Peace Education. Is it a curriculum ?

Ann Mason September 2000     
copyright: please ask for permission if you wish to use this in any form.

 As the new millennium unfolds we have made promises of hope and peace to ourselves and our children. The United Nations has declared a decade of peace and non-violence for children and we as educators aspire to developing a peace culture within our teaching and learning environments. As we decide together as teachers, educators and even as parents the essential understandings upon which to base the programs we undertake in our schools and universities we consciously try to attend to these promises in every moment. The notion of peace education has been bantered amongst us for at least 5 decades since the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and we pay serious attention when the children of Hiroshima bravely cry out to us every August 6th.  

The challenge is to now pay serious attention to their plea for peace on the 7th and following days.

 Honoring our promises 

In our classrooms and lecture theatres we have courageously attempted to define peace and establish many peaceful processes that reflect our heartfelt desire for a world that is safe for our children and one in which they will be treated fairly and justly. As we present the truth in relation to the inequities that painfully exist throughout the world we also actively search for ways to alleviate these injustices and make the world, especially in relation to our own local communities, better. In our genuine efforts to create

'peace and harmony echoing across the lands'

we have incited a true commitment amongst many people in educational communities throughout the world to develop a peace culture…and our children we influence are also committed to ensuring that peace is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We have explored the notion of difference and celebrated it in our schools and taught our children the meaning of equity and social justice and insist upon it operating at all levels within our profession. We creatively have established data bases that isolate the many different things children can achieve along a continuum and we diligently focus upon using the appropriate language we use to define our positive intentions. We conscientiously avoid making biased judgments and encourage and support self assessment, openness, independence and empowerment remaining confident in the knowledge that the road to a peaceful and interdependent world will be paved by the new generations of independent thinking and acting peacemakers, hopefully being the children whom we teach.

 We do pay serious attention, especially to issues unfolding daily in the Middle East, but sometimes a great sense of hopelessness can prevail. Carefully must we tread this road as teaching wonderful peaceful ideals to our children can present many frustrating contradictions to them when the real world is thrust upon them. But we can reassure them that every little step counts along the road to peace and our positive intentions do matter.

 As a teenager 30 years ago, reflecting on the hopelessness pervading and defining my future, my father, a man who possessed a very powerful sense and commitment to social justice, would answer when I angrily blamed God for creating or allowing such horrible things to occur:

 “God had nothing to do with this mess. Humanity has managed this all by itself.”

Fortunately in the year 2000 most of us will choose resolution strategies that are guided by social justice and peaceful initiatives rather than choose “war” as our strategy and we have accepted the responsibility for making the associated positive changes in our thinking. Consultation rather than confrontation ….working as teams rather than individually….collaboration rather than competition…all dominate the thinking and action these days. Together we are creating a better world on many fronts well beyond the boundaries of our classrooms.

As educators trying to create new, stimulating and meaningful peace education programs we have asked ourselves if is there is anything about peace we must essentially understand before we can define processes within our educational environments that pertain to our objectives.

It is necessary that peace be defined clearly and that this definition be agreed upon by all of us before the creation of the kind of educational experiences that will sustain and nurture a peace culture can occur ?

I personally have explored this question with a friend who is enthusiastically developing an alternative approach to the already established peace education processes for us to consider. Hassaun Ali Jones-Bey, who lives in Fremont California, and is a US Navy veteran and peace-maker, has raised some extremely challenging notions with me. Ali has told me he believes humanity, after having eagerly explored both peace and war as options to establishing peace, now honestly would prefer to choose peaceful options only. But he also believes this choice requires some very active imagining to occur.

 He invites us to explore some new thinking and creative adventuring into developing some simple but workable processes that might help in the establishment of a meaningful and lasting peace for the world…and these peace-making processes rely primarily upon our imaginations and not on the effectiveness of our expanding nuclear arsenals or equitable laws or peace keeping forces…..and the best part is that they are free and are something each and everyone of us can actively participate in. He challenges us to move beyond the exploration of issues in our classrooms and work with imagery instead.

As educators will we need to define these steps….isolate relevant understandings and produce measurable outcomes ???

