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Giving Peace Education a Chance

It takes sweat and tears to prevent bloodshed

The issue of how to prevent or resolve conflict has moved front and center on the global stage. The past few years have brought revolutions and civil wars in the Middle East and other regions, some resolving peacefully and others not, prompting the U.S. Agency for International Development to issue a request for proposals related to Education in Crisis/Conflict-Affected and Fragile Environments. Here in the United States, the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, have reignited fierce debate over gun control.

Teachers College has played a major role in developing and expanding the fields of conflict resolution and peace education. Through its Eisenhower Fellows Leaders Development Program, the College is reshaping an American military that increasingly rebuilds other nations as well as fighting with them. Here six TC experts on war weigh in on whether it can be prevented, and how.

Will we ever lay down our swords and shields?

Throughout recorded time, humans have sought solutions through violence. The earliest history books, by the ancient Greeks Herodotus and Thucydides, centered on war.
Neither the League of Nations nor the United Nations have solved the problem of preventing war. In the 1920s, countries signed treaties saying they would never again use war as an instrument.  None of those treaties endured. The Cold War made it seem as though there were fewer wars, but the number of conflicts in the developing world remained high.

Humans try to solve their problems through war because war does, in fact, solve some problems. For example, Hitler was obsessed with achieving what he called living space (Lebensraum) for Germany, and he was willing to shed blood for it. For the Allies, war was the only way to prevent him from controlling all of Europe.  

Perhaps rising living standards will prevent future wars. Between 1970 and 2006, world poverty rates fell by as much as 80 percent in some areas. Yet at Uppsala University in Sweden, the world map of the Uppsala Conflict Data Program showing countries with one or more conflicts since 1975 is almost entirely red.

People are the most dangerous animals on the planet, and that's why predicting a future that includes war does not mean that we can predict where war will occur. As former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said at West Point in February 2011, we have a perfect 40-year track record of predicting where our next engagement will be: we've been wrong every time. But while war is part of human nature, it is not inevitable in every situation. Peace, which usually reigns over a much larger area of the globe, is also part of the human experience.  In the course I teach about the history of West Point, I reiterate that the Army has always protected and rebuilt civil society, in situations that range from disaster relief to integrating the schools, to nation-building in the aftermath of war.  We're unlike the other military branches, because people don't live in the air or at sea, but there are seven billion of them on land. So human relations are messy, and both war and peace are part of that.

MONISHA BAJAJ: In 1947, my grandmother, a former British colonial subject, became a citizen of free India.  She lived in a refugee camp after being forced to migrate in one of the largest human displacements in history -'" the partition of India and Pakistan.

The next year, when the United Nations adopted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrined the right of education for all children, she married my grandfather. She was 14 and barely literate. He had a couple of years of college. He landed a job, and they inched their way up the ladder of social mobility.

I grew up valuing education as the one thing that couldn't be taken away. In college, I traveled to developing nations and saw the shacks where hundreds of poor children huddled around a few textbooks. And I wondered: education is a universal right, but what kind of education can create critical thinking, active citizenship and a respect for pluralism?

I explored the second part of Article 26 of the Declaration, which states that "education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms."

The stories of two young women I met in India illustrate why we must teach not only about peace, but also for peace, so that education becomes a tool for individual and social transformation.
Fatima was supposed to have been killed through a community-sanctioned practice of female infanticide. Her grandmother, a sweeper at a local school, intervened and Fatima was sent to live with her.

In sixth grade, Fatima took a human-rights course introduced at school by a non-governmental organization. She noticed that teachers who underwent training stopped beating students, took an interest in children's lives and showed up more regularly. Encouraged by her teachers, she wrote and published poems about women's rights and children's issues in a local newspaper. Today, Fatima is a college student gaining fame as a budding poet.

Swati is 13, from a village in the state of Odisha. In fifth grade, her parents said they had too many mouths to feed and were pulling her out of school to be married. Swati, who was also studying human rights, went to the police and threatened to call the numbers in her textbooks. The police spoke to Swati's parents, and Swati stayed in school and even attended a statewide training for young human-rights defenders.

The Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire argued that education can become the practice of freedom, the means by which people transform their world. Human-rights courses enabled Fatima and Swati to dream beyond what their social structures, families and gender seemed to have in store for them. My grandmother never had that opportunity, but I believe she would be very glad that the future of peace is in the hands of well-informed young citizens like these.

MORTON DEUTSCH: I served in World War II, and then the United States dropped the atom bomb. I wrote my dissertation on the nature of cooperative and competitive processes, focused on an image of the newly formed United Nations Security Council. Would the Council's members cooperate and work toward peace, or would they compete and shape a world with conditions that perpetuate war?

In my subsequent research, it became evident that a cooperative mindset and skills lead to the constructive resolution of conflicts. Typically, if you're open and honest -'" if you enhance the other's opportunities -'" the result is increased cooperation, which tends to move conflict toward constructive resolution. Conversely, when both sides adopt a competitive approach, communications break down because neither can trust the other's intention. Each becomes interested in weakening the other, and conflict becomes destructive.

So violence and war are potentials of humans, but they are not inevitabilities.
The psychologist Carol Dweck illustrates this idea with her studies of how people look at the possibility of change. If you see people as more malleable, you're optimistic about change. Dweck has demonstrated that Israelis who believe that Palestinians have malleable viewpoints can change their own attitudes toward Palestinians.

So the view that human nature is inherently evil and must end in violence is a false view that encourages its falseness to become true. Interpersonal violence, such as murder, has decreased remarkably over the centuries.

Unfortunately, weapons have become vastly more destructive, so it's essential that we bring them under control.

I'm 93. I still believe we can work to improve the world. We're all human beings living in this unique neighborhood, our planet in this universe. We share a common ancestry, a common environment and many common problems -'" including climate change, weapons of mass destruction, the coming shortage of basic resources, economic disruption and disease that can spread worldwide. Solving these problems will require a global community that all people feel identified with, and whose mission is preserving our shared world.

I have formed a group at Columbia that is doing intellectual work to deal with the issues involved in developing a global community. I hope that scholars from different disciplines will want to become involved.

Since Macedonia declared independence in 1991, there has been inter-ethnic conflict between Macedonians and Albanians. In 2001 it escalated to violence.

Education in Macedonia is divided by language. The official language is Macedonian, but fewer and fewer Albanians speak Macedonian, and vice versa.

I am Macedonian. My parents are from an area where Macedonians and Albanians have lived together for ages. During World War II, my grandparents survived because their neighbors, Albanians, hid them when Albanian armies came. They, in turn, hid their neighbors from Macedonian troops. 

In 2001, while working in Washington for the U.S. Institute of Peace, I got news of the violence in Macedonia from both sides. I saw both perspectives in a way I wouldn't have if I'd been there.

Our youth today were not part of the conflict, but they live the narratives of what happened and they avoid contact. They study from preschool up through college in their mother tongue. They attend the same schools but are taught by separate teachers in separate classrooms.

Our center brings them together after school in language-mixed groups. We train teachers to conduct full-semester multicultural workshops in which students work together on projects and then present in school. Often they look at our history from the perspectives of both Macedonians and Albanians.

For this work to have impact, our political elite must support inter-ethnic integration. Right now, our leaders address only their own people. If we have a more democratic government, with more input from civic society, then the situation might change.

SAMUEL TOTTEN: I've studied genocide for 25 years, including for the past nine in the Sudan, where the government has perpetrated genocide and committed crimes against humanity.

Genocide begins with perceiving different groups of people as "other" rather than as coequals. It progresses to disparaging people, using terms to diminish their humanity, and then to classification by ethnicity, race, religion, nationality. In Rwanda, the colonists thought the Tutsi, who are a minority but had held power for centuries, looked more like Europeans and seemed more intelligent than the Hutu. So they favored them and relegated the Hutu to second-class status, depriving them of rights, education and jobs in government. In 1962, the Hutu came to power. Tensions built between the Hutu and the Tutsi, leading to the Rwandan Civil War in 1990 and, ultimately, the genocide by the Hutu in 1994.

