In the 16 years the Center for Teaching Peace has worked with schools to begin or expand courses on peace education, one goal has been stressed: ideas first, then action. It isn’t enough to master the theories of nonviolence but do nothing to create the peaceable society. Unbalanced students result. They leave school idea-rich but experience-poor.
The remedy? Service learning. Much praise is owed teachers who realize that as much can be learned outside the classroom as inside. Such groups as the National Society for Experimental Education are successfully making the case that classroom lectures, discussions and assigned readings should coexist with learning that results from involving students in well-organized community service.
Often enough, service is the easy part. What’s difficult is making connections. Ladling soup in a homeless shelter is fine but it remains do-gooder slumming unless twinned with learning about governmental policies that allow poverty to persist for the many while wealth increases for the few. Building homes with Habitat for Humanity remains idle charity unless accompanied by knowledge about governmental and corporate deals that keep money flowing to build weapons but not affordable housing.
Evidence exists that students are twinning public service with private resistance. One example is the Graduation Pledge Alliance by which college seniors about to enter the work world put ideals before dollars by taking a voluntary pledge: “I pledge to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve those aspects of any organization for which I work.”
Coordinated by Prof. Neil Wollman of Manchester College, a Church of the Brethren school in Indiana, the pledge was taken by thousands of graduates at more than 100 colleges last spring. It is a natural transition for service-minded students to ask about the ethics of future employers. How are their products or services benefiting society, if at all? What is the employer’s record on such issues as antitrust, race sex and age discrimination, pollution and animal abuse. In the company’s theology of capitalism, is worshipping the dollar-god the sole article of faith, with no heed paid to the victims of structural violence?
This is genuine resistance. As a result of service, students have thought about the kind of humane world they want to live and work in, and are making the kind of demands to create that world.