Peace education takes place in most classrooms worldwide, though usually unintentionally. I think most teachers hope to install in their students a sense of compassion, kindness and self-awareness. In recent years, there has also been an increased focus on environmental studies— what Dale Snauwaert refers to as planetary ethics. Many of us think that humans are born with certain basic ideals and values: you shouldn’t harm others, you shouldn’t lie, you should help someone in pain. Because we assume that these values are innately present in us all, we tend to take them for granted. This, perhaps, is why peace education has not received the attention it deserves in the school system.
Many of us think that humans are born with certain basic ideals and values: you shouldn’t harm others, you shouldn’t lie, you should help someone in pain. Because we assume that these values are innately present in us all, we tend to take them for granted.
When advocating for peace education, I think it important to establish that it is indeed different from education (if not, we can simply add a peace class in the curriculum, and voilà, we’ve done our part)… What can peace education teach that normal education cannot? Well, first, I think it’s necessary to point out that we all hold prejudice (against teenagers, Israelis, women, Black Americans, Buddhists, rapists, nuns, catholic priests, “tree-huggers”…). We are all products of our culture and our societies. Dale Snauwaert quotes Immanuel Kant: “we only have access to the world as we see it through our eyes. We filter out certain things, and let other things in. We construct our experiences.” Our mind projects (perhaps unconsciously) our culture.
This is where peace education is different from “normal” education. Peace education seeks to raise self-awareness, so that we can recognize our own prejudices and presumptions, and actively work to change them. Peace education is not only about acquiring knowledge, fostering imagination, and encouraging critical thought (as are the most noble goals of “normal” education); is it about putting all these skills to use. If education is a weapon, then peace education is the instructions of how to use it (to the benefit of all). That is where I see the difference.
Peace education seeks to raise self-awareness, so that we can recognize our own prejudices and presumptions, and actively work to change them.
What does it mean that peace education is normative?
Norms refers to shared values. When we say that peace education is normative, then, it means that we wish to install a set of common values in all people; a framework we can all work within; a set of principles we can refer to when interacting with each other. Again, it is important that we don’t take values for granted. Values are culturally constructed! I don’t think peace education seeks to establish a static common value system, but rather the ethical tools to examine different norms and value systems. If we are “peace educated” we know that our values are not innate in all humans, but rather culturally constructed. One shared value we all might have is openness: we must be open to the other’s perspective, and always seek to understand the other. As Kwame Appiah (2006) states, “people are different […] and there is much to learn form our differences” (p. xv).
Appiah, K. (2006). “Chapter One: Introduction: Making Conversation.” In Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York: W.W. Norton.