Education for Peace and Mutual Understanding



By Mr. Sahar Mostafa Hafez


Researches being carried out in the field of "peace education" discover different aspects of comparative education. During the period of my research for 12 years in the United States when I worked as a movie director and assistant professor for audio-visual department in "Columbia University New York". and U.S.C.­Los Angeles. I got interested in peacemakers of the world.

The country of my origin is Romania and after 1989 when the communism collapsed, we organized an international club, a movement for international friendship. Countrywide activities were launched.

In schools the club is trying to train and help children and young people to deal constructively with questions of war and peace. As part of the work, a number of experts with special interest and competence in areas related to peace education are interviewed. The keywords are: citizenship, education, conflict resolution, environmental issues, global approach, justice, peace education, public issues, religion, appreciation of values. What is peace education? How can we educate our students to become participators in a programme to transform the world to be a just and peaceful place?

I have been involved in developing educational materials and service programmes as well as educational programmes including adult education or non-formal education. In many universities of the United States young people still protest against Kosovo war. In my opinion even an attitude against drugs is an attempt to promote peace for lucidity and balanced minds.

I think I would be satisfied with the term peace education as long as it is defined to agree with Pope Paul VI when in his speech to Romanian people, during his visit in Romania (May 1999), said: "there can be no peace without justice. So. I believe justice is constitutive of peace".

Unfortunately we need peace, but we are surrounded by war. Though it looks like a special time, it is not so. We long for peace in the third millennium and to me it appears that the third millennium will raise our hopes for peace. In every school we have to have clubs, youth associations for international friendship. I think that there are a lot of things that can be done to help the teachers and the students to make this movement more effectively. But it is necessary that peace education should also deal with our internal problems i.e. conflicts in our homes. So far as our schools are concerned, we have usually geared this work to suit the world outside our country.

So we have to do a new orientation for this kind of ahimsa education.

To my mind we should also develop such things as training teachers how to teach young people to overcome stereotypes. How should we develop their critical thinking and such skills as care, responsibility, conflict resolution? They are absolutely necessary for a broad idea of education for peace.

The younger pupils are simply not able to understand parts of the relevant content. Not only the content but also the methods should be adapted to the capabilities of their age levels. One aspect of peace education that should be developed early is the multicultural approach. Most of our areas are multinational communities specialty in the north-west side of Romania and the bay of Black sea.

In the countryside many ethnic groups like Greeks, Armenians, Mongols, Ukrainians, Jewish, Tatars, Germans, Hungarians, Serbs, Polish, Albanians, Slovaks, Croats, Gipsys, Italians live together. Education for international understanding is also a part of peace education or global education. I think that Lebanese, Irakians, French, "global education" is better, because many of- e problems are really global. One aspect of peace education that should be developed early is the lticultural approach. As I have said already most of our communities are multicultural communiti s. First of all children have to know about their own traditions. They have to know about their own peculiarities. And then they have to know that there are other people living next to them who are also similar to them in many respects, but who have their own distinct traditions and peculiarities which need to be studied. Even they could be dealt with at the elementary school level using songs and dolls in different costumes as the starting-point for a discussion.

War is a crime. In many countries, questions related to disarmament and peace are highly controversial. In India there is a great awareness about peace and nonviolence. Mahatma Gandhi lived in this country and played an important role in winning freedom for it. In his concept of peace AHIMSA is the focal point. Some steps and measures have to be taken regarding schools contribution to training children in ahimsa. First of all, children should learn what peace means, what peace is, what peace stands for. In informal education which begins at home, where the individuals have the first socialization, parents are their dutybound to pay attention to the values of peace and the ways of peace and nonviolence which can be inculcated in their children in a natural way. In the formal school education, every student must have an opportunity for peace education.

We have to let teachers and parents know why peace education is necessary. They need to be oriented toward this particular area. It's a new word; many people don't understand why it is so vital. We also have to realize that violence can be of various types-overt, covert, subtle, passive ­and we have to learn to perceive them since peace as "no war" is too simplistic an idea.

A country may not be at war but if there is injustice, there is poverty or economic discrimination or inequity, can we say that it is a peaceful country?

