This week I had the opportunity to give a presentation and lead some exercises around peace education with a group of 35 high school students (9th and 10th graders) from two schools in Queens, NY. They were visiting DC as part of a Global Kids trip. Global Kids is an “educational organization for global learning and youth development – works to ensure that urban youth have the knowledge, skills, experiences and values they need to succeed in school, participate effectively in the democratic process, and achieve leadership in their communities and on the global stage.” This was a unique and valuable experience for a number of reasons I will outline below and I very much appreciated the time I got to spend with the students.
First, this opportunity forced me to develop an appropriate and useful metaphor for the peace education framework that I have been developing and presenting for years now. In the past I have referred to it as the “Seven Pillars of Peace Education,” but I was never totally comfortable with this language. It conjures up authoritarian imagery and doesn’t really capture the holistic dimension of the 7 themes – community building, engaging multiple intelligences, nurturing emotional intelligence, exploring approaches to peace, re-framing history, transforming conflict nonviolently, and skill building. So, with this Global Kids presentation on the horizon I took it upon myself to re-think the language and imagery I use to explain this framework. What I have come up with is instead, “The Seven Blossoms of Peace Education,” which I think better captures the idea that creating a peaceable learning environment requires cultivation and intentionality.
I start the metaphor with the image of a garden in your backyard or green space outside your apartment building. Something will grow in those spaces whether or not you decide to cultivate it or tend it in a certain. The question is what will grow in that space if we are not intentional in how we cultivate it. Weeds could grow that prevent other plants from thriving. Dangerous, poisonous plants could grow that could harm surrounding wildlife. The entire space could be quite ugly to look at and turn into a space that people and passersby want to avoid. In other words, something pretty nasty and destructive could grow there. Or, if cultivated and cared for in a certain way, all sorts of beautiful plants could grow there – plants that help one another flourish; plants that are sustainable and not invasive; plants that make people want to stop and spend time in that space. What grows, in many cases, depends on how we decide to cultivate that space.
I think that classrooms and schools are the same, in many ways. It is guaranteed that some kind of learning is going to take place in a school and in classrooms. The question is what kind of learning is taking place and what content is being learned? Is it toxic and poisonous to other forms of knowledge and knowing or does it help other knowledge and knowing thrive? Is it a learning space that invites people in and makes them feel safe, comfortable, and appreciated or is a space that people want to avoid? Is it a learning experience that allows for diversity or does one dominant idea or perspective swallow the entire conversation?
I felt like this metaphor resonated with the students because its a visual and concept that everyone can connect with. The Prezi presentation I put together also used the visual of a tree and the various themes of peace education blooming off the different branches.
The other thing that I tried out during the presentation was to give the students the opportunity to decide what was discussed and explored in greater depth. Since this was only an hour long presentation I knew there would not be enough time to cover all the various themes and topics in this framework. After all, I have an entire, semester-long class that does that. How am I supposed to do justice to ALL these ideas in an hour? So what I did was I listed some of the concepts, activities, and tools that are part of each blossom and I let the students vote on which one they wanted to discuss. As you will see in the picture below, this was a short yoga routine I led after the students voted to learn more about how yoga and mindfulness can be integrated into classrooms.
This whole idea of providing the audience with the opportunity to choose what direction the presentation goes did two things: First, it makes is exciting for me because I know that every (shorterish) presentation I do on my peace education framework is going to be something new and different because each audience will be interested in different things. This keeps me on my toes and constantly going back and experimenting with the different exercises, tools, and methods that are part of the framework.
Second, it gave me the idea that my peace pedagogy course, which is built around this framework, can be designed in a similar way. A semester-long course is not actually long enough either to effectively explore all these tools and to then provide time and space to practice them, develop and adapt them for different learning contexts. Ergo, choices have to be made in terms of what is covered. In the past, I have made those choices, but I also end up changing things up throughout the semester to best meet the needs and interests of the students in the course. So I am thinking that the next time I teach my peace pedagogy course that I will present the 7 blossoms of peace education but then allow the students to determine what themes and topics from each blossom we will spend time exploring in depth in the class.
In conclusion, this presentation and time spent with Global Kids was very valuable and I really appreciated the enthusiasm and ideas they brought to the framework. I hope to do more work with Global Kids in the future. I was asked to deliver their keynote address at their upcoming conference in NY, but I have another engagement that afternoon in DC that will prevent me from participating. Hopefully next year on in another event I can re-connect.
Here is a list of resources I referenced during the presentation and then shared with the group via email afterwards.
Peace Education Online Learning Modules which I developed for the Peace Ed course I teach at AU.
Mr. Rogers testimony to Congress in 1969, which I referenced during the talk
Lastly, here is a link to a trailer for the A Force More Powerful documentary film series, which the org I work for, the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, gives to individuals and orgs for free (along with the companion book).