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If We Don’t Teach Peace, What Are We Teaching?

Nonviolence, peace, and justice are not utopian dreams but real and practical ways in which humans can affect the world around them.

Earlier this year, I walked into the university classroom where I teach a course in Peace Studies. Seated in a circle around the room were seniors just shy of graduating. They would soon become doctors, social workers, teachers, community organizers, executives, and leaders.

To open our semester together, I wrote a simple, three-word question on the board.

What is peace?

Silence. Stumped by this tiny question, no one spoke. They did not have an answer, and I would later discover why: It was the first time in their life a teacher had asked them to define peace.

Each year in the United States, millions of students graduate from high school and college, their diplomas certifying years spent studying the principles of science, mathematics, literature, and writing. These are the subjects we value as a society, and therefore we insist that our young people develop knowledge in these areas. Imagine if we graduated seniors who couldn’t read, or do simple math, or write basic paragraphs. Outrageous, right?

Yet these very same students will graduate without ever once studying conflict resolution. During their entire academic career, they will never be required to take a course on making peace, building community, or forgiving an enemy. The principles of violence and nonviolence will not be analyzed, the philosophy of Dr. King will not be discussed, and satyagraha—the practice of nonviolent resistance, which Gandhi called the most powerful force in the universe—will remain ignored.

We are neglecting to teach our students the most fundamental and urgent lesson: how to make peace in the world around them. And by forgetting to do so, we are promoting violence. As my friend and fellow peace educator Colman McCarthy once said, “If we don’t teach our children peace, someone else will teach them violence.”

So each day, in the classrooms where I teach middle school, high school, and college students, I work to counter the violence, spark the conscience, and liberate the thinking mind. I teach peace.

Dismantling the Violence

At the most basic level, to teach peace is to teach that violence does not have to happen.

For too long in the West, we have acted as if violence is inevitable, a natural part of the human condition that sticks to us like the skin on our back. Nonviolence is written off as an afterthought—viewed, at best, as do-nothing-passivity and, at worst, as a long-haired fantasy of Woodstock. Responding to violence with violence is seen as the only practical solution, and the result is greater violence.

But this is changing.

Hundreds of colleges and universities across the globe now offer degrees in Peace Studies, with some universities reporting enrollment size doubling in the past few years. At the heart of each program is the declaration that nonviolence, peace, and justice are not utopian dreams but real and practical ways in which humans can live and affect the world around them. Violence and its dynamics are examined alongside the history, philosophy, and principles of nonviolence. The treasure chest of stories is opened, and like some reverse-Pandora’s Box, the ideals of peace-making are unleashed onto classrooms as students study the examples of Cesar Chavez and Vandana Shiva, Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan, Gandhi and Gene Sharp.

From a broader perspective, this academic trend towards peace-making is part of the widespread awakening—what David Korten calls “The Great Turning”—happening in response to the problems of our time.

Those problems are many.

The United States leads the First World in the following categories: prison population, drug use, child hunger, poverty, illiteracy, teen pregnancies, firearms death, obesity, diabetes, recorded rapes, use of antidepressants, income disparity, military spending, production of hazardous waste, and the poor quality of its schools (Paul Hawken, who published this list in Blessed Unrest, also points out that the U.S. is the only country in the world besides Iraq with metal detectors in its schools).

For the peace educator, this list is no surprise. Violence spreads like a virus. Contagious by nature, it follows a spiritual law that says that violence plus violence only equals more violence. Violence can never lead to peace, and the more we respond with violence, the more violence we create.

So teaching peace means dismantling this list. One great crowbar comes simply through asking questions.

To Teach Peace is to Teach Gandhi

“Could nonviolence have stopped Hitler and the Nazis?” I ask middle school students in my U.S. history course. Having already examined the philosophy of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., the students create imaginary European nations whose mission is to develop nonviolent strategies to stop invading Nazis. After they present their plans, I tell them about the citizens of Denmark—so many of them teenagers barely older than my students—who monkeywrenched the entire Nazi plan through nonviolent noncooperation.

During our year together, these 12-year olds have surveyed the landscape of U.S. history. But where most history courses ignore the deep tradition of American nonviolence, my curriculum examines Jeremiah Evarts as well as Andrew Jackson, AJ Muste as well as Harry Truman, Henry David Thoreau as well as Teddy Roosevelt. My course features nonviolence alongside every story of violence. Students develop a long exposure to the people in our history who have resisted violence by following their conscience.

