Learning Our Way to a Human Future

At IIPE 1989 at Teachers College with in first row Eva and Odd Nordland (Norway), Willard Jacobson (second row, second from right), and Soviet authors of essays in Learning Peace. Foreground, Sr. Kathleen Kanet, Network for Peace through Dialogue

PEACE in which Willard Jacobson and I were the American participants, as initiated by the Norwegian peace educator, Eva Nordstrom, was a fulfillment of a possibility that Willard pursued through most the years we had been working together on the development of peace education at Teachers College, Columbia University to undertake cooperation in peace education with Soviet colleagues. In the midst of the Cold War and its nuclear arms race, this may have been “the impossible dream,” but we continued to pursue it, and it turned out not to be so quixotic after all. One of the few advantages available to us from the university base was the ‘legitimacy’ it gave us over and above some NGOs, such as Educators for Social Responsibility, who were also making contacts with Soviet educators as part of the movement of “citizen diplomacy.” Beginning as the project did shortly before Perestroika, our academic base helped Eva in her invitation to the Soviet Ministry of Education to send representatives to the meeting at which the Project would be conceptualized.

Among those sent by the Ministry was Dr. Valentina Mitina. Neither of us knowing who the representatives from the other “super power” would be, we were both delighted to encounter each other in Oslo. We had met earlier at a UNESCO organized consultation in Turin, Italy, where we were pushed into collaboration at the session somewhat by the mistrust other participants had of both our respective nations, but more by recognizing in each other an educator dedicated to the same ends, educating the young to live rewarding lives in just societies in a peaceful world. Even then we had spoken of the possibility of a cooperative peace education curriculum project, while recognizing the political obstacles that could be posed by our respective governments. Eva’s focus on the common environmental problems all nations faced seemed to vault that barrier. PEACE enabled us to work together and to become close personal friends. Her death in 1994 was a great personal loss as well as a blow to the project and the field, as was that of Willard Jacobson a few years later. Both had profound influence on my professional development and both enriched my life and personal development. Willard and I never agreed on approaches to the arms race; and Valentina’s political formation was quite different from mine. The difference taught me first hand in my own life the great learning benefits and the possibilities for individual human enrichment offered by diversity.

Some of what PEACE envisioned has become integrated into peace education through environmental educators who perceive the links between abuse of the environment and armed conflict, and by peace educators who believe that ecological violence should be a significant entry in any general typology of violence. In Sexism and the War System I called attention to the parallels between the crime of rape and the crimes against the integrity of the Earth, noting both as forms of violence clearly related one to the other as evident in the feminine terminology used to describe our planet.

Again as was the case with some other initiatives that produced the essays in this collection, our visions were never fully realized, falling victim not only to the loss of key participants but also to a complete waste of the transformational opportunities for peace described in this essay. The power structure of the war system continues to push back against those ideas and initiatives that most challenge it. Though it may seem to be financial or institutional problems that impede us, I believe the obstacles actually lie in the system and the thinking that sustains it. Grasping and confronting those impediments continue to be the main challenges of peace education.

Betty A. Reardon

March 29, 2014

10.1 Introduction

The ideas and arguments set forth in this essay summarize a variety of learning experiences, each of which has contributed to broadening the conceptual framework within which I view peace education, and each of which has moved me from a systemic structural view of the world and education to a process, organic view.1 Many of us now consider our work in terms of pre- and post-ecological consciousness.

For me my work with Project on Ecological and Cooperative Education (PEACE) was, and for the moment continues to be, an experience of the awakening of ecological consciousness. Certainly I had factored the global environment into the diagnosis of problems threatening human survival when considering the content to be addressed by peace education. However, although even in the earliest stages of my work in the field I applied a global perspective and a systematic analysis of world society, the anthropocentrism pointed out by Sergei Polozov was, I believe, for many years an unrecognized barrier to the prescriptive tasks I advocated as an element of peace education. I have long believed that the prime requisite of being an effective peace educator is to be, as well, an intentional learner.


Workshop in Ramallah, Palestine, organized by the Israeli-Palestine Center for Research and Information, with (on Betty’s right) Louise Diamond, co-facilitator, 1998. Source Personal photo collection of the author

My years of work in developing theoretical bases for peace education and in the design and execution of a graduate program in the field have reinforced this belief. My deepening acquaintance with ecological thinking has been an exceptionally rich learning experience.

It has helped me in achieving a paradigm shift that when applied to a global perspective can best be described as a shift from a “spaceship Earth” view of the world as a mechanical (if unified, closed-system) structure controlled by human society, to a Gaia view of Earth as a living organism with human society as a living subsystem within the whole, responsible but certainly not in control. That, it seems to me, is a learning to be further pursued and disseminated.

