Peace Is Possible: A Peace Pedagogy Exploratorium

This past weekend I had the pleasure of co-facilitating a day-long workshop exploring peace education and pedagogy at George Mason University.  Peace educator, nonviolence trainer, and GMU professor, Arthur Romano, assembled the team of educators (pictured above), and the six of us facilitated the program described below:

“This day-long exploratorium gives students an opportunity to engage with a variety of peace pedagogies used by practioners in the field. We will be joined by first-rate peace educators who have worked in the US and abroad. They will guide us through a series of lecturettes and activities that promote deep introspection, personal story sharing, community building and provide opportunities to examine the importance of self-reflexive praxis in peace education. In all, the day will examine both critical and creative pedagogical approaches to the field and seek to provide a safe and experimental forum in which to explore alternative approaches to education.”  Continue reading to learn more…

Each facilitator introduced me to so many new ideas, exercises, and approaches to peace education.  Below I outline a couple take-aways from each of these individuals.

First, Michael Irwin is a high school educator and founder of the Scene & Heard Theater Collective.  As an English teacher at Chapel Hill High School, he has been active in creating arts integration and social justice programs there to cultivate awareness and promote creativity.

During his lecturette, Michael quoted a student who, speaking on the process of teaching and learning said, “I know how much I am going to learn by how enthusiastic you are to teach.”  This resonated with me because it touched on a theme that ran constant throughout the exploratorium – passion.  I am going to assume that those of us who go into the field of education do so, not because we have aspirations of getting rich, but because something, someone, or some event in our lives put us on that track and its driven us to be committed to our practice and the subject matter that we teach.  I find that educators and teachers whose passion for their subject matters manifests itself in how they teach, how they relate the material, and how they engage the students are the most effective.  Enthusiasm is contagious and its an essential fertilizer in cultivating a positive learning experience.

Michael is also an experienced facilitator in Augusto Boal’s pedagogy of the theater of the oppressed – a dynamic and powerful use of theater, acting, and “spectacting” as Boal would call it, to explore issues of justice, oppression, and conflict.  In one session, Michael led us though an  exercise called Colombian Hypnosis.  This is exercise

Second, CJ Suitt is a poet and facilitator working to elevate youth through spoken word poetry.  He coaches The Sacrificial Poets, a youth slam poetry team which competes regularly at the international Brave New Voices Festival that was recently featured on HBO.

One thing that CJ said that resonated with me was that, “poetry is the natural extension of conversation.  It moves us beyond the “Hey, how ya doing?” mentality.  It allows us to explore each other and our lives beyond the our outer layers.

Check out this clip from his spoken word performance.  One line I really liked from this piece is, speaking on the role of African Amricans in US history, “We did not write the script, we just provided the soundtrack.”

Cherine’s professional experience includes serving as a senior trainer for Challenge Day, an innovative inclusion program recently featured on the Oprah Winfrey show; supporting a multitude of non profit, corporate and transnational non governmental agencies including the American Friends Service Committee, A Safe Place, the Mosaic Project, the Goi Peace Foundation, the Scholar Ship, the ILO and Rotary.

The exercise that she led was very powerful and was rooted in some of the following ideas: (1) The fish can only grow as large as its bowl, and (2) Oftentimes we are only exposed the tip of the iceberg when it comes to learning about who our peers are.

These analogies led us into the “If you really knew me” exercise.  In groups of 5-6 we went around in a circle and each of us were given an opportunity to speak for about 5 minutes, beginning each sentence with the phrase, “If you really knew me.” It was emotional and powerful to see how quickly we, as a group, were able to move beyond drawing conclusions and assumptions about one another based on outward appearances.

Joshua Gorman is the founder and Coordinator of Generation Waking Up, a global campaign to ignite a generation of young people to bring forth a thriving, just, and sustainable world.  He shared with us one of the organization’s newest videos launching their new campaign.

One key point that he made that resonated with me was that the power of the smart phone surpasses the technological capacity available to the US Government when they put a man on the moon.  Imagine then how we can leverage the power of the tools we can hold in our hands and fit in our pockets towards the service of peace.

This led nicely into the final session that I lead, which had students form into groups of 3-4, go out and explore the campus and, using their smartphones create or capture an image or picture of peace.  They then tweeted those photos from where ever they were on campus to the hashtag #GMUpeace.  Meanwhile I was back in the workshop room, following the hashtag and uploading each of the pictures to a Pinterest board.  When all the groups arrived back to the room, they were then greeted with a digital gallery of all the photos they took.

Check out the #GMUPeace Pinterest Board.

We then had a short discussion on how the smart phones many of them possessed can be used in the learning process.  We also talked about how our communal, digital photo gallery could be taken to the next level.  Some suggested each student choosing one of the photos (not their own), interpreting it, and then writing a short poem that captures what they feel is the essence of the photo.

In conclusion, this has been one of the highlights of my year.  I hope to borrow from Arthur’s playbook and to organize another peace education exploratorium in the fall semester.

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