Ali would suggest NO ! Peace education, as he understands it, cannot be a curriculum that requires solely upon a content and agreed upon list of understandings and measurable outcomes…or be something you can pass or fail. It should evolve from a set of on-going cross generational experiences that constantly reinforce a real sense of humanity and peace as a way of life with story-telling being the key. He reminded me of the powerful story-telling our ancestors did around their campfires and how the teachings were passed along generations via this process without the aid of books and other teaching resources except for simple tools for painting and basic musical instruments and songs and of course, stories. The understandings were intrinsically enmeshed in every word chanted, every step danced and in very symbol used on cave walls or bark to represent every ancestral story’s message that needed to be passed along to the new generations. He conveyed also his wonderment in relation to how only a few years ago some very powerful imaginations in the valleys of California magically created the multi-million dollar silicon industry that has revolutionized our communication systems let alone our entire world and he pondered what stories were these children told to ignite their imaginations? Now we have the Internet to help share our stories with each other.

 Ali is developing a very unique but special project called Imagine Peace. He invites us to explore our true natures and allow and nurture a very natural unfolding to occur. He invites us to use our imaginations and create new thoughts and peace associated experiences, then create stories we can share with each other within our classrooms and lecture theatres, our homes and communities about these wonderful peaceful possibilities that we have imagined. Beginning with our imaginations we can develop so many new understandings and possibilities…...

ones based upon peace and love… 

and these necessary understandings will help create experiences that will reinforce our humanity and universality not only amongst ourselves. By sharing these stories across cultural, geographical and socio-economic boundaries these understandings could also become universal. Just as the magical silicon valley was initially created by powerful imaginations perhaps a new peaceful and peace loving world can be as well..

 Ali says: the first step in creation is imagination. 

Ali is not naïve and doesn’t believe our imaginations alone can create peace. He does believe though they provide the necessary first step in the process because once these new understandings and peaceful options are created in our imaginations we can then set about to actively make them work in the real world. We can create with our imaginations visions of the new peaceful communities and world in which we would like to live. Our imaginations can even help us explore different ways of achieving our aims.

 From my own personal experiences children innately know what peace means for them and as Maria Montessori believed, these innate understandings need to be nurtured and allowed to unfold in a non-judgmental and non-competitive yet enabling environment. Reminders of genocide and our failure as humanity to care for each other won’t sustain a peace culture and for us it just reinforces a recurrent need for revenge and perpetuation of hatred and distrust in each other…certainly not peaceful thoughts and actions…nor thoughts and actions that will secure world peace….and neither will continual debate and argument about who is right and who is wrong, even if it is undertaken peacefully.  

Ali recommended I read “The Forest People” by Colin Turnbull. The book is an account of an anthropologist’s research in the forests of Central Africa. He lived with a very spiritually oriented group of people who taught him the power of molimo….the healing music. As the pygmies played their music and sang their songs they believed the forest was healed and rejuvenated and in doing so it was then able to heal and rejuvenate them, thus constantly nurturing their spirituality and providing for their physical needs as well. Ali, being African American himself, and taunted by the voices of his own ancestral spirits, appreciates this strong attachment between the pygmies and the forest and suggests we along with our children, can also create our own molimo music and stories that nurture our environment and assist in the perpetuation and growth of peace for ourselves personally and in our communities….because in healing our thoughts our imaginations will create a healed earth…and vice versa.

 Ali has challenged me to create and document meaningful educational experiences that are based upon the essential understandings of his project Imagine Peace. I intend to involve my school community and not just the children I teach. Not only do the children need to be story-telling, listening and sharing but so do their parents and grandparents. As our imaginations are set to work and the reality of the day to day feasibility and practicality of them unfold, our progress will be presented as student developed web pages at the following URL. I teach at Pulteney Grammar School in South Australia:

You will also be able to access information at Ali’s website: 

To begin and establish a focus upon Ali’s Imagine Peace based understandings we will explore educational possibilities in relation to his initiated Light the Lamp of Peace ceremony. This ceremony acknowledges the coincidence of Hanukkah, Christmas and Ramadan simultaneously occurring this December 2000 and he invites us to celebrate this once in every thirty years happening as being the appropriate time to truly commit our imaginations and energies to creating sustainable peace. Although this particular ceremony focuses upon the three main Abrahamic faiths’ celebrations he invites everyone from all faiths, or those who choose to have no particular religious association to celebrate together the possibility of world peace eventuating and begin by sharing our stories. Our involvement can be a powerful symbolic gesture to begin truly uniting us in the quest for peace.

For any further information about Imagine Peace or the Light the Lamp ceremony please contact:
Hassaun Ali Jones-Bey

or Ann Mason 


Turnbull Colin   “The Forest People”  Pimlico Great Britain 1993

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