Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Education to end war

Peace education represents a celebration of life rather than a support for the death-bearing values implied in violent militaristic cultures. Peace education confronts the horrors of these images and presents a vision of a different, nonviolent world.
—Ian Harris and Mary Lee Morrison, Peace Education, p. 229.

The resources a culture directs toward conflict can often predetermine the range of options it feels it has. Currently, the US spends more than $1T annually on its military, which is approximately equal to what the entire rest of the planet’s nation-states spend on their combined militaries, or about half the entire discretionary budget that Congress can spend (trust funds like Social Security are not discretionary). These funds are such an overwhelming commitment to militarism that they work their way into every aspect of our society, into every subsystem of our culture, and therefore each piece of society is more militarized.

Education is no exception. The direct influences are numerous, including the requirement that all schools receiving federal funding provide access to military recruiters. This is written into the No Child Left Behind Act that describes all the strings attached to funding education. Since education is mandatory age 5 or 6 either through high school or until age 16, 17, or more normally, 18, the vast majority of our youth are directly, by law, exposed to military recruiters. This is not only high school students. There are programs that bring the military into schools at almost every level, including even the Starbase program that brings the military into grade schools and brings elementary school children to military bases.

Other military influences on education are found in the curricula. History books focus far more on wars than on peace. Major DoD contracts are awarded to universities to do military research, which thus serves to set up a brain drain from the technical side away from civilian applications to military technologies. Often our finest young minds are seduced into exotic big-budget research into devising more sophisticated methods of murder instead of learning to combat cancers, AIDS, flus, heart disease, diabetes or other human health challenges.

Like the plumber confronting a flooded and damaged home due to broken pipes, the first step is not necessarily to bring in the brilliant new items, but to turn off the water main, to stop the flow of funding toward teaching destructive conflict management. Peace educators who are operating on a Marine base school find it generally harder to overcome debilitating disbelief in students compared to those who are teaching conflict resolution to Amish children or Costa Rican children who are surrounded by civil society that handles conflict without the heavy military presence.

Every term I teach approximately 150 new students and much of what I teach is counternarrative peace education to students who have been exposed to very little of it and who have instead been educated in our militaristic society. Each term many students express chagrin that they are only just learning conflict management techniques that they rightly feel should have been taught to them literally decades earlier. Like other peace educators, my teaching begins with the assumption that we can learn the hypothetical methods of constructive conflict management, and then we proceed to the principles and self-reflection practices that introduce students to an adaptive self-management model of conflict management processing. What they do, then, is learn how to learn to manage more and more of the conflicts in their lives in more constructive and less destructive ways. They love it and they know they can use it forever.

Then I imagine all colleges and universities requiring students to take even one such course, then all high schools, and so forth. The skill levels would escalate, the engaged and informed public would see the dysfunction of our “do you want to bomb someone or do nothing?” false dichotomy, and we would expect a slow turnaround in the norms that lead to so much armed conflict. We would expect more depth of analysis from our mainstream media and we would get it as more and more journalists would enter the field understanding the dynamics and methods of constructive conflict management.

So when I tell classrooms full of my students that they are the seed crops, I get nodding heads of understanding. They know they can change mores, norms and practices. They develop an inevitable sense of human agency.
Eventually, peace education can be crucial to ending war. Our students will make it so as they become the leaders and policymakers.

Harris, Ian M., and Mary Lee Morrison (2003). Peace Education (2nd ed.) Jefferson NC: McFarland & Company.

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