Last night, my wife, Alyson and I attended a peace education award ceremony honoring Colman McCarthy – one of the most dedicated and committed peace educators I have ever met. The Ibrahim El-Hibri Foundation presents this award annually to a influential peace educator. Past winners have been Dr. Mary Elizabeth King, Dr. Abdul Aziz Said, and Scott Kennedy.
This was a real joy for me to attend because Colman McCarthy has been an inspiration for me as a peace educator for many years. In many ways it was Colman who first sparked my passion for this field.
In 2004, as a program instructor for the Close Up Foundation, I heard Colman give a presentation about the importance of teaching peace in schools. He facilitated a quick activity where he offered to give any student $100 who could tell him about three key figures in American history. The first name he called out was Robert E. Lee and all hands in the audience went up, with several students explaining his role as confederate general during the Civil War. The second name he called out was George Washington and all hands shot up again, with several students explaining his role as general during the Revolutionary War and first President of the United States. With only one more historical figure to go, I could tell students were getting ready to collect their $100. So Colman offered up the third and last name, which was Dorothy Day. Not a single hand went up. Dorothy Day, he explained, was one of the founders of the Catholic Worker Movement, a global network of pacifist, Catholic communities dedicated to addressing issues of poverty, injustice, racism, and war in all its forms. He then offered up other names like A.J. Muste, Johan Galtung, and James Lawson, all peacemakers or advocates for social justice, yet none of which any the students knew.
He then said that if the United States were a peace-loving, peace-affirming, and peace-making society, every student would learn about these individuals and their good works, as opposed to spending so much time focusing on war, violent conflict, and military heroes.
This concept stuck with me – the idea that my understanding and grasp of history, both US and world, had been shaped predominantly by violent conflict, creating the myth that violence and those who engage in it are what make up our nature and the narrative of time. This may then reinforce the belief that violence and war are necessary if not inevitable.
I went on to learn more about Colman – that he taught peace education courses at several highschools, colleges, and prisons. That he rode his bike everywhere, as opposed to using a car, so that he did not pollute. That he was an dedicated animal rights activist, vegetarian, and pro-lifer – committed to nonviolence in all spectrums of life. I learned that he truly walks the walk.
I would recommend checking out his book, I’d Rather Teach Peace, a collection of his articles from when he was a columnist for the Washington Post.