The ways of conflict resolution are important. The students should also make observations about violence in their own community: "Do you have a slum areas, a trashy street? Do you see violence between parents in your house? Do you see violence in the shops and commercial area? Do you see violence in the neighbourhood ?

If you want to find out what violence is, as a student, you must go out in the real world and find out what violence is, what your solutions are? Peace education is especially important in our time, when we see how we have been hit by violence.

We have even made violence a part of our entertainment, part of our leisure time hobbies. For example, look at some films, there may be 250 incidents of violence in a film of 2 1/2 hours­unbelievable ! TV-programs are often full of violence. To my mind "disarmament education" is a part of peace education or global education ­one of the most important parts. Education for international understanding is also a part of peace education or global education. If we encounter difficulties while dealing with parents, we have to convince them of the need of peace education through a dialogue on account of the changes in society. Sometimes ethic problems crop up. We have problems with our national subgroups, problems of psychological, economic and social character. As educators we still have not done what we can to help resolve these problems.

One of the points in this way is to raise the general cultural level, because they may know the risks of this or not culturally prepared for it, so it becomes just superficial knowledge, but not a clear attitude. Sometimes we are at war with ourselves. We neglect our irresponsibility. How can we ask others to solve our own problems? We need to fight our irresponsibility to build a new consciousness. The increasing cooperation among educators from different countries at international levels is important.

In this case - our conference has the most appropriate and befitting theme. We will work together to see how we can overcome all our problems and how conflicts can be resolved nonviolently.

Peace education must concern itself with the issues of equality and mutuality. The right to participate in decisions which affect our lives is constitutive of justice. It needs to deal with environmental viability. Dealing creatively or nonviolently with conflict is also an important element of peace education. Conflict has always been a part of life. but what is important is that we see it positively and to see it as something that can be dealt with nonviolently. So I see all of those areas as components constitutive of peace education.

Another aspect such as skills, values and preparedness for action would also be a part of peace education. We must focus on developing values, skills and attitudes while evolving a conceptual framework.

I think intellectual content, discussions, dialogues and the concerns of the day be made part of the peace curriculum.

Education is not complete without a religious and moral component. We cannot be considered fully educated unless we learn to be morally good and responsible citizens in a community. But the secular educational process, no matter how good it is, cannot produce moral people who are willing and able to live justly and peacefully with one another only on the basis of civic obligations and rights. Our values and dignity as human beings flow from our individual human spirits which we have received from God. Our spirits (souls) relate us directly to God and to all other human beings. These relationships form the basis of our own self-respect and the respect we must give other people. Any educational process will remain incomplete without this religious and moral component.

This is the reason why Catholic or Greek­orthodox parents would not leave the education of their children completely to a school, especially a public school. Parents have a moral obligation to see that their children are spiritually and morally prepared to live as disciples of Jesus. They must work with their parishes and religious educators in forming and supporting their children to become morally good people who are able to survive the negative pressures of our society and are ready to work for its transformation. God can be found only through love, not earthly, but divine.

AHIMSA means "Love" in the St. Paul way also. But AHIMSA includes the whole creation ­not only humans. It is a positive state of love.

The Christianity way is that we should return good for evil. We have to show to our young people that nonviolence or ahimsa is not a positive attitude. It requires you to resist the wrong-doer by dissociating yourself from him.

In our school and universities we also need a Christian response and initiative. For this reason I call any Christian parents from my country to work with the parish staff, schools and catechists to promote a religious and moral perspective in the discussion of human sexuality with their children and teenagers. In order to accomplish this important task, issues need to be clarified:

1. Parents have the primary obligation to see that their children and teenagers receive moral and religious education about human sexuality. This is a serious and urgent responsibility. Parents have a right to expect their parishes and schools, and the archdiocese to support them in this responsibility. The ethnic groups are under obligation to guide their children about their religion as long our goals are the same.

2. Sometimes it is not a moral way to allow our children and specially teenagers to participate in public school sex education courses. It could be better if parents and parishes collaborate to present sound moral education and training for young people.

3. Parents are seriously negligent in their duty as the primary agents in their children's religious and moral education.

