By: Sarah Inskeep
In the United States, the majority of history books take as milestones speific wars or conflicts – the Civil War, the World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the War on Terror. That these events have irreversably shaped our country and our lives is unquestionable, and it is important that we learn about the role we played in them. It’s also, however, unquestionable that these conflicts do not represent completely the time periods in which they occurred. During each, there were also poets and painters, scientists and social activisits. There were philosophers and artists and musicians. Are these not equally a part of our history? Does it matter that we emphasize war and violent conflict over all of the other things?
After today’s session with Qamar Huda about peace education, I think that yes, it does matter. When all we see in our past is war and the use of violence when conflicts arise, it’s all too easy to think that humans are, by nature, violent. How might we see the world differently if we understood that these wars as only pieces of what we are?
The concept of peace-focused cirriculums may seem a bit idealisitic at first, given the challenges already present in our schools regarding funding and fulfilling requirements for standardized tests. These things are certainly challenges to changing our schools, but they are not, by any means, totally inhibiting.
During Qamar’s class, we split into groups to design a peacebuilding cirriculum for a high school in a community of our choice. Though it was a fairly short exercise, the outcome was surprising to me. Oftentimes I’m overwhelmed by the immensity of the challenges that stand between us and the kind of world we’d like to see, as well as by the time it takes for our work to show real effects. Yet, as I talked with my group members to develop our ideas, and later listened to my classmates share theirs, I started to feel a quiet sort of happiness. All of the things we’ve learned in the past few weeks, and the unique skills we each brought with us to the SPP, were beginning to come together.
What does this have to do with peace education being possible? It’s proof, I think, that these skills of conflict resolution and peacebuilding are not so foreign to our species after all. As a scientist, I am thoroughly familiar with arguments that aggression and killing are biologically innate. I am also, however, very familiar with research about our biological need for connection and community. Thinking on that, and on the fact that in less than three weeks we have been able to adopt and begin to practice these skills, I begin to think we are not so far from the word we want after all. If we, as adults, can pick up on these things so quickly and learn to see through a lense of peace instead of a lens of violence, how much more quickly might kids pick up on them, given the chance to learn? How might the world be, if all of our schools taught basic skills in negotiation, nonviolent communication, and conflict resolution?
It needn’t be an entirely different cirriculum. It needn’t come from sweeping education reform. We could begin simply, with a core course in peacebuilding skills and values, with scenarios and role-plays and games that teach kids how to negotiate and talk through difficult topics. We could begin to teach more than what is in the standard history textbooks – to teach, and remember that we are capable of, more than war.
It’s the seeds we choose to water that will grow. If wars and violence are our milestones in history and in the media, those are the things we’ll know. If, instead, we mark our days by ideas and debates, by poems and discoveries and intellectuals…?
Imagine that world. Then, let us make it reality.