I am unbelievably fortunate to have the opportunity to teach both Ethics and Peace Studies at my school. Students need the opportunities to explore current issues, to test out ideas, and to get into the sometimes messy work of sorting through one's beliefs. We explore these topics in the safety of a classroom where ground rules have been agreed upon. Among these rules are to listen, dialogue, and debate within the boundaries of mutual respect. We agree from the first day that we can disagree with ideas at any time but we must respect each other as beings with feelings which have value. Does this always work? No. Can people leave class at times in frustration? Yes. Yet, they know that we will meet again and we can work through any problems which are left lingering from previous classes. We model conflict resolution.
I was saddened yesterday when in Peace Studies I asked which was easier to start- peace or conflict. Without a moment's hesitation a student shouted out, "oh, conflict, of course." Then, with great intensity, she built her case and gave numerous examples of how we fight over little things and then bigger things and then we drop nuclear bombs. Yes, her final example was nuclear warfare! One after another the students agreed that conflict was far easier. Not one student thought peace was or could be easier to start.
For the last 24 hours I have recalled the power of their assertions. My daughter is in daycare and each day I see her learning lessons about cooperation, kindness, and love. Yes, there are the occasional cries of "mine" and then the wonderful teachers help these little ones resolve conflicts. Daycare is a place of joy and peace, in it's own inimitable way.
What are we doing in lower grades and then each year after to teach peace? What are we doing to reinforce making ethical decisions? Why can students identify generals and major conflicts and yet when given the names or photos of peace leaders, they have no idea who they are? Why do they believe that peace is so difficult? Why do they believe it is so much easier to go along with the crowd than to stand for their convictions? Why do they believe that one person cannot make a difference?
We must teach Ethics. We must teach Peace.