Peace Education Master Class

From December 2-4, I was one of 8 participants in a peace education master class facilitated by two of most prominent peace educators in the world – Betty Reardon and Tony Jenkins.  The class was held at the La Casa de Maria Retreat and Conference Center located in the coastal mountains of Santa Barbara, CA.  I had first met Tony Jenkins at the National Peace Academy’s Peacebuilding Peacelearning Intensive back in July of this year.  As my blog posting from that intensive describes, it was a inspirational and transformative experience where I got to learn from and work with a number of peacebuilders.  I had met Betty Reardon briefly at the Gandhi-King Conference back in October, but this was the first time that I had an opportunity to actually take a class with her.  So needless to say this opportunity was a dream come true and it did not disappoint.   If you want a quick, tweeted, overview of some what we covered and discussed throughout the class, check out my Bundle of key tweets and resources.  Continue reading to learn more…

The first surprising thing about this class was that seven out of the eight participants were men.  This is rare for education courses in general, let alone peace education.  I think it was a pleasant surprise though because it demonstrates the breaking down of gendered assumptions that men are not as interested or geared toward peace education.

Their were many things that I learned from Tony, Betty and the other participants, several of which I share below.

Social Purposes of Peace Education

First, we broke down peace education into various questions that helped us explore what the field looks like and how we can practice it.  We looked at three levels:

(1) Social purposes – what kind of society do we want?

(2) Educational goals – what is to be learned and by whom in order to achieve that kind of society?

(3) Learning objectives – what particular learnings, skills, knowledge, values/attitudes are to be addressed/developed/practiced in various segments of the learning?

This was an effective way of framing how we develop or own sense of peace education – a field that can mean so many different things to so many different people (which isn’t necessarily a bad or good thing).  The point is that educational goals and learning objectives are common components of any educational program or curriculum, however, I don’t think the social purpose of that education is discussed or reflected on enough.  It is a key component of peace education that I feel should always be shaping the goals and objectives.

We discussed social purposes at length.  Some participants shared their desire to create a “passion-driven” society that nurtures curiosity, innovation, and progress – a society that let’s people guide the society as opposed to the society guiding the people.  Another participant took the idea of cosmopolitan education and expanded it to the idea of a cosmospolitan or planetary education that involves and understanding of the whole cosmos and planetary systems, not just the human-centered systems.  Another participant shared his ideas on a society that embraces more cooperation, collaboration and win-win competitiveness vs. win-lose competitiveness.  Another participant shared his belief that we are moving away from the nation-state model and instead need to be educating for a world of local communities networked globally, giving rise to the idea of “glocal” communities and systems.  Another participant shared his belief in the importance of education encouraging learners to be present in one’s own being and existence.  All of this of sharing led to an interesting connection to Jeremy Rifkin’s work describing what he calls the “Empathic Civilization.”  Check out this RSAnimate of his talk on the subject.

Towards the end of this rich discussion were given clarity and guidance as we came to see our sharing as an exercise in  (1) visioning – the articulation of values, (2) modeling – descriptions of relationships and institutions that can be explained to others, and (3) strategizing/learning – exploring how we get there.

Betty wrapped up this session by outlining three kinds of futures: (1) the probable – what we think is most likely going to happen, (2) the possible – what we think could potentially happen, and (3) the preferable – what we would like to happen, all of which I took to mean that peace education works in the realm of preferable futures thinking, while at the same time seeking to understand why certain probable futures exist, and how to mitigate possible futures that are damaging, unhealthy, exploitative, unjust, and oppressive.

Pedagogy of Relationships

In this session, we looked at a pedagogical framework that Tony has been pioneering for a couple years.  Now, I don’t expect the casual reader to make much sense of the photo you see to the right, but I assure you it pushes the boundaries of what educators normally think of when they hear the word, “pedagogy.”

Tony believes that pedagogy should be thought of as more than just the processes and methods one uses to teach.  Rather, he stresses that the need to think about the kinds of relationships those methods and processes cultivate in the learning environment are of the utmost importance.  He said, “Pedagogy is where we model the kind of values we articulate in the social purposes of peace education.”

In other words, pedagogy does not mean much, in the realm of peace education at least, if it is not intentional in how it is fostering the five following relationships: (1) the relationship between the student and the self, (2) the relationship between the student and the existing knowledge, (3) the relationship between the student and others (peer group), (4) the relationship between the student and the world at large (holism), (5) the relationship between the student and the emergent knowledge, and most importantly (6) the relationship between the student and the teacher.  The more intentional we are as teachers in developing these relationships the more transformative the learning can be because as Betty said, “We are all individuals, but we do not become persons until we are in relationship,” and that “We cannot let the concept of the individual diminish the concept of person.”

There is much more to this framework than what I have outlined above, but with respect to Tony’s emerging scholarship and writing on this subject matter I am going to leave further sharing of this framework to him.

After getting an overview of the “stay puft pedagogy man,” (picture above) we paired up with each other and were assigned one of the specific relationships outlined in Tony’s pedagogical framework.  My good friend, Mike Abkin, and I are were paired up and discussed the relationship of the student to the self.  Our task was to come up with different principles we felt were embedded in this relationship and what kinds of teaching methods, approaches, and processes we felt addressed this relationship.  Mike and I thought that some of the key principles embedded in this relationship were: authenticity, vulnerability, humility, being present in the learning, self-worth, acknowledging and/or recognizing that you have sometime to contribute to the learning, openness to understand the perspectives of others, and self-confidence.  Some of the exercises and educational practices that we felt bring these principles to life were: role-playing, debates (and being asked to take a side with which you may not actually agree), dialoging and reflective sharing, exercising multiple intelligences, journaling (words and drawings), and centering processes.

