THE ROLE OF TEACHERS IN BUILDING A CULTURE OF PEACE

Lotte Christy, Danish National Commission for UNESCO; Teachers for Peace

 


In the summer of 1969 I spent a weeks holiday in Romania on the coast of the Black Sea. I was a student - about to start my education at the teacher training institute after the holiday. For several days I happened to be situated at the beach close to a family from another western European country. The father and the mother spent the whole day lying down on a big carpet. Besides oiling their bodies in sunoil, their only activity was to sell low quality nylon stockings quite expensively to Romanian women and other eastern European women coming by for this purpose. Thus financing the holiday I guess. (It was humiliating enough just to watch.)

Their 6 year old boy played by himself all day long in the sand. He never seemed to expect his parents to join him. Once though, he asked his father for an ice cream and even more asked his father to walk the long way down the beach with him to get the ice cream. He was granted the ice cream, but his request for company during the long walk was rejected and followed up by his father who at the same time gave him an educational lesson - said in a rhyme in his national tongue, which I cannot translate - but I shall give you the content: "You must work hard - if you want to get a reward. Without endeavour there can be no eating!" So the boy trotted alone down the beach. What he had learned, I can only guess - but I never forgot this lesson in the discrepancy between adults´ words and their behaviour.

As teachers and educators of today we face a great challenge: We must provide children and young people with models of adult credibility! In one sense you might say, that the role of education in building a sustainable culture of peace depends on this demand: Practice what you say and stand for! It sounds easy but it is not!

A very up to date example is our movement Educators for peace. For ten years we have been working together organizing these congresses while growing from a small group into a large movement. We face a period of transition and changes in order to fulfill our common long term and very idealistic goal: To make peace-education effective throughout the world. What kind of structure should the movement have which will fulfill the needs of this period?

During this process we make many blunders occassionally using destructive methods of cooperation we would never teach our children! However, I comfort myself with the fact that we should also teach children that it is part of being human - and it is acceptable - to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them! So how this movement/organisation might develop it will be a constant challenge for us to begin with ourselves and try to manage our internal conflicts in a creative and peaceful manner. If we don´t we will loose credibility.

I personally feel some kind of modesty using very "big" words and using them many times thus emptying them of their content. "Culture of Peace" are such words. UNESCO's Culture of Peace programme is still in the making, and to my knowledge working mainly on a few projects concerning the construction of civil society and in reconciliation of the parties having been engaged in civil wars in countries like El Salvador and Mozambique. What we can do is to ask the rather difficult question: How do we create a culture of peace in schools and institutions for children and young people? Which are the elements in establishing a culture of peace in schools and education? That is - elements that contribute to sustain a peaceful
culture?

Maybe we can only answer that after having analyzed the question: To what extent do the existing school systems maintain the possible future of a culture of war?

I have a list of elements which I find necessary to question and examine. We should do it together - here and in the workshops - because we represent systems that may provide different answers: Schools facing transformation of the political, economical and educational systems; schools in areas of violent conflicts or social, cultural and ethnic tension, schools in post-conflict areas; schools in minority areas, and schools in well-off societies. We have the opportunity to give concrete substance to the concept of culture of peace. And I believe UNESCO would welcome such contributions!

The elements that we should examine could be the following:

* Which influence does the relation between teacher and student have? The role of the teacher? (The next UNESCO - Intern. Conf. on Educ. in Geneva in October will concentrate on the role of the teacher).

* Democracy in schools. What is the content of this? How do teachers and students influence
this?

* Cooperation between parents, schools and society? Centralized or decentralized schoolsystems?

* Creative elements in the curriculum that contribute to all-round personal development?

* Elements in curriculum and methods that favour visionary thinking?

* The ability of the students and of the teachers to manage conflicts non-violently?

I don't have the time to go through all these points - nor do I of course have the answers - and I believe there are no simple and quick answers to be given.

But I would like to focus on a few of them:

I shall start with - again one of the big words - democracy. The general-director of UNESCO Federico Mayor has put it this way: "Democracy is to count - not only to be counted!"

