Peace Education Evaluation: Learning from Experience and Exploring Prospects
reviewed by Laura Finley - October 23, 2015
Title: Peace Education Evaluation: Learning from Experience and Exploring Prospects
Author(s): Celina Del Felice, Aaron Karako, Andria Wisler (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623969735, Pages: 352, Year: 2015
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A necessary and thorough addition to the field, Peace Education Evaluation: Learning from Experience and Exploring Prospects takes as its base that, while peace educators are, by and large, well-intentioned, we often fail to assess our efforts to see if we are actually achieving what we set out to do. Editors Celina Del Felice, Aaron Karako, and Andria Wisler, all of whom have extensive experience as peace educatorsalthough oddly, it is not highlighted in the bookhave compiled a multi-disciplinary volume that includes both domestic and global examples. The chapters illustrate the diversity of methods that peace educators can and must use to assess their effectiveness.
The book is focused on three objectives: 1) How and to what extent do participants learn skills, change their attitudes and acquire knowledge?; 2) How does learning contribute to social change/What action do participants take due to their new learning and experiences?; and 3) How does learning and evaluation adopt principles of peace education? (p. xviii). I believe this book achieves all three, although more attention is focused on objectives one and three. Assessing the efficacy of peace education is clearly the most challenging and thus fewer examples are provided.
One strength of the book is that chapters address a wide array of peace education initiatives and, consequently, many forms of evaluation. From bullying prevention to restorative justice programs, peace education in public schools, higher education and conflict zones, contributors share research questions, designs, outcomes, and limitations. The book is not a precise roadmap for evaluation, nor should it be. Like peace education itself, evaluation absolutely should be related to the time, place and context, not just imposed. Instead, contributors recognize that a programs design, focus, purpose, and populace should guide the types and frequency of evaluation techniques. The goal is not to give readers a literal how-to guide but to provide descriptions, successes, and challenges in evaluating peace education as a means of promoting attention to, and thoughtful discourse about, evaluation. Evaluation techniques must be multifaceted because learners are.
Although the chapter contributors come from many different disciplines, countries, and educational traditions, there are several commonalities throughout their entries. One of these themes is the importance of reflexivity. Contributors note that educators must allow space for learners to be reflective, and, perhaps even more importantly, must critically reflect on their own methods and successes. Reflexivity is not always as easy as it sounds given structural and institutional constraints. As a reader, I appreciate that the contributors share the messy, complicated, and sometimes ineffective methods they have used, rather than present their work as a definitive treatise on the topic. Some of the particularly useful chapters focus on using narrative for reflexivity. In Chapter Four, Cheryl Woelk provides a very helpful list of questions related to language and power (pp. 62-63), while Zulfiya Tursunova offers a succinct description of the narrative method of evaluation (pp. 140-142).
A second common theme is the need to be as inclusive as possible. Just as peace education itself aims to actively include learners of all sorts, so too must evaluation efforts include all stakeholders. Third, more than just inclusion, peace education evaluation can and should be used to give voice to marginalized groups. Too often, even peace educators are guilty of otherizing those with whom we work. Contributors discuss the ways they consider culture, context, and other factors to ensure that evaluation is not done to, but for participants, as Rodney K. Hopson and Helga Stokes note in Chapter Three. This book makes clear that every voice matters and should be elevated when assessing what has been learned as well as its impact.
I appreciate Chapter Fifteen, in which Ruerd Ruben assesses the factors that influence donors to support post-conflict reconciliation initiatives as well as the effectiveness of those efforts. This is an important addition, and I would have loved to see even more about evaluating the motivations of donors and the impact of their donations. Given that many peace education programs are at least in part supported through grants or donations, more evaluation is definitely needed on this topic.
The only concern I had about the book, and it is a minor one, is that some of the chapters seemed repetitive. That is often the risk with an edited volume, as contributors feel obliged to begin their chapters with brief literature reviews that subsequently tend to overlap as a whole.
There are a few things I would have liked to see included in this book. An Appendix with further resources for peace educators would have been very useful. This could have included books, websites, articles, and even actual tools like surveys or focus group questions that could benefit readers. Further, I would have liked to see more attention to arts-based and technological means of evaluation. Susan Armitage discusses a theater program in Chapter Fourteen but even more of these kind of examples would have been good. Poetry, collage, photography, and theatrical performances can all be used for evaluating changes in knowledge, beliefs, and affect. Likewise, peace educators can and must embrace new technologies that can provide immediate feedback about learning as well as opportunities for long-term data collection. Other qualitative methods like action research and ethnography could have been given more examination, as well as theuse of secondary data, including discussion of what are useful sources for persons newly acquainted with peace education. Additionally, it would be good to see chapters specifically devoted to evaluating peace education with adult learners. Finally, an index would have been welcome.
In sum, this edited volume is a useful addition for educators, researchers, and practitioners, not just in peace and conflict studies but in a variety of disciplines and fields.