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Published: Tuesday, 10/19/2004

Teachers in pursuit of a peaceful planet

BY COLMAN McCARTHY

IF IT'S true that all governments say they want peace and that all human hearts yearn for peace, a question arises: Should schools be teaching ways to create the peaceable and just society?

Earning little notice beyond their campuses, and sometimes even less inside those boundaries, a growing number of schools, at all levels, are answering yes.

The Peace and Justice Studies Association, a national group based at the University of San Francisco, reports that as many as 300 undergraduate and graduate programs are in place. Majors, minors, and concentrations are offered. In 1970, only one college had a major: Manchester College in Indiana.

The peace studies movement was energized late last year when Joan Kroc, who died in October, left $50 million to programs at Notre Dame and the University of San Diego.

The message is getting through: Unless we teach our children peace, someone else will teach them violence.

Peace teachers have no illusions that a few lessons on the methods of nonviolence and a reading list on the literature of peace will cause governments to start stockpiling plowshares, not swords, or that students will be converting to Franciscan pacifism. Peace education is in its infancy.

At the nation's 78,000 grade schools and 31,000 high schools, where meddling politicians are ordering teachers to leave no child untested, academic courses in peace, conflict resolution, or mediation are seen as gourmet items on a shelf far from the standard fare of math, science, history, and English.

My own involvement began in 1982 when I volunteered to teach a course on nonviolence at an impoverished Washington D.C. high school. Since then, and in classes at four universities - Georgetown. American, Maryland, and Catholic - plus two more high schools, I've had about 6,000 students.

Some open their minds immediately. They understand Gandhi: "Nonviolence is the weapon of the strong."

Other students, who like to call themselves realists, have doubts: Sure, nonviolence and pacifism are glorious theories and let's all hug each other and burn incense after we read the Utne Reader in our hot tubs, but in the real world there are the street thugs and dictators. Try your one-liners from Gandhi with them.

All I ask of these snappy-talking realists is to tune out the blather of militarism and consider the successes of nonviolence.

Since 1986, six brutal or corrupt governments have been driven from power - not by violence but by organized nonviolent resistance: in Poland, the Philippines, Chile, South Africa, Yugoslavia, and Georgia.

Who would have thought that possible? Yet it happened, bearing out the belief of Martin Luther King, Jr., that nonviolence, when effectively organized, is an unstoppable force.

If violence, whether fists, guns, bombs, or armies were effective, we would have had a peaceful planet eons ago. Hannah Arendt wrote: "Violence, like all action, changes the world, but the most probable change is to a more violent world."

In the past 25 years, I've visited hundreds of schools to lecture and help organize peace studies programs.

Although all schools have different tales about their efforts, most were linked by shared realities:

w●Peace-studies teachers had to defend themselves against faculty carpers who dismissed the program as intellectually soft, ideology-driven, or a ruse for reliving the heady 1960s.

w●Peace teachers are artful scroungers, whether for office space or funding from already impoverished sociology or philosophy departments.

w●Students majoring or minoring in peace studies were forever being asked by brow-furrowing parents, "You actually think you can get a job as a peacemaker?"

w●Peace teachers do indeed like their hot tubs and incense, the better to reduce the stress of living under a war-mad U.S. government - the world's most violent, said Dr. King - that in the past 20 years has sent troops to kill people in Lebanon, Libya, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan, Sudan, Yugoslavia, Yemen, and Iraq, is the world's largest arms peddler, and has a current military budget that comes to more than $1 billion a day, or about $12,000 per second, or 49 percent of every federal tax dollar.

Those are the usual obstacles facing peace educators. No matter. If the path to peace has no obstacles, it probably isn't leading anywhere.

Colman McCarthy is director of the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington, D.C. He will speak Thursday evening at Trinity Episcopal Church.



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