Keynote Address at “Teaching about Global Conflict and Peacebuilding” Conference

photo-2This weekend I gave the keynote presentation at the Teaching about Global Conflict and Peacebuilding Seminar at Montgomery College. The conference brought together over 30 community college professors from across the country teaching in a variety of fields and all interested in incorporating peace and conflict studies into their work. I was invited to give the keynote address by the conference organizer, David Smith, an education and peacebuilding consultant who has for many years now been working with community college helping them build and develop peace and conflict studies program.

The title of my presentation was, “Teaching Our Way Out of the Cave: How Peace and Conflict Educators Are Challenging War, Violence, and Human Suffereing.” The title at first might seem a bit obscure, but for the past few years I have been using the metaphor of a cave to explain the differences between direct violence and structural violence and the difference between negative peace approaches and positive peace approaches to addressing those different kinds of violence.

My presentation was broken up into two parts. The first part looked at how I think current global conflicts are perceived and portrayed and what our role as peace and conflict educators looks like given that context. This is where I introduced ideas of negative and positive peace as responses to direct and structural violence.

The second part of my presentation explored the question: how can the content of what we teach be reflected in the way we teach? This focused on different pedagogical principles and aspirations that help guide how I design and structure my course, workshops, and learning experiences in general. These principles are based off of my Seven Blossoms of Peace Education framework that I have written about and presented on a couple a different occassions.

This was a really great experience and I really appreciate David inviting me to be a part of it. I had the opportunity to continue and refine how I present these various ideas and meet some amazing educators doing some really innovative and inspiring thing in their classes – e.g. using Ikedo   to teach about conflict resolution in a kinesthetic way and having students  work in small groups to design their own experiential final exam for a class. I look forward to staying connected with many of them and borrowing from some of their

You can check out my presentation here…

And here is the text of what I said. I did not read from this document directly, but this is the general flow of thoughts that guided the presentation.

To kick off this conference I would like to offer a couple ideas and thoughts on how we can understand and view the what we do as peace and conflict educators given the current state and perception of global conflicts. I am always trying to make sense of the immense and important space in which we operate not just in the content we teach but also the pedagogies we practice with our students.

First, I would like to present my thoughts on the question: what is current state and perception of global conflict and how do we place ourselves as educators within that context?

Second, I would like to explore the question: how can the content of our field be reflected in the way we teach the field?

The current state of global conflicts and the ways in which they are presented to the world are still, in my opinion, still quite myopic. Knowing what we know and learning what we learn as peace and conflict educators, we all recognize that conflict and peace are at times more complex than history books and news media may portray it and, at other times, simpler and more straight forward than history books and news media portray.

So I see my role and your role as a peace and conflict educators as broadening the perspectives our students take on what this field looks at and explores, and then works to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes that can solve the problems of war, violence, and human suffering.

So this thought of mine requires a simple visual aid to help guide us through the current state and perception of global conflict.

I would like you all to image that you are walking through this cave. As you walk through the cave you encounter many stalactites – the formations dropping down from the cave ceiling – and stalagmites – the formations coming up from the cave floor.

The small openings that allow us to immediately access and navigate this cave make it easy to reduce the cave simply into a path that is defined by these rock formations.

What we as educators are attempting to remedy is the tendency for peace and conflict to be reduced in the same manner.

The way in which global conflicts are viewed is too often reduced to what is immediately visible, which most of the time is direct, physical violence – armed conflict, rape and sexual assault, genocide, violent feuds between neighborhood gangs, terrorism, bullying in schools, the list goes on. The global public is constantly shown and reminded of the various forms of direct, physical violence that humans around the world experience and perpetuate.

So as you walk through this peace and conflict cave, as you pass each of these stalactites hanging from the cave ceiling and each of the stalagmites rising up from the cave floor, I want to you to recognize each of them as a form and problem of direct violence that we are called upon to address as peace and conflict educators and practitioners.

But, if the view of violent conflict is limited to just these stalactites and stalagmites then our responses to violent conflict will also be limited. To borrow from Johan Galtung’s language, we will end up viewing and developing strategies for peace in a negative way as merely the absence or negation of direct violence. The thought process then becomes, in order for people to navigate this cave in relative peace and security we need to break up these formations – chisel them out, smash them with hammers, kick them over.

Negative peace approaches to address direct, physical violence then look like something like this with respect to global conflicts:

  • UN peacekeepers are sent in to hold warring parties at bay or enforce a cease fire agreement.
  •  More prisons and prison cells are built to lock up violent criminals
  •  Fences and walls are built to deny “dangerous or unwanted people” access to homes, neighborhood and entire countries.
  • More security forces are sent into the streets to maintain stability.
  • The dismantling and destruction of chemical weapons. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), as you all know, was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the work they are doing in Syria.
  • “Bad, violent people” are assassinated.

These are all strategies to achieve peace in the negative sense.

But a cave is just one small part of what is a much larger system involving several forces that give this cave its shape and its form.

