges our common understanding of the human condition. Peace Literacy is a movement of educators and concerned citizens who want to empower people with the skills needed to heal the root causes of our problems, rather than merely addressing surface symptoms.

In Paul Chappell’s views, the hierarchy of needs proposed by Abraham Maslow should be turned over. For human beings, the physiological needs are not at the bottom of the pyramid. Water, food, shelter are not more important than self-realization. Humans are the only species on our planet that can take their lives away even when all their vital needs are satisfied. Every day we read in the media of wealthy and famous people that suffer from depression when their new non-physiological needs cannot be satisfied. For Paul Chappell these needs are: a sense of purpose; the establishment of meaningful relationships; the need to engage in dialogue with fellow human beings; inspiration; feelings of belonging; self-esteem; encouragement; and transcendence.

Our non-physiological needs expose us to the danger of traumatization. Who has never met a person that failed to meet their expectations, or disappointed them, or hurt them or even worse? Why do these actions create a scar in our hearts, and often affect our future? Even if we can rely on a partner, have children, a job, a house, a fridge full of food, and spend wonderful holidays every year, why do feel paralyzed when we are reminded of a particular childhood experience? Why are we instantly transported at that exact moment in which we have been profoundly hurt in our self-esteem?

In order to understand the reason why we never forget such experiences, we have to comprehend human nature. Our understanding of peace is only as good as our understanding of the human condition. In my classrooms, I observe an incredible amount of “traumatizing” experiences that my pupils face. Somebody who cuts in line turns suddenly into an occasion for violence, where self-esteemed is threatened. Such an episode is not short of comparison with the adult world. The fear that we are going to miss something irreplaceable if we don’t beat somebody else in time … We can’t deny that the violence we display while driving is not very different amongst adults!

Let’s imagine that a teacher can explain to pupils, in a terminology familiar to them, why they feel hurt when somebody cuts in the line. Let’s imagine that a pupil manages to control his or her impulses because he or she understands that the non-physiological needs human beings experience are something natural, and that they, too, can experience such needs, which favors empathy. Let’s imagine that a five-year old chooses to use words to express his or her frustration rather than violence. Let’ s imagine that violence is not anymore an option embedded in the psyche because all our non-physiological needs are satisfied. Let’s imagine that we pursue an understanding of peace as a way of living, that enables a person of a particular place, or belonging to a certain community to understand, communicate or interact, at different levels, in a way that allows him or her to actively participate to different contexts within society.

With the words of Paul K. Chappell: “Our work in Peace Literacy doesn’t envision peace as merely the final goal; rather it is a set of practical skills that can allow us to create ‘a realistic and pragmatic peace’ in our own lives, communities, countries, and the world at large. Peace Literacy helps us develop a capacity to experience profound empathy, conscience, realistic hope and reason because our understanding of peace is only as good as the understanding we have of the human condition. Peace Literacy gives us an accessible framework for understanding the human being as a whole; the root causes of violence; the nature of peace, the anatomy of trauma, including trauma related to childhood, racism and war.”  (

Peace Literacy Curriculum Coordinator, Sharyn Clough, explains: “We tailor lectures and tools for evaluation to kindergarten up to Grade 12. We have to teach peace in the same way we teach how to read and write. We adults have to always keep learning. It is never too late.”

As a teacher, I am aware of the impact my action, as well as my teaching, has on the learning process my pupils experience. Changing my own mode of thinking hasn’t been hard; neither was difficult explaining it to the children. My colleagues are astonished by the authentic welcoming spirit and kindness that are pervasive amongst primary school children. I am amazed by how quickly they learn. Would it be possible that all other subjects could be taught more successfully if we integrate Peace Literacy in our curriculum? I am looking forward to a change in this paradigm. Peace Literacy is an indispensable subject for the future and it starts from now.

For more information on Peace Literacy, visit

Meredith N. McGuinnes is a kindergarden teacher at LaVérendrye School, and student of Linguistics at the University of British Columbia.