Teaching for Peace
by Jay Davidson
A reader recently wrote to me. He explained, "I am a 77-year old veteran from chasing German troops across southern Germany at the end of WW II. I do not believe war is the answer. It is difficult to be a peacemaker, function with integrity, and express little support for military action. How can this position be explained to children?"
Peace is an admirable concept to teach to children. But that does not mean that it is an easy one.
The very youngest learners are operating in a world where they understand only concrete examples; they don't grasp abstractions. As a general guideline, I can offer the following suggestions:
- We accept the various languages and cultures that surround us. The sounds of other languages may be alien to us, but we respect other people by not laughing at them or their words. Each month, I teach my students how to say "good morning," "hello," "thank you," and how to count in a language that comes from one of the families of students in my class. When they first hear some of these words, sometimes they laugh. But I explain that it is not polite to laugh at other people's languages.
- We include people from different cultures in our lives. Only by knowing them can we understand them. And when we understand them, the line between "us" and "them" begins to disappear, because we realize that we are all "us".
- We talk of our personal heroes and heroines who struggled against the masses to wage peace. Whether they are Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or Peace Pilgrim, if we can tell our children why they were important to us, we can impart their values to our youngsters.
- We tell stories. In The Big Book for Peace, edited by Ann Durrell and Marilyn Sachs, there are more than a dozen poems and tales that parents and teachers can read to children to elicit their understanding of what it means to engage in peaceful relationships with others. The stories become the grounds for discussions with adults about the differences between peace and war, getting along and fighting, cooperating and competing.
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