10.2 The New Moment: The Educational Challenges and Opportunities

To those of us who have been involved in peace education for several decades, the last years of the twentieth century have been the most surprising, frequently the most hopeful, sometimes depressing, and unfailingly the most challenging.

Over the years, while some have tried to take a positive stance and educate for peace, most have found it necessary to spend much of our efforts to educate against war in order to define and describe the actual and potential consequences of weapons and violence, often to the detriment of education about other global issues and problems Rarely were our students’ minds opened to the real and potential possibilities of peace. Consequently we all know a good deal more about what we don’t want and how it is affecting the quality of our lives than about what we do want and how our lives can be directed toward achieving it. We in North America watched in surprise and awe as the peoples of Eastern Europe took action to shake off what they did not want; and we reflected, in the same confusion and uncertainty as our European brothers and sisters, on what should replace it, with little or no notion of how to deal with the problems and conflicts of the transition from one system to another.

Many of us believe that neither of the economic or political systems that dominated the twentieth century are truly adequate to a viable, just, and attainable common future, but little has been done to develop authentic alternatives.

The challenge then for all, but most especially for educators, whose main social responsibility is preparing people for the future, is to envision such an alternative and to devise the educational means to learn to achieve it.

10.3 What the New Moment Means for Learning the Responsibilities of Educators

In virtually every nation of the world, and most certainly in the industrial nations of the North, contemporary educational systems have been organized around two major purposes: keeping the respective system or nation ahead of its competitors, and keeping the managers of the system in power by popular support or repression or a combination thereof None have fully succeeded. While the early nineties saw the Western “industrial democracies” engaging in an orgy of self-congratulation on the defeat of Communism in the “former socialist states,” the truth is that both systems had exhausted their capacities to maintain a limitless arms race, manipulate the destinies of the rest of the world, and at the same time satisfy the authentic needs of their own peoples.

All the industrial states, both capitalist and socialist—even intensely rich Western Europe and Japan—emerged from the period of the cold war with larger portions of their populations in poverty than was to be admitted freely. They also experienced spiritual poverty, with unprecedented levels of alienation, widespread feelings of emptiness and meaninglessness. Among all income groups worldwide, educational systems were in deep crisis.

What was most disturbing about the crisis in education was that it was almost universally misinterpreted as a cause of, rather than as the consequence of, the inadequacies of the general social systems All societies, particularly in the industrialized democracies, failed to acknowledge that the schools were but a reflection of the failure of the entire society to recognize that it was not focusing its learning processes on what people most needed to know and understand, and not taking into account the severe alienation and despair among the most deprived classes who depended upon public schooling.

Once again schools were scapegoated for larger societal shortcomings. Unlike their socialist counterparts, they did not quickly recognize that they, too, were in a new moment the task of calling it to their attention fell largely upon peace educators.

What peace educators saw in the new moment was an opportunity to at last come to terms with the shortcomings of the society, to take a leaf from the Eastern European book and assess needs and possibilities in a new light. Most especially, I would argue, the major need was to come to terms with the damage done to others in the world system and to the most vulnerable m their own societies by the obsessive competition with the other industrial states, particularly those aspects of competition manifest in the cold war. While the decade opened with a new awareness of the fragility and abuse of the natural environment, the degree to which that fragility was exacerbated and the abuses allowed to run rampant through the behaviors of the agents carrying out the economic, ideological, and strategic competitions of the international system was hardly recognized by either the environmental or the peace movements, or even by the budding ecological education movement. Coming to terms with the environmental and human rights abuses of the cold war thus was taken up as a learning task of PEACE.

Learning to understand the nature and consequences of the abuses, to take responsibility for them, and to find alternative possibilities for education, personal behaviors, and public policies became a central concern of the project. The project tries to focus on positive alternatives, not just on what it means to be against war, injustice, human rights violations, and environmental deterioration, but what it is to be for peace, justice, the realization of human rights, and ecological balance. The task it assumes is to give concrete form to a peaceful, just society that respects human rights and protects the environment, and to educate people to achieve and maintain a global social order of such form.

We seek to move educational inquiry from the questions of what are the dangers of war, injustice, and environmental abuse, and how they can be avoided, to what are the advantages and forms of peace, justice, and ecological balance, how they are inextricably interrelated, and how they can be achieved and maintained—a seemingly simple but profoundly transformative shift of learning focus.

10.4 The Particular Responsibilities of the United States and the Countries of the Former USSR for New Learning

If we conceptualize the human species as a family and this century as a generation, we can begin to understand the human and historic consequences of nearly half a century of superpower competition The human family has been through a painful and devastating experience not unlike that suffered by families parented by addicts (to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or whatever). The family resources are laid waste by the addiction while the family members suffer from lack of care and mutually enhancing, supportive relationships. The co-addictive parents engage in mutual recrimination while the children and other family members must endure the atmosphere of tension, of potential and actual violence. The parents abuse their power, abjure their responsibility, and seek to impose their own will on each other and all others in the family system without regard to the immediate or the long-range consequences.

