Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Peace educators MIA

When you are an activist, you work with media, unless you are an unsuccessful activist. You may work with mainstream media, social media, or alternative media--the most effective work with all three--but it is simply bread and butter for any normal social activist.

This is why I earned a minor in Writing as a part of my Peace and Conflict Studies bachelors degree. This is why I earned a masters in Mass Communication. This is why I have written hundreds of editorials plus other writing over the years. It is all toward peace, justice and environmental sustainability.

And so, when I saw so little of the peace analysis in popular press during the September 2002-March 2003 period of selling the invasion of Iraq, I was increasingly dismayed. I was especially disappointed in the lack of peace educator participation in the press. We were rarely interviewed as articles claiming to be about this decision process streamed past us daily. Generals were interviewed. Politicians and agency people were interviewed. The peace perspective was virtually nonexistent. And peace researchers and educators were missing in action on the editorial pages. It was hard to have a national conversation when in reality it was a national monologue from the war system, pouring content into the empty vessels of the public.

So the research project I'm working on tries to look at the perceptions of the academic about this phenomenon. I'm learning that time pressures are actually a piece of this puzzle. Jerry Jacobs and Sarah Winslow (2004) noted that most academics work 55-65 hours per week, whether they have earned tenure or not. My interview participants report enormous time crunches, especially if they also have families. Other perceptions help fill in the picture.

"In the past, I would be earnest and eager to weigh in on an issue I knew about," said one participant. "I'd feverishly write a commentary and then wait for a response from a paper while the piece grew colder and colder. I stopped trying to publish in the newspapers with anything time urgent. I never knew if some corporate influence stopped my piece or what." For a busy professor, even one whose research or teaching focused on understanding issues that often are in the news, there is the fear of wasting very limited spare time trying to say something that is never going to be heard because of unspoken editorial bias.

Then, if some piece does finally get published, a tenure track professor may get derailed because colleagues and administrators believe she is speaking outside her area of expertise, though the fear of the peace educator is often that, since it cannot be said that public expression of a partisan view for peace is alienating to corporate interests or to conservative political powerful institutional players, other justifications for critique are required. Hence, "She is not a political scientist. She is writing outside her discipline." There is a fear that this blocks tenure and, if a professor is denied tenure, they are sometimes simply then fired.

Institutions wishing to enable their peace, justice and environmental sustainability faculty to help raise the level of public discourse should consider finding ways to make sure that academic freedom precedes tenure and that time spent with this type of civic engagement counts as part of those 55-65 work hours. That would not solve the problem of the corporate media blocking countervailing opinion, but it would break up part of that logjam that leaves us with an increasingly war-accepting, if not war-promoting, public discourse.


Jacobs, J. A., & Winslow, S. E. (2004). The academic life course, time pressures and gender inequality. Community, Work & Family, 7(2), 143-161. doi:10.1080/1366880042000245443

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