When I walked into my morning Education class last September 11th,
2001, I was still in shock from the news. The 150 eighteen year olds
looked just as numb. I made some general comments about my own
feelings, invited them to respond and then emphasized the importance of understanding in this time of angry confusion. In the subsequent weeks, I helped organize two Teach-Ins on campus and committed myself to doing more. Certain questions haunted me.
In times of war and reprisal, how do we teach about peace? How do we help young people manage their own anger and aggressiveness when violence is so prevalent in their lives, at school, in their news and entertainment? When memories of attacks are raw and calls for retaliation become shrill, how does an educator--or anyone in a leadership role who is committed to the ideals of a sustainable peace--open a meaningful dialogue about alternatives to violence? How does democratic decision making suffer when patriotism stifles dissent? What evolved over this past year is an effort to define the teaching and learning that can promote peacemaking at both individual and organizational levels. Iíve tried to identify how each of us can develop the skills that promote creative, nonviolent alternatives to conflict. With awareness, reflection and a willingness to learn, I am convinced that we can build a foundation for peacemaking that can enrich every aspect of our lives and help defuse the dangers in our worlds both near and far.
Let me give you a real example. For me, the killings at Columbine High School epitomize the dangers when young people lack the skills they need to manage their hurts and anger, when teachers are preoccupied with their narrow curricular goals and when there is no space in the school day for building the kinds of supportive communities we want and need. Left on their own, the killers isolated themselves and looked for answers in the violent film characters they so admired. With a more focused emphasis on the skills of peacemaking, I believe that tensions could have been channeled into constructive dialogue long before they exploded into bloodshed.
In any school or college curriculum, there ought to be opportunities to learn about deep listening, acceptance, empathy, consensus building and teamwork, bedrock skills for navigating an increasingly complex and diverse world. Every discipline can also emphasize the critical thinking needed for mastering various concepts as well as the creativity needed for exploring new hypotheses. As teachers we can do much to develop this intellectual and emotional maturity in students, requiring more in the way of active learning, group projects and thoughtful presentations and less in the way of passive learning, simple note taking and factual regurgitation.
Since the attacks of September 11th, I have worried even more about our collective abilities to address conflicts in constructive, nonviolent ways. I can only hope that our president, in particular, will forego ordering any unilateral, preemptive strike against Iraq and, instead, do what is necessary to get broad support from Congress and the United Nations. Meanwhile I continue to anguish over the bloodshed in the Middle East while simultaneously hoping for a sustainable peace in Northern Ireland. Through it all, I have often felt helpless, too far removed to make a difference. Working with students here, however, gives me pause for hope as together we explore various issues, noting our areas of agreement while working through our differences and developing our abilities to find creative, nonviolent resolutions. Writ small and into everyday practice, I know that together we can also build a foundation for respectful engagement of complex issues on the bigger stages of our worlds.