“Which is stronger: love or hate?” I ask high school students in my Democracy Studies course. We’ve already finished the biography of Gandhi, discussing at length the ideas behind satyagraha. Gandhi is the Thomas Edison of nonviolence—he switched on our understanding of this universal force more than anyone prior, and to study and teach peace is to study and teach Gandhi.

Gandhi was skilled at civil disobedience, but he was even better at promoting practical solutions. Gandhi resisted injustice by creating alternatives, what he called “constructive programmes.” His favorite was the spinning wheel, which allowed Indians to forgo British cloth while actively spinning their own.

With a nod to Gandhi’s idea, I ask my students to create their own constructive programmes. Find a problem in the world around you, I tell them, and then create its solution. Further freeing them from traditional academia, I liberate the grade book and allow them to assign themselves a grade. They dive in, and create some powerful actions.

 

  • One student handed out copies of Gene Sharp’s revolutionary (and in some countries, illegal) 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action to people on the streets.
  • One student created dialogue between two opposing groups—the mayor and some frustrated citizens.
  • One student served vegetarian pizza to the homeless community in town.
  • One student planted a garden.
  • One student began providing food and clean water to migrant workers crossing the brutal desert. She was arrested for her work.
  • One student began collecting long-distance phone cards for U.S. troops overseas.
  • One student forgave her enemy.
  • One student began to pray and meditate regularly.

Schools do not have to create a formal Peace Studies course. Just like writing or note-taking, it is an academic skill that can be infused into almost any current course.

But when schools do formalize a Peace Studies program, the door opens wider. At the university where I teach Peace Studies, students read a biography of Gandhi and then Michael Nagler’s formative The Search for a Nonviolent Future. We spend many days wrestling over the practice of forgiveness before measuring the effect inner peace has on external circumstances. Understanding the practice of war-making consumes several weeks, as we examine the media’s role in promoting war, the reasons why war gives us meaning (in the words of Chris Hedges), and also a presentation from local U.S. Army colonels.

Peace Studies does not shirk away from opposing viewpoints. It does not practice partisanship. The study of peace is radical in that all are welcome, for peace is about more than politics. I can teach for months without ever speaking about George Bush and Barack Obama or red and blue states. Peace Studies gets underneath the surface, going deeper into what it means to be human.

And that’s why so many students cram into my classroom to take these courses. Not because of me, but because they are so hungry to study peace.

“I Understand What Making Peace Is All About’’

A few years ago, a student of mine who delved as deeply into understanding peace as anyone I’ve ever taught was participating in a march for reproductive rights in Washington. Thousands were there, including the counter-protestors shouting from the barricaded sidewalk. One man in particular caught her attention.

“Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!’’ he shouted, staring right at her.

Breathing deeply, she put down her sign (it read: “Equal Rights for All”) and walked over to him, smiling softly. She put her arms around him and hugged. Then she walked back, picked up her sign and kept marching.

The story does not end here. Months later, at another march, she spotted him again. Again, she was marching, he was shouting. But their eyes locked, and in that moment, all the animosity melted away. He stopped shouting. He softened. He may have even smiled.

“It was in that moment that I understood what making peace was all about,’’ she later told me.

And that is why I teach peace.

David Cook wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. He lives with his wife and two small children in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he teaches courses on Peace Studies, Democracy Studies, and American Studies. He received his masters degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College, and his work has been featured in The Sun, Geez and truthout.org. He can be reached at david.cook@mail.com.

May 15th, 2015 at 10:18 am

Women’s Task Force Suggests Gordon Brown’s Linking Together the Fight for Girls’ Rights

By Gordon Brown July 21, 2014

Gordon Brown, prime minister of Britain from 2007 to 2010, is a U.N. special envoy for global education.

Glory, Rejoice and Comfort. Three schoolgirls with unforgettable names. Three schoolgirls whose contribution to propelling girls’ rights onto the world agenda may yet rival what Rosa Parks achieved for U.S. civil rights a half-century ago.

One hundred days after Boko Haram’s abduction of Glory Dama, Rejoice Sanki, Comfort Amos and more than 200 other teenage girls from the Chibok school in northeastern Nigeria, their plight is inspiring a one-day worldwide vigil. On Wednesday, groups fighting for girls rights across the globe will come together to act as one, unveiling for the first time what could become the great civil rights movement of this generation.

Demonstrations on behalf of the missing girls will be mobilized in Pakistan by the girls’ education movement Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), in India by Bachpan Bachao Andolan, in Africa’s Francophone countries by theGlobal March Against Child Labour and in capital cities around the globe by the 500 teenage global ambassadors of A World at School.

