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Making Peace

How schools can help foster a more peaceful world
Educating for Peace

As 2015 draws to a close, we hope for a new year where cooperation and empathy supersede violence and suspicion. For our final article this year, Usable Knowledge asks: Can education foster a more peaceful world?

According to Silvia Diazgranados Ferráns, an instructor and doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, it can. Her research on peace education reveals a complex field that seeks to help schools build communities that foster peacemaking and citizenship — to encourage students to become empathetic, inclusive, critical thinkers who have the skills to live peaceful lives.

The Goals of Peace Education

The goals of peace education vary widely across the world. In developing countries, where there is no specific enemy or conflict but a general lack of human rights, peace education seeks to elucidate sources of inequality to promote a more equitable, stable future. In areas of intractable conflict between specific groups, as in Israel and the Palestinian territories, peace education seeks to promote alternate narratives of the conflict to encourage mutual understanding, respect, and collaboration.

In areas where there is no active conflict or violation of human rights, peace education seeks to promote individual skills that reject the use violence and create stronger communities.

Peace Education in Action

For U.S. educators, a successful peace education program focuses on helping children develop the skills they’ll need to get along with others, solve conflicts in nonviolent ways, contribute positively to their communities, respect intergroup differences, and value diversity. Young children need to learn and practice these skills in relationship to their peers, teachers, and family members, Diazgranados Ferráns says. As they grow older, children need opportunities to practice these skills in the context of their broader community and to reflect on their potential global impact.

Diazgranados Ferráns notes that peace education lessons will only take root if peace education is a schoolwide effort that goes beyond a particular subject, embodied by every adult in the building and demonstrated throughout the school day. She outlines several ways that teachers and school leaders can incorporate peace education into their work, teaching students how to be empathetic, responsible, and active learners and leaders:

Model kindness and empathy
Teachers, principals, and staff throughout the building can model how to love and care for others through their interactions among each other and with students. Adults should get to know students individually, appreciating the unique strengths and needs of each student and member of the school community.

Repair, don’t punish
When students commit an offense, use models of restorative justice to help them understand the effects of their actions and how they can repair any damage done. Instead of punishing or excluding offenders, facilitate conversations on what would need to happen to restore balance in the community. The end goal is for children to understand the impact of their actions and to learn to take responsibility for them.

Create a democratic space
Involve student voices in establishing and revising school and class norms. Create classrooms where children are encouraged to share their ideas. Share power with students and give them the space to question authority. Great injustices, inequalities, and atrocities take place when people either are uncritical of authority or aren’t given the appropriate space and courage to question and resist it, says Diazgranados Ferráns.

How to Educate for Peace: Model kindness and empathy. Repair, don’t punish. #hgse #usableknowledge @harvardeducation
Use experiential learning 
Arrange lessons so that students learn by doing. Give students assignments that promote creativity and critical thinking. Whenever possible, instead of lecturing material, allow students to grapple with and debate it, to conduct experiments, or to participate in projects.

Give a voice to the excluded
On a micro level, this means encouraging students who are commonly excluded to speak up in class. On a macro level, this means incorporating into lessons the narratives of people who have been historically discriminated against or excluded. Have students think critically about why the knowledge and experiences of some groups of people are privileged over the knowledge and experiences of others.

Encourage collaboration in diverse groups
Emphasize collaboration and teamwork and deemphasize competition and self-interests. Structure long-term projects that allow children from different social or ethnic groups to work together toward a common goal. Opportunities in which children get to know one another as individuals, says Diazgranados Ferráns, “may help break prejudices and establish caring relationships among members of different groups.”

Discuss controversial issues
Facilitate discussions about divisive civic and ethical issues for children of all ages. These debates teach students not only about viewpoints different from their own, but also that it’s okay to disagree with authority figures and peers as long as it’s done respectfully and in a safe environment.

Integrate service learning
With younger students, this can mean identifying and solving problems within their classroom. With older students, it can mean creating service projects that help their school, community, or people across world. “Children need to practice, from very, very early on, how to take action, to solve the problems in their community, to have a positive effect,” says Diazgranados Ferráns. “They don’t need to wait until they grow up to change the world.”


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