Still another stage is targeting groups as different and then forcing them through dress to stand out. The Nazis, on the brink of World War II, forced the Jews to wear yellow stars. The Khmer Rouge forced people in certain regions to wear blue scarves.

The problem that underlies all failures to prevent genocide is realpolitik -'" each and every nation looking out for its own interests. In the early 1990s, there were clear signs that Rwanda was headed toward genocide, but without the consent of a permanent member state of the Security Council that was selling weapons to the Hutu, the Council could not approve a strong military response.  When other nations have no formal relationship with a country that is at risk, they typically decide it's not worth their while to get involved. Under President George H. W. Bush, then Secretary of State James Baker said about the former Yugoslavia, "We have no dog in that fight." There was a mandate during the Clinton Administration not to refer to the atrocities in Rwanda as genocide.

I don't believe violence is inevitable. As a young boy, I was a bully, largely due to my being beaten down, psychologically and physically, by my father, who at one point actually held the family hostage and threatened to blow our heads off. But I changed over time, and my involvement in the international human rights movement has changed my path in life. 

The world can change, too. In 1948, the United Nations issued its Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today we have organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Yet there have been roughly 20 genocides since 1948, killing hundreds of millions of people. Such behavior won't end until we have real checks and balances, both nationally and internationally, through conventions that are implemented and activated.

Consider the new Republic of South Sudan. These people have an incredible opportunity to create any society they want, but the different tribal groups have been killing each other off. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has one of the highest rates of rape in the world, Rwanda, which knows all about genocide, has troops and is part and parcel of what's happening there.

These countries, which have suffered so recently, are still involved in conflict.  It's a pretty sad statement.

PETER COLEMAN: In 1986, in The Seville Statement on Violence, an international group of scientists said there is no basis for the idea that war or any other violent behavior is fundamental to human nature. Since then, the anthropologist Douglas Fry has identified 88 societies that are internally peaceful and 77 that are regionally peaceful. So clearly we are not hard-wired for violence, and the fact that we're still on earth is ample evidence that we resolve most conflicts peaceably.

Peaceful societies tend to share a few basic qualities. They have cooperative processes and structures for decision-making, constructive procedures for conflict management, taboos around violent acts, and cross-cutting structures that bring together people from different ethnic groups to learn, work and play. Violence is less likely because people share so many different ties and bonds.

By contrast, the Israelis and Palestinians, for example, live in close proximity but are less integrated structurally, so they have a diminished capacity to experience one another in nuanced ways. Oversimplified patterns of perceptions and behaviors have been handed down through generations. Currently, there is a cold peace, meaning that there is less open, direct violence, but the simmering resentment from the occupation and other atrocities could erupt at any moment into violence. You can build a wall, as Israel has around the West Bank, but as it becomes easier and easier to send missiles into Tel Aviv, how long can such peace last? 

In a cold peace, the oppressed group often feels forced to resort to desperate tactics. The 1974 film "The Battle of Algiers" provides insight into what some call terrorism. In Algiers, which was a French colony, the French came in to kill "the terrorists," whom the Algerians called "freedom fighters." The French attempted to contain the Algerians in the casbahs, but Algerian women, dressed in modern garb, began sneaking bombs in baskets into French cafes. The reaction of the French and of the international community was outrage. But the answer, in essence, was: "We'd be happy to trade our baskets for your tanks. This is what we've got."

The labeling of terrorism is often a political strategy. But terrorism can become pathological. Today, cynical organizations exploit the rage of oppressed people, creating a vicious cycle in which violence begets more violence.

In South Africa, Nelson Mandela offered us a model of successful change through nonviolent methods and nonhuman violence. The African National Congress, South Africa's national liberation movement, used nonviolence in the early days of their campaign against apartheid, but the Afrikaners kept mowing down women and children in response to nonviolent protests. Mandela realized violence would happen, but to preserve his alliance with the international community, he used violence to attack infrastructure. He prevented the government from governing, but he very deliberately took care not to harm humans and especially not civilians.

Published Thursday, Jun. 27, 2013


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