Why the need for peace education in Canada?

 

My focus on peace education centres around high school aged students, the group I teach.  Adolescents are our lost generation.  They are aware of the conflicts around them, they are mindful of the costs attributed to conflict, and they capable of managing and preventing those conflicts with the appropriate training.  High school aged students have experienced enough of the "world" around them and have matured mentally and socially to study complex and dynamic disciplines, such as peace and conflict are. 

 

It is no longer necessary to restrict peace and conflict issues into an integrated curriculum as it is done now in our provincial curriculum.  I draw your attention to a comment attributed to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, "Peace education is addressed at all levels of our education system in Saskatchewan.  Although peace education is not taught as a separate subject in our K-12 education system, it is integrated into our social studies curricula an all levels."   It is time to create an independent peace and conflict studies course for senior high school students and integrate other subjects into it.

 

The peace and conflict approach I chose to assert for students is based upon the recognition that conflict is as fundamental to human life as is our need for relationships.  It is not uncommon to hear Peace and Conflict Studies programs, whether they are negotiation courses, mediation training or victim-offender reconciliation programs, acknowledge that conflict is neither inherently good nor bad.  For myself, it is time to do more than pay lip service to this concept. 

 

The subject of my course material is peace and conflict. They are inseparable concepts.  Human dynamics are built upon intense relationships, and by now, adolescents have been greatly affected by them, whether through family, peer, or intimate relations.  They are experiencing emotions that can lead to violence and destruction.  High school students are at an age and place well suited to address how, mechanically how, to deal with peace and conflict issues.

 

Peace, and the non-violent resolution of conflicts, is understandable to adolescents through structures, institutions, and processes, not through “pie-in-the-sky” ideals, like multicultural pot-lucks or anti-discrimination training.  It is those very structures, institutions, and processes that high school students need to learn.  They are in tune with, and in desperate need of, practical solutions.  There is no "fooling" them with wishful philosophies

 

We need to show adolescents that the differences between individuals on a day-to-day basis can be handled in a non-violent, non-destructive, power sharing manner; but that differences, significant differences, do exist.  Only then can we expect them to use those same principles on more pressing issues.

 

Problems.

Most of the resistance I have experienced so far has come from the Ontario Ministry of Education which perceives "peace issues" as loosely defined, playful, and quaint, or that "peace" is covered in history courses with reference to wars and politics.  That image needs to change.

The very nature of peace and conflict studies is an inter-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary, and trans-disciplinary topic and as such has enormous hurdles to cross before being implemented across our provinces.  Our high schools today are faced with the same predicament that our universities were two generations ago, namely, where does it belong in the high school curriculum: history, social science, economics, environmental studies?   We should draw upon the experience of our university colleagues for their guidance and patience.

 

Opportunities:

Personally, I have had very positive experiences from those around me: my School Board Director, Principal, Department Head, and colleagues have all been very supportive.  This conference and others like it give me hope in the face of my personal setback for implementation.

As I said at the beginning: adolescents are our lost generation.  They are looking for concrete practical methods for dealing with world around them: personally, locally, and globally.  Most of their philosophies have been developed, their ideals set, and their opinions formed.  We need to provide them with applicable techniques that give them the faith that living peacefully is not only possible, but beneficial.

 

By John Daicopoulos

November 8, 2002