So when I talk about broadening our students perspectives on peace and conflict that means taking them outside of the cave an seeing how the cave is part of something larger.

In other words, as cave enthusiasts we need this larger picture to understand how stalactites and stalagmites form in the first place. Our students, as peace and conflict enthusiasts, need to know what causes direct physical violence. They need to know what lies above the cave, and what lies beneath the cave. Having this view as peace and conflict educators and exposing our students to this perspective has immediate impacts on how we view violence and what strategies and approaches to peace we devise and employ to address violence.

So with this larger view we bring in the concept of structural violence – the structures and systems that create the conditions under which people are more likely to experience direct violence – whether it’s as victims or as perpetrators.

Let’s go back to some of our examples from before. Why do people engage in armed conflict in the first place? Is it because there is increased competition over limited resources or a system of mal-distributed resources? (inequitable distribution of wealth, overconsumption of resources, global warming)

Why is rape and sexual assault, particularly of women, prevalent in some conflicts (at a macro level) or in some homes and families (at the micro level)? Is it because the community experiencing such violence lives under a system where women have been portrayed as objects, commodities, and subject to men? (gender inequality, discrimination, patriarchy)

Why does a government engage in genocide and the attempted mass extermination of an entire ethnic population? Is it because that targeted population has been scapegoated as the source of a country’s problems and demonized in literature, schools and media? (biased education, segregated communities, institutionalized racism, social marginalization)

Why do some neighborhoods experience gang violence and gun related deaths on a daily basis? Is it because those who join gangs live under a set of conditions where the gang life is seen providing the best access to financial opportunity and community belonging? (under-served and under-resourced schools, romanticization of violence, economic disparity)

This concept of structural violence has profound impacts then on how we develop strategies for peace. And so this is where the concept of positive peace enters into our work. Positive peace, in contrast to negative peace, is the presence of something positive, rather than the absence something negative. Positive peace is the presence of systems and structures that promote and sustain conditions of nonviolence, co-existence, and social justice.

Much of the work we do and highlight as peace and conflict educators revolves around these strategies. And there are great examples of positive peace approaches to address violent conflict.

  • Micro-financing programs that provide low-income women, in particular, with access to capital to start and run a business and generate more financial power and influence in a community.
  •  Programs like the camp, Seeds of Peace and the provide opportunities for dialogue and cross-cultural learning among communities that have been engaged in conflict.
  •  The MenEngage Alliance that works with men and boys to support feminism, question violence and non-equitable versions of manhood.
  • Any effort by governments, civil society groups, private companies to stem the impacts of global climate change, which is having deleterious effects on human security around the world.
  • Production of media content such as television programs, social media campaigns, video games, and radio shows that, as Mr. Rogers said, provide an “expression of care” for the consumer of that content. Search for Common Ground, one of the organizations presenting during this conference, has done amazing work on this front.
  • And lastly, in the spirit of this conference, we look at the development and spread of peace and conflict studies programs that provide these perspectives and open up these opportunities to current and would be peacemakers and builders.

And it’s this list point that brings me to the second part of my talk, which seeks to explore the question: How can the content of this field be reflected in the way we teach the field?

Part of what we can do as peace and conflict educators is not just present valuable content, but also engage learners in an experience that models the kind of world we seek to build. To borrow two, over-used, yet relevant quotes from one of the most prominent peacemakers – Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” He also said, “if the means are just the ends will take care of themselves.”

So I put forward seven aspirations I hold as a peace educator. I call these aspirations the seven blossoms of peace education because they represent an intentionality in teaching that seeks to cultivate positive peace and construct systems, habits, and skills that foster nonviolence, co-existence, and social justice. They are principles and concepts that I keep in mind when I design a curriculum and facilitate learning experiences. They are principles that I also believe can be applied to any subject matter, not just peace and conflict studies classes.

The first blossom is Community Building – Finding things that unite and bind us together as a learning group, while at the same time respecting and celebrating our differences.

It involves embracing the interests, experiences, and goals of the community as a means to shaping the learning environment and gain ownership of the learning experience.

This principle encourages me to incorporate icebreakers and teambuilding exercises into my teaching so shared experiences rooted in laughter, play, and collaborative problem solving can emerge. I am a very interested in the field of game-based learning and am currently enrolled in a Coursera course offered through the University of Wisconsin-Madison titled, Video Games and Learning. Two ideas mentioned in the course thus far are relevant to this principle. This first is the statement that, “Learning and play are closely tied together. Great learning looks like great play and visa versa.”

And the second comes from James Paul Gee and his 13 principles of game-based learning, one of which he called the Agent Principle or the Co-Design principle. He argues that the learner must feel like what they do matters. What you do in a “game” affects the game. We can swap out the work game and put in the words, “class,” “course,” or “learning experience.” What a student and the larger learning community does in a class should affect the class.

All of this encourages me to integrate large and small group activities and conversations where students can co-create meaning and learn from and about one another. It encourages me to work with learners to establish community agreements that outline what we need from each other as a unique group in order to accomplish learning goals that we adopt and create together.

