Educating for Peace Across the Globe
by Monisha Bajaj - March 11, 2016
This commentary piece explores the global field of peace education with key insights from programs around the world.
In South Africa, Kami, an HIV positive Muppet on the locally-tailored version of Sesame Street (Takalani Sesame) counters social stigma and educates her fellow characters about the realities of living with the disease (Subramanian, Lee, Dollard, & Kabba, 2016).
In the southern Philippines, interfaith organizations use collaborative art projects to bring together community members from Muslim and Christian groups that have suffered from centuries of conflict (Horner, 2016).
In Colombia, students who exhibit distress, given that their families may have faced displacement or violence in ongoing civil conflicts, use activities, stories, and team building in a special class as a part of their psychosocial healing (Chaux, 2007).
In the United States, at a unique public high school in New York City, students use a town hall setting to make decisions collectively and democratically, and have a youth-led fairness committee that utilizes restorative justice to empower students as leaders and peacemakers (Hantzopoulos, 2016).
These are just a few of the many examples of peace education in practice within schools and communities across the globe.
After the devastations of World War II, and with much of the world throwing off the yoke of colonial rule soon after, many educators declared never again to global conflict by teaching peace as the antidote to both direct and structural forms of violence. Despite these calls, the decades following WWII have witnessed the Cambodian and Rwandan genocides, numerous ethnic and civil conflicts, and the widespread use of rape as a weapon from Bosnia to the Congo and beyond. Not unrelated, but perhaps even more insidious and pervasive, are entrenched forms of structural violence, defined as deep-rooted systemic inequalities (Galtung, 1969), that are often elusive to tackle and require sustained educational and policy efforts.
Through the efforts of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), universities, and global organizations like the United Nations, peace education has become a vibrant and diverse global field of scholarship and practice (Reardon, 2000). Despite the numerous ways that educators, policymakers, and activists have designed programs to teach about and for peace, there are certain unifying strands to exemplary models of peace education, many of which are detailed in the new book Peace Education: International Perspectives.
First, similar to Paulo Freires (1970) ideas of dialogic education, effective peace education assumes everyone involved can be both educators and learners in distinct moments. Students often have much to learn about skills and content from trained educators, but teachers can also learn from students and their families. Effective models for this are home visits and community walks organized by families that offer teachers a chance to learn about the cultural backgrounds of students and historical patterns of housing, displacement, or migration that have resulted in situations of disadvantage and dispossession.
Second, contact with groups that are considered the Other is key to fostering empathy and solidarity through peace education. Contact may look different in distinct contexts; for example, the organization Seeds of Peace hosts summer camps for youth from opposing sides of conflict (e.g., Israelis and Palestinians, Indians and Pakistanis, Greek-Cypriots, and Turkish-Cypriots, among others). Other models of contact involve integrating schools across differences (as schools have in Israel-Palestine, Northern Ireland, and South Africa), including more multicultural curriculum and literature and implementing service learning that is collaborative and reflective. The end goal of intergroup contact is greater empathy, understanding, and critical self-reflections in all endeavors, though particularly for those in situations entrenched with identity-based conflicts.
Third, effective peace education inspires action in the face of social inequalities through deep analyses of the roots of violence. Whether those involved in the program are marginalized or privileged groups, one of the outcomes of teaching and learning for peace is speaking out and resisting injustices. For example, peace educators spearheaded an initiative to address issues of race and state violence in the wake of the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 and the subsequent clashes between police and protesters (see the work of David Ragland and The Truth Telling Project).
While the field of peace education is growing, expanding, and deepening, it is also in need of continual reinvention in the face of new realities. For example, growing U.S. Islamophobia seeps down from public discourse to violent bullying and attacks in schools, sometimes with inadequate teacher intervention, targeting anyone perceived to be Muslim (Bajaj, Ghaffar-Kucher, & Desai, 2013). In places like India, caste discrimination rooted in historical forms of exclusion affects how many teachers treat students with reports of low-caste students being seated separately, forced to clean the bathrooms while their peers are learning, or even tacitly or overtly pushed out of schools (Bajaj, 2012; Human Rights Watch, 2014; Nambissan & Sedwal, 2002).
Students, scholars, and practitioners of peace education around the world utilize local definitions of peace to create educational interventions. The efficacy of such efforts depends on their contextualization and their legitimacy in the communities in which they operate. The rise in empirical research in the field (e.g., Bajaj & Hantzopoulos, 2016) has moved scholarship from the prescriptive to the descriptive of initiatives that are underway, offering critical analysis of strengths, shortcomings, and implications for those involved in such efforts and the field at large.
Education has been recognized as a fundamental human right and more children, youth, and adults are engaged in formal learning than ever before. With students driven by individual interests or the desire for social and economic mobility, such education should also be infused with an orientation towards the collective good. Peace education is beneficial to entire communities as it expands the frame of who is considered human and worthy of dignity and establishes a foundation for coexistence and respect for difference. Martin Luther King, Jr.s famous quote from his 1963 letter from a Birmingham jail states, Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Peace, defined as the absence of both direct and structural forms of violence, requires this cosmopolitan and interconnected vision of our shared humanity. Educators have an important role to play in the advancement and pursuit of this expansive vision of peace in our classrooms and communities.
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Bajaj, M., Ghaffar-Kucher, A., & Desai, K. (2013). In the face of xenophobia: Lessons to address the bullying of South Asian American youth. Washington, D.C.: South Asians Americans Leading Together.
Bajaj, M., & Hantzopoulos, M. (2016). Peace education: International perspectives. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.
Chaux, E. (2007). Aulas en paz: A multi-component program for the promotion of peaceful relationships and citizenship competencies. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 25(1), 7986.
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.
Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, peace, and peace research. Journal of Peace Research, 6(3), 167191.
Hantzopoulos, M. (2016). Restoring dignity in public schools: Human rights education in action. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Horner, L. (2016). Uncertainty, fluidity, and occupying spaces in-between: Peace education practices in Mindanao, the Philippines. In M. Bajaj & M. Hantzopoulos (Eds.), Peace education: International perspectives (pp. 125140). New York, NY: Bloomsbury.
Human Rights Watch (2014, April 22). India: Marginalized children denied education: Use monitoring, redress mechanisms to keep pupils in school. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/04/22/india-marginalized-children-denied-education
Nambissan, G., & Sedwal, M. (2002). Education for all: The situation of Dalit children in India. In R. Govinda (Ed.), India education report (pp. 7286). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Reardon, B. A. (2000). Peace education: A review and projection. In B.-M. Peretz, B.-M., S. Brown, & B. Moon (Eds.) Routledge International Companion to Education (pp. 397425) London, UK: Routledge.
Subramanian, M., Lee, J., Dollard, L., & Kabba, Z. (2016). Promoting peace through childrens media: The case of Sesame Workshop. In M. Bajaj & M. Hantzopoulos (Eds.), Peace education: International perspectives (pp. 215232). New York, NY: Bloomsbury.