National Peace Ed Conference- Impressions

--  Larry J. Fisk  --  November 26, 2003

Dagnabit! I lost my notes so this will have to be short. The 2nd Annual National Conference on Peace Education in Hamilton began with around 60 to 90 youth going over Tom Murphy's Millennium Project-his carefully crafted power point presentation of 15 world-wide challenges from environmental sustainability to the rights of women. I sat alongside grade six Montessori students as they plastered the population challenge page with sticky notes. While I am deeply impressed with these children and their ability to speak out, configure ideas, listen to their peers, I'm not convinced they are old enough to fully participate in our youth workshop-at least with the heavy topics we were addressing.

I was disappointed that we adults had our own agendas and started to put them forward before young people had much of a chance. But when the young did speak, and they did plenty of it throughout this conference, man were they ever on target! I have to say that we adults do tend to preach at one another, forgetting that we are already a pretty dedicated bunch. We aren't all doing the same work, and the order of the day is to share our victories, good ideas, concerns and bedevilled problems, not convert one another to our pet project or way of doing things. Now who's preaching?

Friday's workshop was a huge success in terms of numbers and presentations. The Montessori people and in particular Regina Lulka, with Min Song of Montessori Korea, plus presentations on Rudolph Steiner/Waldorf and the International Baccalaureate program, I have talked about in my Alberta report. The ideas expressed here by Diana Hughes of Rudolph Steiner Centre, Toronto; and Christie Gibson, Calgary high school student, were all fresh and valuable. Hetty van Gurp, the long-time leader of Peaceful Schools International who began her work in Nova Scotia; Mary Gordon of the Roots of Empathy Program and Sherry Ramrattan Smith from the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario were a few of the many others whose knowledge of process and resources is nothing short of remarkable. Many were inspired by a plain old-fashioned but powerful lecture by philosopher Wendy Hamblet of Adelphi University, New York on "Violence Literacy"

The Saturday and Sunday meetings repeated presentations given to the two previous workshops. Numbers seemed a bit down, we think primarily because there is a Teacher's federation boycott of McMaster University due to the fact that their education program was accredited by the Government ministry without union input.

A few teachers worked around this unfortunate situation and we think we know how to handle it in the future-by publicizing payments to the Canadian Centres for Teaching Peace rather than McMaster University.

We got into meaningful group discussions on Saturday and Sunday, a bit late IMHO, since it seems to me this sharing and dialogue in smaller groups produces results-problem-posing, networking, new ideas, forward planning, career considerations-which are valuable and essentially what we are all about.

The "group discussions" I mention here consisted of the "committee of the whole". But even smaller groups might work for us another year, particularly if we were divided according to sectors-kindergarten-elementary; junior high-senior high; persuasion-promotion-"marketing"; mainstreaming resources; university peace ed; distance education; etc.

The celebratory dimension of the conference was achieved via the Children's Peace Theatre and the WildFire Dance Theatre. Most of us realized the need for additional celebratory, not cerebral, fare in the future. Julia Morton-Marr as President of International Holistic Tourism Education Centre (IHTEC) added to the culture of celebration by presenting peace education awards with particular attention to Bob Stewart, David Adams and Anne Goodman. The Ontario Teachers' Federation embodied the spontaneity of the conference by drawing names for awards of its valuable teaching resources. And, of course, Shall Sinha as Gandhi is in a league by himself. His brilliantly informed portrayal ought to be witnessed in every school in the country. Talk about rich Canadian resources!

Monday's full day of evaluation-backward review, forward planning-is always a highlight for me. I like the manner in which we give full voice to each dedicated soul who has been able to stick around for a full day of reflection. So out of this round table discussion came suggestions for a full week of activities next year. A two or three day workshop, before or after the conference, might centre on reaching the 90% of the iceberg-Bill Rathborne's accurate metaphor for the many ordinary folk in our society-bereft of peace education. This might include persuading, i.e., marketing, fund-raising, refining our language, determining the barriers and methods of breakthrough re: peace ed, and encouraging partnerships for effective action and networking. Many of us are called back to what this movement is all about. It isn't about becoming yet another group, a la Canadian Peace Alliance, which for all its good intent to align peace groups has simply added itself to the list. We have !
the Internet on our side so that we might be able to remain a "movement" a catalyst, or enabling body of groups and individuals. Some time on these issues could be well spent, if not crucial, at our next conference.

We also recognized Bob Stewart's need for help, both structural and by dint of sharing duties. This seems to be taking place-in fact I write this voluntarily to join that ever larger group of you kind souls who have offered assistance in many fields from "accounting to web-work". Rob Porter, for example, is posed to set up an on-line discussion board for us. I'll leave Bob Stewart to tell you about others who have offered and about the arrangements we were still working out on Tuesday while most of you had long since returned home.

Since, as Ray Cunnington reminded us, "peace is creative conflict" I thought we were much prepared for real dialogue and the confrontation with those who think quite differently than we do. We are blessed by those who come to us from the Canadian military, the corporate world or the best of academia and government circles. But we need more of that representation in the future, including ministries of education. Many of us were indebted to Lindsay and his military-peacekeeping concerns and Chris Coughlin and her search for ideas and patterns to be taken back to Dubai for possible use in building a "humanitarian city".

Next year we have an opportunity to work on a report to the Secretary-General of the UN on the state of the culture of peace in Canada (Note 1). In "clandestine meetings" throughout Hamilton, where heavy, heavy atmospheres like "Charters" in the student Union building and Valentino's Italian restaurant not far from campus, played host to plans for our future-the political value of a report to the Secretary-General; a human peace education index; theatre of the oppressed; peace- ed-government photo-ops; "the post corporate enterprise culture of peace"-we plotted our movement.

Seriously, our work is beginning to take shape. We do have an opportunity to enable networking and the enlargement of mainstream peace education. I was once again amazed at the resources available. Suzanne Anderson of Classroom Connections as recipient of this year's 4th Annual Canadian Peace Award in education bears witness to the excellent resources available and to the skill at distributing them. If 85 % of schools have access to these resources, can 100% be far behind? And if Culture of Peace author and authority David Adams thinks Canada has a unique opportunity to lead in the actualization of peace culture, then maybe, just maybe, he's right.

Fisk, Larry
E-mail Address(es):

Note 1 - Reference UN General Assembly document A/55/47 dated November 29, 2000 re "International decade for a culture of peace and non-violence for the children of the world (2001 - 2010)", particularly paragraphs 11 to 13:

11. Requests the Secretary-General to submit to the General Assembly at its sixtieth session in 2005 a report on the observance of the Decade at its mid-point and on the implementation of the Declaration and Programme of Action, taking into account the views of Member States and in consultation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund and other relevant bodies of the United Nations system;

12. Invites civil society, including non-governmental organizations, to provide information to the Secretary-General on the observance of the Decade and the activities undertaken to promote a culture of peace and non-violence; (RS - emphasis added)

13. Decides to devote one day of plenary meetings at its sixtieth session to the consideration of the item, including a review of the progress made in the implementation of the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, as well as the observance of the Decade at its mid-point, with the participation of all relevant actors;