A recommended resource for having this principle blossom in your teaching is an exercise I call, “The Cocktail Party” or “Thought Provoking Questions.”

The world café process that would all will be doing on Monday is another great way to build community in a learning environment.

The second blossom is Enabling Multiple Intelligences – This means balancing the learning experience by engaging students in ways that play to their strengths as learners while also challenging them to develop, acknowledge, and value other forms of intelligence.

This principle is based primarily in Howard Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences in which he identified eight different kinds of intelligences that aid the process of learning – visual/spatial, logical/mathematical, kinesthetic, verbal/linguistic, musical, naturalistic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.

This principle encourages me to be aware of the various ways in which students can learn and explore ideas. It encourages me to be creative and diverse in how I design my lesson plans and workshops so that the learning environment is welcoming to all learning styles and intelligences. And that builds a safe environment where no one learning style is seen as superior or more important than another and hence no learner is superior, or more recognized and valued than another.

It sounds like Dr. Zook’s presentation on active learning to engage students in peace and conflict studies will touch on this.

The third blossom is Nurturing Social and Emotional Intelligence – Acknowledging the emotions, feelings, and experiences that each learner brings to the learning environment and helping them find ways to cope with those emotions and navigate the social interactions in that space. This involves nurturing compassion and empathy among students in ways that allow them to be sensitive and aware of each other’s emotions.

This principle is based primarily on the work of psychologists Daniel Goleman and Martin Seligman. This principle encourages me to establish processes where the group can check-in with one another on their feelings and recognize that a learning space does not exist in a vacuum; learners bring emotions into the learning space with them that, when not addressed in a healthy way, can be highly disruptive to the learning process. It encourages me to establish a culture of positive thinking, self-care, and community wellness by incorporating intentional active and reflective listening exercises, yoga and mindfulness practices, and circle processes.

The fourth blossom is Exploring Approaches to Peace – Breaking down an ideal, overarching concept of peace into manageable bites and methods of actualization.

This principle is a constant reminder that “peace” – what it looks like as an end goal and the means through which we pursue that goal – are quite diverse and varied. It encourages me to expose learners to the myriad ways individuals, groups, and countries strategize and have worked for peace. It borrows from concepts and frameworks like Ian Harris’s 7 strategies for peace, the six principles of Kingian nonviolence, The National Peace Academy’s five spheres of peace, social action research, and an appreciation for the various foci peace education programs have had throughout history.

It sounds like Jennifer Haydel’s and David Smith’s presentation on peacebuilding models will touch on this.

The fifth blossom is Reframing History – Challenging the dominance of violence and war in the narratives of cultures, countries, and peoples. Changing the lens through which we look at major historical shifts, construct heroes, and develop cultural norms.

This principle borrows much from the work of educators like Elise Boulding, Colman McCarthy, James Loewen, Howard Zinn, and Mary King. It helps me be both a critical and hopeful student and teacher of history. It is a recognition that when we bookmark the histories of people, countries, and nations with violent conflict, war, and death, we shape the way we look at how to solve and address conflicts in the future. This principle encourages me to rely on the rich, diverse, and deep histories of nonviolence, reconciliation, and community uplift that are found in all cultures.

The sixth blossom is Transforming Conflict Nonviolently – Embracing the inevitability of conflict by practicing nonviolent ways to wage it, manage it, and resolve it.

This principle is rooted in the fact that conflict is an inevitable part of life and something that is required for change to occur. It is not the avoidance of conflict that we seek as peace educators, but an understanding of its presence and importance in everyday life and the development of skills to make conflict a constructive force as opposes to a destructive one. It encourages me and learners to be aware of various styles and levels of conflict and to integrate, where appropriate, conflict resolution techniques, restorative justice practices, and other methods like theater of the oppressed to role-play conflicts and experiment with different ways to approach them.

(7) Skill Building – All of these pillars are held together and buttressed by the all encompassing goal of building, practicing, and adopting life skills that empower individuals to bring about peace in the world around them – interpersonal skills, intrapersonal skills, analytical skills, conflict resolution skills, organizing skills, and learning skills.

When we teach, educate, and facilitate with intentionality towards peace and nonviolence we are ever conscious and mindful about how we teach and why we teach. This determines what is cultivated in our learning environments and influences what blossoms in our classrooms, our communities and the world.

Finally, I would like to end this presentation by sharing a short video of an interview with Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for girl’s education. Earlier this week she sat down with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show and told parts of her story. I think you will see why her story is particularly relevant to what we’ve been talking about this morning. Her experience is truly one that lies at the intersection of direct violence and positive peace approaches to addressing it. She has experienced the worst forms of direct violence that a human can encounter – she was shot in the head! But her story reveals the way in which she thinks she can truly build peace and bring an end to the direct violence. It is truly remarkable.

One response to “Keynote Address at “Teaching about Global Conflict and Peacebuilding” Conference

  1. Pingback: Teaching Our Way Out of the Cave | Daryn R. Cambridge

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