The group that looked at the relationship between the student and others shared the following principles: mutual respect, community, cooperation, and collaboration.  Some of the learning processes they shared were: perspective-taking, group work, and co-creation.

The group that looked at the relationship between the student and society/world/life shared the following principles: empathy, responsibility, inclusion, connection/interdependence, awareness (cultural), active citizenship, and an understanding that there are “multiple ways of being human and that cultures are ways of being human,” as Betty Reardon said.  Some of the processes they shared were: lens taking and building direct personal connections with other cultures.

And the group that looked at the relationship between the student and the knowledge (both existing and emergent) shared the following principles: validation, intention, inquiry, being present to the body of knowledge, being open to the body of knowledge, and an awareness of the lenses through which we view the knowledge.  And in terms of what to keep in mind when engaging in learning processes that develop this relationship, Tony made a key point that its important to understand the difference between knowledge as power over, which can be oppressive and dis-empowering vs. knowledge as power with, which can be liberating and empowering.  In other words the phrase, “knowledge is power” does necessarily mean that power is used or developed in positive ways.  The processes that develop this relationship in a positive ways entail drawing out knowledge from learners in the group and disclosing the biases and assumptions that we may be bringing to the development and sharing of knowledge.


During this session, several of the participants facilitated a 30 minute lesson or exercise of their own design and then received feedback and comments from the group.  I facilitated a session exploring our conceptions of what we consider to be violent and nonviolent.

The learning objectives of the activity were:

  • To reflect on one’s own conceptions of what they consider to be violent and nonviolent.
  • To explore the strategic efficacy of using violent or nonviolent tactics
  • To list different nonviolent tactics
  • To discuss how context can impact our conceptions of violent and nonviolent

Participants were broken up into two small groups.  Each group was given a list of tactics that have been used in various resistance movements.  They were then asked to arrange those tactics in a line ranging from most violent to most nonviolent. Participants were then asked to place themselves along the spectrum at a point where, for them, the tactics make a shift from being nonviolent to violent.  Groups then discussed how they developed their spectrum, compared and contrasted their spectrum with the other group, and then discussed why they stood where they did along the spectrum.

The arranging of tactics along a spectrum requires that students not just read a list of tactics, but actually think about and discuss how they have been used in history and visualize what kind of impact they could have in a struggle.  Comparing and contrasting the spectrums that two different groups created helps expose different conceptions of what people consider violent and nonviolent.  This discussion also opens up to how a struggle context can alter our conceptions of violent and nonviolent.  Asking students to identify where, for them, the line is crossed from violent to violent also requires students to explore specific tactics more closely and imagine themselves in situations where such tactics would be used.  Small group work, kinesthetic and visual learning, and large group discussions tap into a variety of learning styles that help keep learners engaged in the process.

I got a lot of constructive and useful feedback from the group.  First was allowing each person to go through the list of tactics/actions on their own before discussing and arranging them with the group.  Perhaps even making a personal spectrum before creating a group spectrum.  The second was to allow adequate space and time to discuss what we consider to be violent.  I may have assumed that participants had similar conceptions of what is considered violent.

3 Spheres of Critical Inquiry

For this session we watched, War Redefined – one of the films in the “Women, War, and Peace” series that aired on PBS.

We used this film as the common text through which we explored the 3 spheres of critical inquiry, which are:

(1) Critical/Analytical, which deals with the core issues, causes, consequences, and alternatives of a problem.

(2) Ethical/Moral, which deals with dimensions of justice, equity, and dignity.

(3) Contemplative/Ruminative, which deals with meaning, the holistic nature of the problem/issue, and the imaginative elements of it.

After watching the film we were broken up into groups and asked to come up with reflective questions and queries for each of these spheres.

What I found fascinating and useful in this exercise and this new understanding of reflective inquiry is a deeper appreciation for skill and art of formulating a good question and sequencing those questions in a useful way.  As Betty said, “the most productive questions are ones that don’t have an answer,” and that “a query is a form of a question that can elicit a number of responses.”

Closing Reflections

To close out the master class we were all given time to ourselves to respond to three questions/reflections.   Below are the questions and my responses:

Identify something significant you learned over the past two days.

  • Being intentional about creating a common text (experience, resource, set of information) off which to start and initiate the discussion.
  • The different levels of reflective inquiry and the importance of asking the deep questions that lead to, inspire, and motivate further learning.
  • The steps themselves are not as important as what is hoped to be accomplished in those steps.
  • The distinction between the individual and the person and how we become persons in relationship.
  • Understanding other conceptions of violence and how to introduce them in learning about nonviolence.
  • How you learn what you think you know largely impacts how you will come to act upon the knowledge that you have.
  • Honoring what you are asking the learner to do.

How might this be incorporated into you educational practice?

  • When students develop their own discussion and reflection questions based off the common texts, select ones based off of the different levels of reflective inquiry.
  • Starting the violent vs. nonviolent exercise with an individual list of actions for all participants and then having them think individually about how the spectrum would look and where they would stand on it.
  • Creating more space for reflection and dialogue on issues raised in ICNC’s FSI.  Perhaps having participants watch the presentations before attending the course, reflecting on the content and then coming prepared to discuss in small groups.
  • Incorporating various ways of conceiving and understanding violence within the context of resistance movements.

How has you peace education philosophy been affected or changed from when you first arrived?

  • I have a greater appreciate for the importance of relationship and the pedagogy of relationships.  The stay puft pedagogy man.
  • Social purposes, educational goals, and learning objectives.

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