A Peace Curriculum: to Rage or not to Rage by Doreen Rivard

A Peace Curriculum: to Rage or not to Rage by Doreen Rivard

The ‘Raging Grannies’ are working for change in a world that angers them. A political movement made up of mature Canadian women, their tactics include street theatre, clownish demonstrations and silly songs. Their aim is to gain media attention for social issues. For example, in 2001 the Kingston Raging Grannies sang the following words (to the tune of “Side by Side”):

Oh we’re just a gaggle of Grannies; Urging you off of your fannies; We’re telling you boys; We’re sick of your toys; We want no more wars (Narushima, 2004, p. 23).

I think Martin Luther King Jr. would have approved of the ‘Raging Grannies’. His own rage was very apparent when he wrote:

…we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up…. (1993/1994, pp. 16-17)

King condoned the breaking of unjust laws. He remonstrated with complacent ‘white moderates’ and clergymen who failed to understand how his nonviolent protests were being used to avoid bloodshed (1993/1994, p. 20). And he was willing to sit in a Birmingham jail to achieve his ends.

I myself am ‘granny’ to two little ones. I’m more aging than raging, though. I can’t rage. I don’t know how to rage. When Westheimer (2005) quoted the third grade teacher who felt “surrounded by adults who have lost the ability to be outraged by outrageous things” he was talking about me (p. 37). I used to think the out/rage might come with age. But it didn’t. So where did these social activist/pacifist “Grannies” learn to rage? Was it in school?

Those who were struggling to create a curriculum of global education made great progress throughout the 1960s and 1970s (Cook, 2008), a time when the ‘Grannies’ probably were in school. The focus then was on creating a better understanding of world issues such as racism, human rights, and conflict resolution amongst others. But educators were hit by a backlash of resistance in the 1980s and 1990s. “Peace education in particular came to be seen as unpatriotic” (Harris & Morrison, 2003, p. 166, as cited in Cook, 2008). As a result, funding was cut and educators redefined global education as global citizenship. In turn, peace education became marginalized (Cook, 2008).

However, pacifism itself is not a recent concept. Nel Noddings (2006) tells us the “world’s first conscientious objectors were Christians who refused to serve in the armies of Rome” (p. 43). In more recent history, Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House, spoke out against The Great War in 1914. Another feminist/pacifist, Jeannette Rankin, was the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress in 1916. Four days after taking office, she voted against US participation in WWI. This brave stance was the beginning of the end of her political career. In spite of this, Ms. Rankin continued to lobby for peace through various associations. When, in 1940, she was re-elected to Congress, she once more voted against war. This time it was WWII. Again she was attacked by the press, by her peers, and very nearly by an angry mob (Noddings, 2006).

There have been numerous instances of people taking a stand against violence, and against war in particular. Many churches, such as the Quakers and Mennonites, have long been known for their pacifism (Noddings, 2006). Ghandi used passive resistance in his struggle for the independence of India. Countless young American men have fled to Canada to avoid fighting, either in Vietnam or in Iraq. And is there anyone who is not familiar with the famous bed-in of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in Montreal?

But if so many want peace, and the struggle has been going on for so long, why do we continue to violate humanity? Why is our culture of war unchanging? Those of us who are not subjected to violence in our lives are still exposed to it through the media (Harris, 2002).War-related activities, games and movies such as Paintball, Warcraft, and Saving Private Ryan, may seem innocuous enough. But our unawareness of just how pervasive they are in our culture is less so.

World War Two ended in 1945, almost 65 years ago. So why do we go on making films about it? Have we nothing more interesting to think about? Don’t we have enough problems in the world that we could focus on and try to resolve?

But perhaps that’s the whole point. We want to avoid thinking about and discussing problems that exist right now in the world and in our lives. And we certainly don’t want to discuss these issues with young people. What do they know about racism, for example? How would we explain that good people can be racist? Certain “school officials and educators,” Macedo (2006) tells us, “have chosen to “live within a lie” to protect their privileged positions” (p. 14). So what would these school administrators, let alone parents, have to say about our unconventional lessons?

But then again, we might be surprised by how much our children already know, or how many misconceptions they have. Every time a young girl is made to feel that her only value lies in her physical appearance, she is a victim of sexism. As is the young boy who is told by men, “Don’t cry.” Rather than allowing them to internalize these beliefs, wouldn’t it be better to equip them to think about and deal with their world?

Ignorance is dangerous because it leaves us open to manipulation. Paulo Freire (1970/1990) reminds us that “the oppressors use their “humanitarianism” to preserve a profitable situation” (p. 73). Ken Montgomery (2006) puts forward a similar idea concerning Canadian history textbooks, “…these patriotic and presumably benign representations of war and peace assist in the hegemonic maintenance of white power, privilege and governance” (p. 19). In other words, those in power may prefer to maintain the status quo from generation to generation. Which could explain why, as a society, we have been so slow to change our war-mongering ways.