4. Catholic parents with children and teenagers in the public school system need to take an active role in their schools to influence public policy so that their values and concerns about sex education programmes are heard and reflected.

5. Catholic school administrators, working closely with parents, have an obligation to provide adequate sex education programmes based on the truth and values which the church proclaims for moral living. Parents themselves must take the initiative for these programmes and participate in them with their children.

6. Parents have a serious obligation, with parental input and support, to provide adequate sex education programmes for public school students which address the crisis in our society and help young people assimilate the values which belong to the disciples of Jesus.

Parental involvement in these programmes is essential. After an educational research carried out by the Council of Europe into the negative influence of violence. it has been established the nonviolence is soul-force and we become Godlike to the extent we realize nonviolence.

It offers the fullest protection to one's self­ respect and sense of honour.

To have pride - is to have your own self­respect, not to despise your colleagues.

Nonviolence is a power which can be wielded equally by all - children, young men and women or grown up people - provided they have a living faith in God of Love and have, therefore, equal love for the entire human race. The prerequisite for love is true education which is not derived from, nor does it depend upon books. It has no relation to sectarian religion. If it can be called religious, it is universal religion from which all faith traditions are derived.

Jean Bergeret's concept of fundamental violence helps us to account for the type of violence inherent in the educational system. Newborn man is dependent on the adult, whose place he is likely to take. Before the oedipal stage, a pre-genital period of sheer violence-meaning life force-brings the child into conflict with the adult about the question of survival. The after effect of these days tinges the relationship with the law, the learning process and with the access to culture. The adult must admit of his own violence and weakness and use his imagination as a support for sublimation.

One starting point is the simple observation that more often than not emotions rule responses to an act of violence as if the sense was obvious. At first, it looks meaningless and unwise. On the other hand, the search for truth requires that a distinction be made between the "sign" registered by an external commentator and the "signified" for the actor involved in the event. In the first position, the work of understanding the act is tied to a duty towards nation. In the second one, it relies on the interpretation of the actor's speech in the subject to instituted human groups. We believe that the difficulty in finding the truth does not necessarily condemn one to inaction. The key­words are: institutional violence, organisational violence, epistemic violence. Sometimes, we see a movie about a war but it fails to convey the message of peace.

On the other hand, I think many times schools reflect the image of community. There is probably a great variety.

"The Dead Poet's Society" is an interesting movie which ran for a few years. It is an excellent piece of art. It takes place in a boy's school in Virginia 1959-60. An effort is made by an English teacher to teach a liberating form of education. He teaches poetry, and he wants the students to be poets themselves, but he meets a lot of resistance. In my concept, peace education ought to be also education for liberation: to be liberated on all levels - the personal, interpersonal and the structural level.

The latest literature I have read indicates that the generalized actions of 5-6 years olds children shooting each other with toy guns or with their fingers has much more to do with their quest for a sense of empowerment in a world dominated by adults and older children as it does with anything else, and so I'm not very sure whether the aggressive behaviour is only a natural part of development. On the other hand, the commercialization of war, as seen in toys and media, has glorified violence.

We do try to protect our children from certain forms of media. They watch public television or Disney Channel on cable, but they don't have to watch commercial televison which gives rise to terror and horror to which children are exposed.

I think that the core issues of peace studies can be dealt with in some way at most ages. Our students can learn core skills of conflict and conflict resolution at almost any age.

By education I mean an all - round drawing out of the best in the child and man - body, mind and spirit. Every handicraft has to be taught not merely mechanically as is done today but scientifically, the child should know the why and the wherefore of every process.

Given the right kind of teachers, our children will be taught the dignity of labour and will be made learn to regard it as an integral part and a means of their intellectual growth. The basic education is meant to transform school children into models of excellence.



Author : Mr. Sorin I. Stratilat is a researcher and nonviolent activist. He works at the National Library of Education, Bucharest, Romania.

Article Source : Anuvibha Reporter ( Special Issue : Dec. 2000 )
Ahimsa, Peacemaking, Conflict Prevention and Management Proceedings and Presentations
Fourth International Conference on Peace and Nonviolent Action ( IV ICPNA )
New Delhi : Nov. 10-14, 1999


Mail to : Ahimsa Foundation