Such behavior usually continues unless there is a crisis or an intentional intervention by those affected. In terms used to describe approaches to therapy in addictive families, “an intervention” is an occasion on which those suffering “the fallout” from the addiction gather around the addicted member or members and describe in full and frank detail their own suffering while acknowledging the value and potential of the addicted ones. In essence the message is this: “Look, we are all one family, part of one system, we have received much from you that is positive and nurturing (i e., economic support, defense, etc.), but your addiction is inflicting damage on us we can no longer bear. We may not survive as a family, or group of friends or associates. You have to stop if you want to maintain a relationship with us.”

The Soviet and Eastern European crises, the emerging integration of the European Community, the multiple continued regional conflicts such as that which produced the war in the Persian Gulf, and the growing recognition of the environmental crisis—together these offer the opportunity for such an intervention. Some peace educators seized the opportunity. The participants of PEACE were among them.

The intervention message to the former adversaries of the cold war (and perhaps to the newly emerging power constellation first demonstrated by the Gulf War) from such peace educators is this: “Look, you must take mutual and respective responsibility for what you have done to the world You have to reconstruct your relationship to each other and to the rest of the world. You are no longer able to control either your own people or other peoples You and other great techno-industrial powers must construct a relationship that is based on the values of planetary healthy and an ecologically viable system that attempts to meet human needs equitably and respects human rights universally. You have much learning to do, but you have rich and varied learning resources. You can learn from each other, and from other peoples, particularly the primal peoples who have lived in harmony with the Earth. Above all, much can be learned from Earth itself, particularly about balance, restraint, and renewal. You must acknowledge now that you must be learners from rather than instructors to the world.”

10.5 An Emerging Paradigm for Security and Community: Learning for a Transformed World Order

The new moment provides an unprecedented opportunity for the two former superpowers that emerged from World War II to bring to actuality many of the values that informed that particular struggle and that formed the basis of a vision of the world the peoples of the two nations had embraced together as their soldiers embraced each other at the Elbe, a vision they sought to enact in the founding of the United Nations. We now have an opportunity to view the four decades from 1949 to 1989 as an aberrant interruption in the history of humankind on the brink of recognizing and experiencing its fundamental unity. The human liberty of any people cannot be achieved within the context of a debased environment or reduced quality of life for other humans. While we were preoccupied with our competition with each other, we stepped up without reflection our common competition with the Earth, and equally carelessly ignored the consequent impoverishment and oppression of our brothers and sisters in the South.

Thus we are challenged by still another common learning task, a radical restructuring of our relationship not only to the planet, but also to the majority of those who inhabit her, the poor of the Earth. As nations we need to learn our responsibility to world society; as educators we need to prepare our students to carry social responsibility at all levels, from local to global. Social responsibility requires that we recognize ourselves as members of a world community held together by concepts of common security, liberty, and humanity.

The peace movement has indeed been proven correct in its insistence that the arms race, the major dynamic of the cold war, has eroded security, and that true security involves much more than the capacity to defend against or prevent military aggression. Authentic security lies in the welfare and dignity of people, in relationships that reduce conflict and prevent violence, and in a viable environment that can sustain life on this planet. The task of building a world community involves the design and adoption of a security system that gives equal attention to all four elements of authentic, viable human security, environment, justice, dignity, and nonviolence.

The attention of research centers, educational institutions, and all other learning groups must be turned to learning to design and achieve such a global system. In short, we need to learn how to transform the institutions and relationships that comprise a world of violence, inequity, and environmental devastation.

10.6 “Project on Ecological and Cooperative Education”: A Response to the Challenge of Learning to Transform

PEACE emerged out of the common recognition of a small group of Norwegian, Russian (later also Ukrainian), and American educators of the urgent need for this kind of learning. The essays in this book, our first reflections on the task, are one step toward developing appropriate common learning processes centered on the transformational tasks as we mutually define them.

We worked together first in Norway to define the problems and approaches; then in New York to share practical workshops in specific educational methods; and later in Moscow to elaborate the plans for this volume. We continue to work together to move the learning process forward by learning from and with each other and, where possible, from and with educators from other parts of the world. While we seek to define common approaches and concepts, we also recognize and try to fulfill the unique and special responsibilities of our respective societies.

10.7 The Task and the Goal for the North American Educational Community

If American peace educators designate a healthy environment, economic equity, human rights, and nonviolent conflict resolution as the major needs for a transformed world order, then we must accept some very challenging goals for the American educational community. These challenges arise in large part from the role the United States has played m the creation of problems of environmental degradation, global poverty, human rights abuses, and armed conflict.

Only gold members can continue reading. Log In or Register to continue