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Educating for Peace

By Jill Anderson on November 18, 2015 3:20 PM
Doctoral candidate Silvia Diazgranados Ferráns' new course highlights ways in which peace education can help to reduce violence in areas of conflict.

Peace EducationBefore taking the course, Peace Education in a Comparative Perspective, Danielle Williams, an Ed.M. candidate in the Arts in Education Program, thought she could define peace and violence. But before leaving the first class, everything she thought she knew had been turned inside out.

“My mind was blown and totally astounded by how much more of a specific definition there is for peace and violence,” she says. “[The course] took me to a whole other level in challenging my assumptions. An important part of this experience was realizing how much more there is to learn.”

Despite violence being a part of our daily world — the recent events in Beirut and Paris included — understanding the implications and depths of educating for peace is quite multifaceted. Different programs around the world use different approaches to peace education — peacekeeping, peacemaking, and peacebuidling — according to their understanding of the concepts of peace and violence within their own contexts. This is part of the reason doctoral candidate Silvia Diazgranados Ferráns designed the six-week course offered at HGSE this fall.

“Educating for peace is not just about helping children and young people develop the attitudes and skills they need to solve their interpersonal conflicts in nonviolent ways,” she says. “It is also about empowering them with the competencies they need to transform entire social structures that systematically serve the interests of some at the expense of the rights and wellbeing of others, and to prepare them to have a positive and meaningful impact in their communities.”

Peace education is a tool used around the world to help children develop the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to create the conditions for a more peaceful and just society. Through the promotion of empathy, perspective taking, critical thinking, conflict resolution, civic engagement and cultural awareness, and the integration of concepts such as positive and negative peace, direct and structural violence, restorative justice, and human rights, peace education can empower young people to help society move forward. 

Growing up in Colombia — a country struggling with nearly six decades of violence — Diazgranados Ferráns’ was exposed to the results of that unrest regularly. This experience informed her pre-HGSE clinical and research work with victims of war and captivity who suffered posttraumatic stress. She also worked to support former child soldiers from guerrilla and paramilitary groups in Colombia in their process of civil society reintegration. Recognizing that violence is a spiral that feeds on itself, and with the hope of preventing further trauma and suffering in her country, Diazgranados Ferráns also founded Juegos de Paz, an education for peace program in rural Colombia that works in partnership with the U.S.-based organization Peace First.

The Peace Education module is a natural extension of this work. It aims to help students identify and understand the ways education can reduce violence by amplifying the effects of inequality, exclusion, and polarization, or contribute to peacebuilding by transforming social structures and processes in ways that promote social justice, inclusion, and mutual understanding. Students participated in discussions, debates, case studies, and workshops, and also analyzed peacebuilding efforts related to education, policy, and practice.

Special Studies candidate Christopher Darby was one of 20 students to enroll in the module. He came to the Ed School having worked with young people on nonviolent conflict resolution and saw this class as a continuation of that work. “This course was explicitly geared toward areas that I could only scratch the surface of in my work,” Darby says. “Having this space at HGSE was unique because we are really talking about issues of peace and violence that are not often spoken of.”

One of the goals of the course is for students to come away having learned that peace education can look tremendously different depending on the specific needs and challenges in different areas of the world.

“The challenges of educating for peace in an area with a long history of conflict and war are different from the challenges of educating for peace in a post-conflict setting, or where tensions and inequality are latent between groups, but without overt violence,” Diazgranados Ferráns says.

To highlight the needs of different settings, she designed the module using an international comparative approach. Students examined peace education policy and practice strategies used in settings as varied as the Colombian and the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, post-Apartheid South Africa, and the escalating inter-ethnic and racial tensions in the European Union and the United States.  

Williams says she now has a stronger understanding of the issues in different parts of the world. “These were things I had heard about but never dove deeply into,” she says. “I have a better understanding of the world and how people have tried to alleviate conflict.”

Diazgranados Ferráns also used a student-centered approach to assignments. While she provided students with the option of following a structured set of assignments, she encouraged them to instead negotiate their own topics and formats. As a result, students opted to write research and grant proposals, policy memos, and even op-ed pieces and scripts for TED talks.

Not only did this approach motivate him in Diazgranados Ferráns’ class, Darby says it energized all his other courses as well. He chose to collaborate with the American Friends Service Committee’s Bay Area Healing Justice Program to inform the way in which they could use a peace education intervention to address how Californians can heal — individually and collectively — from the traumatic experiences that characterize mass incarceration in the state.

“I wanted students to use this class to work on issues they deeply care about,” says Diazgranados Ferránsm “in ways that both matched their own learning goals and that could have a real and meaningful impact in the world.”

Williams was so affected by the class that it changed the entire trajectory of her work. “What has come out of it is I have new mission in life,” she says. Williams, who came to HGSE with experience as a music composer, now plans to use music as a means to intentionally create a more peaceful world.

“By intention I mean we aren’t just talking about [musical] notes on a page but about challenging what we are doing in society and culture or anywhere in the world,” she says. Her final project explored how to integrate peace education into purposeful music programs in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She received was awarded funding from David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies to put her ideas into practice during J-Term.

As an Israeli-American, Ed.M. candidate Anat Walderman found the course aligned with her interest in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, particularly how to advance peace education with hope of moving toward a resolution. The International Education Policy Program student believes it’s important to design education in a way where children learn how to live peacefully and prosper.

“Peace education can't be the domain only of those places that are experiencing violent conflict. It is needed around the world in all contexts,” Walderman says. “This course provided the tools to pursue peace education, regardless of whether in a region experiencing war or one experiencing tranquility, in a way that will be context-appropriate and impactful. The approaches and exact goals may be different, but this course helps to frame these many different, important variations.”