“If we are to wage a war on war we must begin with the children.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Teachers from around the world gathered under the banner of the World Peace Forum to talk, plan and dream together of ways to educate a generation to create a culture of peace. Education International’s President Thulas Nxesi travelled from Johannesberg, South Africa, to Vancouver, Canada, to open the International Peace Educators Conference, held June 25-27, 2006 at the University of British Columbia. The EI delegation also included Deputy Secretary General Jan Eastman. For more than a decade EI has been committed to peace education, and has formal policies on disarmament, on children and war, on the elimination of nuclear arms, on education in a global economy, and more. EI promotes the values of gender equity and non-discrimination in education, and reaffirms the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in peaceful, democratic societies. All of these values were fundamental to the International Peace Educators Conference, which featured hundreds of workshops and seminars for teachers and parents, as well as co-operative games, painting, singing, and a peace museum for children. Professional artists also worked with teachers and students to create an exhibit of new art from old war toys. Children donated hundreds of toy guns, tanks, soldiers, fighter planes, etc. and had fun transforming them into works of peace art, which were placed on exhibit at the UBC Museum of Anthropology. From Argentina to Zambia and everywhere in between, participants explored creative strategies to develop a pedagogy of peace. They shared songs for a peaceful planet, circles of dancing peace, one school’s successful peace plan, stories of peace and landmines, a peace mural project, a video about a refugee child finding peace in a new land, a drama about the famous children’s march during the American civil rights movement, classroom resources about the Nobel Peace Prize laureates, and much more. Keynote speakers articulated the broad range of work teachers can engage in under the rubric of peace education. Mary Gordon, the creator of the Roots of Empathy program, described the changes that occur when seven- to nine-year-olds are educated about the care and development of babies. For example, a student who was abandoned as a baby asked his teacher if she thought a child who had never been loved could grow up to be a good parent. Nurit Peled, an Israeli educator, encouraged the participants to keep a sharp eye for nationalist stereotypes about historic enemies that can pervade curriculum and textbooks. Dr. Michael Apple, from the University of Wisconsin, drew the link between peacemaking and the neo-liberal global agenda for privatization of public education. Cora Weiss from the Hague Appeal for Peace set the challenge for delegates to engage in peace making by critiquing the actions of those in power and standing up and speaking out as members of civil society. “If we wait for the politicians to create peace, we'll be waiting a long time,” said Weiss. Conference participants concluded that education is fundamental to any successful bid for peace on our planet. The content of peace education is broad, including anti-poverty, social justice and environmental stewardship. In addition, it needs to be rooted in empathy development, open-mindedness, non-violent skills development, constructive problem-solving and support for girls’ education. Among the peace educators’ recommendations: • Expand the global campaign for peace education started at The Hague Appeal for Peace; • Support activities that engage children in cultivating a culture of peace and non-violence; • Promote and teach democratic participation with children that will purposely move towards abolishing war; • Involve children in global networking; • Create programs for the intellectual, religious and national exchange for youth through sports, the arts and education; and • Lobby governments to include peace education as part of core curriculum. By Nancy Knickerbocker Nancy Knickerbocker is editor of Worlds of Education.