Read More at The Washington Post

Join Parliament Women’s Task Force In Standing With Malala

WOMEN’S TASK FORCE IS STANDING WITH MALALA. WILL YOU?

Via WalkFree.Org and A World At School

Every young person should have the opportunity to learn, but that’s not currently the reality for over 57 million out-of-school children around the world. We know that when children do not have the chance to get an education, conditions are ripe for modern slavery. Instead of going to school, they are forced to work in the streets, fields or mines.

Last October, people across the globe united to send thoughts of hope and love to a brave young girl fighting for her life in Pakistan.

The Pakistani Taliban tried to assassinate Malala Yousafzai because of her strong voice in the fight for women’s rights and youth education. Their gunmen boarded her school bus and shot her in front of her peers — but Malala survived and she hasn’t stopped fighting.

Over the past two weeks, the basic right to education has been under attack around the world – from the school shootings in Nigeria to Pakistan, where 14 young female students were massacred as their bus taking them home from university was blown up by extremist militants. We were once again reminded of the continued need to stand behind Malala and her cause.

On July 12 – less than a year after she was attacked – Malala will mark her 16th birthday by speaking at the UN. She’ll be delivering, to the highest leadership of the UN, a set of education demands written for youth, by youth.

Join us in uniting for Malala – and for girls’ education — once again. 

Sign the letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledging your support to her cause.

Merging Spirituality and Clinical Psychology at Columbia

Photography credit to Michael Appleton from the New York Times.

Marina Mazur, left, and Allie Jordan, right, Columbia students, work with residents of Covenant House in a therapy session.

from The New York Times
by Sharon Otterman

The psychology graduate student ran a wooden stick across the edge of a Tibetan Buddhist singing bowl on Tuesday and asked the five homeless young men sitting in front of him to listen to the undulating sound, and to raise their hands when they could no longer hear it. One by one hands went up, until well after the sound had seemed to dissipate.

Then the student asked the men to take long breaths and to visualize themselves not in their current circumstances — living in transitional housing near the Lincoln Tunnel — but as their “best selves.” With eyes closed, the young men pictured those best selves loving their present selves. Then they visualized sending that love across the room, first to one of the other men, then to all of them.

After 15 minutes, they opened their eyes. They were still in a fluorescent-lighted conference room at Covenant House with a few plants, a coffee machine and a microwave. But their faces were relaxed. Over the course of 16 weeks of group therapy and meditation, a bond had formed among them, the young men said, one that they said filled them with a sense of possibility.

Click here to read full article 

Reevaluating Interfaith Dialogue

Image Credit to Three Faiths Forum, http://www.threefaithsforum.org.uk.

by Steven Shashoua
from Common Ground News Service

London – Girls in headscarves is not exactly what you would expect to see walking through the doors of a Catholic school in London. Yet for young people living in London today interfaith encounters are not as rare as they used to be.

While opportunities to meet people from other cultures are increasingly common, meaningful learning doesn’t always follow and they don’t necessarily bring about positive shifts in attitudes and real social change.

Over the past 15 years at the London-based Three Faiths Forum (3FF), we have developed models for creating understanding between people of different faiths and beliefs, with a particular focus on students and young people. For the last three years we have been creating links between different faith schools – some 50 in total – through our Faith School Linking programme.

At a school linking event, two or three classes from different faith schools will meet in the morning. Participating students divide into small groups and begin a task, like creating an art project, or sharing a story. They look at each other with some curiosity and hesitation at first, as they meet people very different from themselves.

Click here to read the full article

“Our Sacred Journey”: With Audrey E. Kitagawa

 

Advertisement for Audrey Kitagawa’s “Our Sacred Journey” podcast.

Listen to the following podcast from CPWR Board Emeritus Trustee Audrey E. Kitagawa, entitled “Our Sacred Journey,” regarding Spiritual- and Values-Based Education for Global Peace, on the VoiceAmerica website.

“Free food and a day off school timetable- what’s not to love?”

Photo Credit Ella Weeks

Some of Fran’s fellow pupils at Benton Park High School’s World Religions Day.

by Fran Talbot
from The Guardian

It was 8:15am. I stood, chopping melons, in a 60 year old Chinese dress. Outside, some unusually dour northern weather was doing its utmost best to turn Benton Park School into a lake.  The Year 7s were practically having to swim past the school gates and the Brazilian samba band looked incredibly nostalgic for the golden sun of Rio.

Okay, so the last paragraph sounds like the start of a low budget disaster movie, but it was in fact the start of Benton Park’s famous World Religions Day!