Foucault (1977/1995) makes the following comparison of institutions in western societies:

The practice of placing individuals under ‘observation’ is a natural extension of a justice imbued with disciplinary methods and examination procedures. Is it surprising that the cellular prison, with its regular chronologies, forced labour, its authorities of surveillance and registration, its experts in normality, who continue and multiply the functions of the judge, should have become the modern instrument of penality? Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons? (p. 228)

Do schools resemble prisons? Children are made to sit in classrooms for set periods of time. They are given tasks to perform. They are released for short periods for recess and meals. They are under the authority of the teacher. They may not speak unless given permission to do so. And they are subjected to standardized testing, just like inmates in American prisons (Metz, 1990; Weisel, Toops, & Schwarz, 2005). Add to this the violence that is commonly found in schools (e.g. bullying and racism), along with a military presence in schools in the US (see NCLB law, 2002), and the resemblance becomes even more pronounced.

Yet aren’t schools meant to form young minds, not to punish or re/form innocent children? Why do most schools bear so much resemblance to prisons? The Trilateral Commission describes schools as institutions “for imposing obedience, for blocking the possibility of independent thought” (Noam Chomsky, as cited in Madedo, 2006, p. 14). Based on this statement, it isn’t surprising when Nel Noddings (2006) declares “…the suppression of discussion and critical thinking in our educational system is widespread.” (p.1).

But what if we were to decide to create an environment in which children could develop self-esteem and respect for others, and the ability to think for themselves? Would peace education be the way to go about this? What type of curricular changes would this require? What would a curriculum of peace education look like?

Let’s begin by asking what we mean by ‘peace education’. The UNICEF definition is the following (Fountain, 1999):

Peace education in UNICEF refers to the process of promoting the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values needed to bring about behaviour changes that will enable children, youth and adults to prevent conflict and violence, both overt and structural; to resolve conflict peacefully; and to create the conditions conducive to peace, whether at an intrapersonal, interpersonal, intergroup, national or international level. (p. 1)

UNICEF pursues a programme of peace education around the world. For example, in Canada the “In Our Own Backyard” teaching guide is used in grades 1 through 8 to educate about human rights and children’s rights (Fountain, 1999).

Another pro-peace organization has been running an education initiative in the UK for the past twenty years: The West Midlands Quaker Peace Education Project (WMQPEP). Their idea of peace education is to provide learning that “includes handling conflicts without hurting people and finding peaceful ways of solving problems” (Harber, C. & Sakade, N., 2009, p. 175). The children in this project are encouraged to self-regulate.

The Dene Kede curriculum described by Cynthia Chambers (1999) would also come under the heading of peace education. Children in this community are taught four spiritual traits about their relationship to all living things, “such as respect” (p. 142). There are many studies that show peace education is emotionally and socially beneficial. “Students who are empowered to solve their own problems,” Ian Harris tells us, “and are given many opportunities to exercise positive leadership, are less violent than students in control groups” (2002, p. 29).

Teaching students to ‘solve their own problems’ and to ‘self-regulate’ entails dealing with controversial issues in the classroom. In The Ethical Process, Marvin Brown (2003) defines controversial issues as “not only conflicts between right and wrong but also conflicts between different views of what is right” (p. 1). By their very nature, these issues may cause strong emotional reactions, for educators as well as for students. They confront our sense of identity. When Cynthia Chambers (1999) says the question “Who are we?” should be asked in relation to the questions “Where are we?” and “Who are they?” she is referring to this essential idea of self (p. 148). These questions of identity are echoed by Wah (2006) who cries out:

I can’t even speak Chinese my eyes don’t slant and aren’t black my hair’s light brown and I’m not going to work in a restaurant all my life but I’m going to go to university and I’m going to be as great a fucking white success as you asshole and my name’s still going to be Wah and I’ll love garlic and rice for the rest of my life (p. 39).

Due to the emotional nature of controversial discussions, it’s necessary to create a reasonably safe environment in the classroom. Perhaps our inability to bring about this safe haven is one of the hurdles to developing a curriculum for peace education. Another might be work overload. If there is no time to cover all of the graded material in the curriculum, there certainly isn’t time for something of a lower priority, like peace education (Harber, C. & Sakade, N., 2009). Unfortunately, as Harris (2002) states, “in the rush to acquire sophisticated academic skills, schools are often ignoring sophisticated human relations skills that make civilised life possible” (p. 30).

Does the continuing resemblance of schools to prisons also act as a barrier to a curriculum of peace education? Can real learning, non-violent conflict resolution, critical thinking and multicultural acceptance take place in a prison-like environment? Westheimer (2005) says the idea that you must fully model democracy in order to teach it is a myth. Extrapolating from this, we should be able to teach peace in less than ideal circumstances. And since, as Westheimer (2005) says, “there is no public institution that has the capacity to reach a greater number of young people in a sustained and meaningful way,” schools would seem to be the best place to carry our message to the next generation (p. 27).

The expression ‘it’s a small world’ has never been truer than it is today. And as Graham Pike (2000) states, the “need for global education has never been more pressing” (p. 218). Every day we are touched in some way by Others – citizens of our planet. We may have family members who are from a different culture, like my Japanese daughter-in-law. Or it may be as simple as buying samosas for class at Byward Market. We are all connected. The need for peace education should be moving each one of us to seek for solutions, to change the existing structure of schooling, to find liveable compromises, and to prepare our youth for a peaceful future. The ‘Raging Grannies’ are doing their bit. How can we, as educators, whether we rage or not, contribute to this curriculum of peace?


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