Frequently Asked Questions about Teaching for a Peaceful Future
Q. What is peace?
A. Peace is based on care and fairness. Peace is positive—not just a state of “no war.” In a peace culture, people would have healthy food to eat, safe places to live, equal access to education, clean water, health care, and opportunity. In a culture of peace, politics and economics would advance and be enriched by cooperative interactions among nations, corporations, and groups. Self-interest would be replaced by mutual interest. In a peace culture, education, family, religion and the arts would celebrate inter- and multicultural diversity and understanding. Media, rather than depicting and even promoting gratuitous violence, would certainly contain content about struggle and conflict, but coverage would enhance understanding of nonviolent solutions to disagreements among people and nations. Conflict would not go away, but our systematic approaches to it would be transformed drastically. There are many kinds of peace: from inner peace and interpersonal peace, to peace in school and community, to national and international peace.
Q. What does peace have to do with history class? (Or math, science, art, etc.)
A: Most history is made by people making peaceful decisions. People decide to cooperate, to legislate, or to solve problems non-violently. We see a lot about wars in our textbooks, but think of all the peaceful things that go into making any group survive. People have to cooperate in farming, trading, making art, exploring space, and educating each other, for example. My favorite historian, Howard Zinn, wrote A People’s History of the United States. It’s a book that reminds us of the everyday men, women, and children who have played important—and often non-violent—parts in history.
Q. Is peace possible?
A. I am an optimist. I see peace as possible. The 24-hour news cycle tends to focus on the dramatic, violent, and negative. However, I believe there are more peaceful actions compared to violent actions on any given day on this planet. Granted, we do have pressing problems of institutional violence to solve, such as race, class, and gender bias. We must solve local and global problems of unequal access to clean water, food, education, and health care. Money is being spent by countries on nuclear weapons and armaments that could be spent to correct some of these pressing issues. We citizens must protest against such misplaced priorities.
We can learn to think critically and creatively about seemingly insurmountable problems. We can learn to care enough about ourselves and our global neighbors so that we finally act effectively and in an organized manner to overcome the violence mentality that has gripped our planet. So, yes, I do believe that peace is possible. I also believe it will be achieved over generations by people working together to bring justice and compassion to issues of inequality, poverty, greed, corruption, militarism, in every home, village, community, city, and country on the planet.
Q. Should I let my students play war games or use weapons in their play?
A. Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Diane Levin wrote a very helpful book about this question: The War Play Dilemma (1987). They recommend allowing students to engage in war play, but with teacher involvement, boundary setting, and post-play discussion. Through discussion, teachers can challenge students to consider the limits of violence and violent war toys, for example. They can help children envision alternatives to violence. They can encourage imaginative and exciting play that moves away from militaristic themes.
Q. Does religion help make peace or does it just make things worse?
A: If people followed the basic tenets of their religions, we would have fewer incidents of violence and injustice in our world. Each religion has at its heart some version of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There are many interfaith organizations devoted to bringing people of faith together to work for peace. If people really lived their religions, couldn’t we get along?
Q. How can I bring controversial issues into my classroom without getting in trouble with parents or my principal?
A. There is power in letting administrators and families in on the conversations! Invite your principal to drop in on your class when students debate a controversial issue. Write a letter or email home to families, asking them to share their opinions on controversial issues their children will discuss in class. Help your principal and families see that you will provide multiple perspectives on the issues students will be discussing. Allow students to come to their own conclusions guided by a sensitive teacher whose only agenda is to get students to think critically. Let administrators, families, and students know that educational research supports teaching and learning about controversies.
Q. Do you share your opinions on controversial issues with your students?
A. If they ask me, I tell them what I think. I share many different perspectives with them, using a “Some people say this, and some people say that….” approach. I also make sure they know their grades are not tied into my opinions. I work hard to make my students feel safe to have and express their own opinions. But I encourage them to think energetically about many possible points of view on a given issue. (See Think, Care, Act: Teaching for a Peaceful Future, as well as the THINK resources for much more on dealing with controversies in the classroom.)
Q. What does it mean to think critically? How can I help my students/child think critically?
A. Among other things, to think means to be able to analyze the multiple messages surrounding us in the media and political bazaar. Provide students with multiple perspectives. Tell them how you use media and news sources. Show them how you go about finding out if information is accurate. Talk to them about TV shows, advertisements, etc. Ask what confuses them. See where the conversation goes from there—at the child’s direction.
Q. Why is important to think creatively? Why is imagination important? How can we encourage it?
A. Creative thinking allows students to imagine how others feel and helps them step into the metaphorical shoes of their classmates and international peers. By encouraging imagination and the ability to creatively think about the past, present, and future, we also provide students with tools to envision and create the future in which they want to live. Invite children to ask “What if?” questions about anything from history to pets! Give them time off from media input to create their own stories, plays, and games. Involve them with nature and their elders.
Q. What does it mean to care? How can we promote empathy in our students/children?
A. Students can learn to care for, respect, and appreciate the people around them, from family to peers and teachers to local and global neighbors. Making others feel safe, respected, and welcome is a prerequisite for living and working effectively and cooperatively with others—in and out of the classroom.
Students can learn to care for, respect, and appreciate the people around them, from family to peers and teachers. We can help youth to widen their circles of care to include people in their neighborhood, country, and wider world. Encourage your students/children to see people as both same and different from themselves. Help them see commonalities of basic needs (housing, food, family, friends). Encourage them to appreciate—not just tolerate—differences in belief, clothing, skin color, and language, for example. Help students meet and interact with “others” via literature, documentaries, community involvement, virtual media, and travel.
Q. What does it mean to act? How can kids change the world?
A. To act in a world whose problems seem overwhelming requires being able to use the powers of critical and creative thinking and compassionate and inclusive care. Employing these tools, adults and youth alike can act effectively and conscientiously to solve problems big and small, global and local. Students will feel empowered to learn that people work for peace in countless ways, locally and globally, nonviolently and creatively. Adults must help them see that students’ creative and compassionate energies are both needed and powerful. In school, projects such as my Citizenship Action Project (CAP) empower students to change the world through local or global action. This is powerful social action and peace learning. As one student reflected, “I learned you can change the world in small doses, one at a time.” Families can get involved in local projects and bring their children along. Kids want to change the world! Let’s give them the tools to do so.