I love World Religions Day. It’s the crazy brain child of Benton’s Religious Studies and Philosophy department, and Head Teacher Mr Foley. Conceived four years ago in an attempt to bring cultural diversity to Benton Park, it has been a roaring success right from the start.

Click here to read full article

July 21st, 2012 at 10:55 am

Including Ourselves: A Lesson from an Elevator-Ride

Photo Credit to State of Formation by Simran Jeet Singh
from State of Formation

It’s not uncommon for kids to ask their parents about “that thing” on my head.

In most instances, the parents look at me uncomfortably, embarrassed that I might be offended in some way. I’ll usually acknowledge their discomfort with an awkward smile before looking away and pretending not to notice as they try to discretely shush their kids.

But recently I had the most amazing experience. I walked into the elevator of my apartment building in Manhattan and — despite knowing New York etiquette — I couldn’t help but smile at the two little girls standing with their young mother. The girls were wearing matching, polka-dotted raincoats, and they were fully focused on not dropping their popsicles.

The older of the two girls must have sensed me enter the elevator, because she slowly shifted her neck to look up at me and gawked for a few seconds. She then turned to her mom and unabashedly shouted: “Hey Mom! What’s that thing on his head?!”

The young mother made eye contact with me and quickly checked to see if I was planning to respond. I flashed my standard awkward smile, and she returned an awkward smile of her own before totally catching me by surprise.

“That’s a turban.”

“Why does he wear it?”

“It’s part of his religion. Do you remember the boy in your class who wore a turban?”

“Yeah, he doesn’t cut his hair. He has really long hair. ”

I was shocked. I wanted to give everyone in the elevator a high-five, but remembering I was in New York, I tried to play it cool. I put on my Denzel Washington face (the coolest person I could think of on the spot), and as I walked out of the elevator, I turned to the mother and whispered a soft “thank you.”

Click here to read full article

The Three Faiths Forum- Helping Children Understand

Photograph by Cathal Mcnaughton/PA

A Three Faiths Forum event in action.

by Jessica Abrahams
from The Guardian

Fifteen years ago, a Muslim scholar, a Christian priest and a Jewish philanthropist came together in London to create Three Faiths Forum (3FF), a platform for community leaders to engage with each another and break down barriers. But today, some of the most valuable work the charity undertakes is in schools, ensuring that tensions between faith communities don’t trickle down to the next generation.

Often this will simply be making sure that children of different faiths have an opportunity to meet one another or addressing a lack of knowledge about other religions; occasionally more severe problems occur. “We’re contacted by RE teachers to help when there’s been anti-Jewish, -Muslim or -Christian sentiment,” says Debbie Danon, the charity’s education manager.

Deputy director Rachel Heilbron speaks of one particularly serious case they became involved with last year. A teacher discussing the features of a church with a group of 14-year-old students at a non-denominational school in London mentioned synagogues. Some of the students complained they didn’t want to learn about “Jew stuff”. They said that Jews were dirty and smelly and that they kept money under their hats. As the situation escalated, some of the children began banging on the tables, chanting: “Kill the Jews, kill the Jews.”

Click here to read full article

Storytelling to Restore the Sacred in Our Lives

Najeeba Syeed-Miller

Najeeba Syeed-Miller Professor Najeeba Syeed-Miller, J.D., teaches Interreligious Education at Claremont School of Theology. She has extensive experience in mediating conflicts among communities of ethnic and religious diversity, and has won awards for her peacemaking and public interest work.

by Najeeba Syeed-Miller
from MuslimVoices.org

I was recently offering a workshop to a group of Muslim educators from all types of ethnic, racial and community backgrounds. One of my points in the training on conflict resolution was the importance of story telling,the many ways that stories are formed, told and uttered in different cultural contexts.

Sometimes, the content of the story is less important than the way we tell the story.

We talked about how to listen to the form of the story being told, its inherent design logic, and what we learn about a person and her community from the way she chooses to tell her story especially in times of conflict. For it is in conflict times that we resort to what is most familiar and sacred to us all.

For years, I have had the honor of being a peacemaker, a mediator who listens to people’s stories. I jokingly told a colleague that I could tell what they were thinking even as they were telling their story just by the way they sat, how their hands moved, whether they looked away at certain points or by what they also did not say.

It is important to hear a story being told as a fully embodied experience. The words, the way they are arranged, the flow of the narrative, its resonance with body language give you a more complete vision and experience of the story and insights into the storyteller.

So I thought about the ways stories play into my work, into my life and into my recovery of the sacred capacity of humans to build peace with each other. Some thoughts are below.

Click here to read the full article