If the school system favours mostly selection of the elite, individual competition and getting good marks for repeating what the teacher or the book has told - would you say that we could be sure that every student of this school feels that he or she counts ? Self-esteem and selfreliance is based on the child's experience that its ideas and feelings have value of their own. This can be favoured by adults who take their time to listen and to take the child seriously by giving possibilities for some of it's visions and suggestions to be put into practice through common activities. This also means to learn from the consequences. Do we give time and space for this in the educational sytem? If we want children to grow up acting responsibly there is no other way than to let them act responsibly.Democracy inside schools is not only to elect some representatives to a student council (if such a council does exist at all!).

"Why do grown ups make wars, when they say we shouldn´t fight?" - questions like that and many more of them will be put to the attentive educator. It takes courage to listen to children´s questions about injustices in their society and discrepancies between adult words and societies´ behaviour. You can choose to stop them from further questioning by using your authority to stick to the curriculum and the day's lesson in the book or you can take the more uncertain step
to engage in a dialoque with them - knowing that you don't have all the answers.

This leads me to say a few words about the role of the teacher/educator. 30 years ago in my society - less in others, I believe - parents, teachers, and children shared the same conceptions of authorities of society and culture. The organisation of government, institutions, churches, as well as schools were rather fixed and stable matching to a certain extent with the different roles of the members of the family. Thus children and adults shared the same notion of authority as coming from outside - from the position given to you in a family or a school/society. We all know that this has changed. For one important reason because the flow of information, the widespread access to information from many sources - especially from TV - gives children a flickering calaidoscopic view of the world. They know a lot - but they are uncertain from where they got their knowledge and they might not have the tools for creating the necessary coherence in their knowledge and - what is maybe the most important - this knowledge is not rooted in personal experience and acquisition. This leaves many young people of modern society with an apparently certain surface but a very uncertain inside not very confident of their own potential. We - the grown-ups change too - but we bear the memories of the "old times" and we still expect children to have internalized some of the values from this old paradigm.

In this sense our students are left in a crisis of values and personal uncertainty. And so it is no longer sufficient for the school to develop the students intellectual abilities. We must contribute to the full development of the personality.

This means that the teacher must develop a new role - seeking the authority from inside in a combination of his or her professional skill, and a sincere, honest and authentic personality. This does not mean to fail to give the children any grown up authority. On the contrary. It means entering into a new kind of relationship with the students.

This new role of the teacher implements a closer relationship with the parents - taking over or sharing with them some of the educational factors traditionally belonging to the family. I believe this raises a lot of discussion on the role of the school in different societies. It has in Denmark where close cooperation with parents has been an obligation for the teacher for many years. In our new school act from 94 it is said in the aims that "the primary school shall - in cooperation with the parents - further the pupil's acquisition of knowledge, skills, working methods and ways of expressing themselves and thus contribute to the all-round personal development of the individual pupil." Which not all families approve of.

This question of the role of the teacher must also be reflected in the old, but still existing conflict/discussion in the peace movement and in peace-education: What is the most important - or is there a contradiction between: The political and the personal peace; outer and inner peace, the big and the litte conflict? In other words: If violence and wars are rooted in structural, political, economical and ecological violence and injustice we won't get very far by teaching children peaceful conflict resolution in the classrooms. The other position would be that we can only start with ourselves and being nice to each other. I think both positions are wrong. And I think we can no longer afford this false distinction because it leaves us in a vacuum where we cannot prepare the students for the obligation laid upon them: To take both personal and political responsibility in dealing with the challenges of the future.

I shall end by giving the last word to a child - 10 year old Leila Ibrahim Semaan from Lebanon who wrote a poem called My only cry: "close the arms factories":

Who are you deceiving?
You ask me to speak to children, but I shall also address you, the grown-ups.
I am still a child, I don't know how to lie like you.
All the children of the world, oh adults of the world,
could not rebuild what you destroy.
a better world won't be able to be rebuilt
without you, the adults.
You know that our cries are useless,
in a deaf world.
Now, my friends, let's not talk of friendship,
peace and fellowship,
these words should be spoken by adults.
Enough promises.
Enough waiting.
Come everyone, ask them to stop making arms,
to stop making wars break out,
to stop telling lies.
Listen, listen carefully: we are sick,
you are sick;
but we are here.
So, in your name, we children,
we ask them:
"Close your arms factories
and think about taming the winds."
Right-wing politics matter little to us,
we are children.
Left-wing politics matter little to us.
Our life is essentially affection.
But, through your fault, a veil of dust lies over it.

 

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