Peace Education in Ottawa Carleton: an experience in advocacy, reflection, hope

Penny Sanger, Educating for Peace

for the National Conference on Peace Education, McMaster University , Hamilton , Ontario , Nov 9-11 2002



Educating for Peace began in Ottawa during the Cold War with the aim of encouraging open discussion and debate on the crisis among students and teachers.  It immediately  published a Resource Guide for Schools which it updated regularly through seven editions and is now available at . Initially it supported student conferences, organized teacher workshops, donated books to school libraries, collected and distributed classroom resources.  It made early links with organizations promoting conflict resolution among children and in schools. In later years it has worked with global educators to promote peace and global education among student teachers at the University of Ottawa . Its proposal for a course on peace and global education to be offered at the Faculty of Education is now being considered by Faculty administration.  E4P works closely with the Global Educators Network and Childrens’ Creative Response to Conflict in Ottawa .  E4P is a volunteer organization that raises funds to support its projects.


Why the need for Peace education?

The answer to this is obvious.  The violence of the recently past century (the most violent in recorded history according to Sir Isaiah Berlin ) is echoed in continuing violence and injustice around the world today, including in the classrooms of our own country and its neighbours.

(I think of  a chilling CBC interview during the Gulf War a few years ago.  It was with a 19 year old from London Ontario who somehow had been picked to fly in a US plane in one of the bombing raids on Baghdad . That young man must have been in high school only a year or two earlier. “So how was it?” the interviewer asked. The boy replied it was just wonderful, so exciting, he learnt a lot, all those tracers lighting up the sky – etc etc.  Neither he or the interviewer mentioned what had actually happened, the bombing of a city and its people. Just the wonder and excitement of it all, as if it were some kind of sport. What had that boy learned about actual war and what it does to people, at school such a short time earlier?  What points was his interviewer trying to make? What does this reflect about Canadian education, Canadian media, Canadian society in general ?)

Most societies throughout history, from the Greeks on, have produced people who agitated for a better, more peaceful world, who tried to train and educate young people so that it might eventually come about. Yet things don’t look any better in the 21st century.  There is a clear need to continue the historic search for ways to educate our children in the ways of peace.


What is the problem?

I. The problem is to define peace education as a teachable process. We know (from David Smith and Terrance Carson, in their book Educating for a Peaceful Future (U of Alberta) 1998 Kagan and Woo) that in the past hundred years or so proponents of peace education have emphasized many different themes:

* For instance the early 20th century’s international School Peace League promoted peace through international understanding, believing hopefully that civilization (theirs in the USA and Britain mainly) was progressing beyond violent conflict. The league’s eminent business, church and government proponents and mainly middle class educated supporters obviously underestimated the strength of rising nationalism and reactions to colonial expansion. World War I with all its disasters came, leaving peace educators determined that new generations of school children should never again be brainwashed into believing they should fight for racial or national ideals.

* However, even as many peace educators in the years between the two world wars talked about international cooperation through the League of Nations , they were confronting school texts permeated with the ideals of nationalism.  Maria Montessori recognized that peace education had to go beyond the curriculum, saying “There is a new world to conquer – the world of the human spirit”. Shortly after the carnage of World War II she concluded that “establishing peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.”

* But this early post WW II period saw growing faith in the United Nations and its potential – even as the seeds of the emerging Cold War were planted. Most peace educators in these years realized that war was now total, killing civilians as much as armies, so they focussed on ridding the world of war’s weapons – the atomic bomb, nuclear weapons testing and the like, and explored new non-violent ways to resolve conflicts. 

* In the next period, late 1960s and 1970s, the emphasis switched (or perhaps the word is grew) to envisioning a just world, emphasizing economic and social justice. Paulo Freire’s “pedagogy of the oppressed” taught that international justice meant giving the world’s poor the means to claim their own liberation and control of their own societies and cultures.  In the US the Vietnam War spawned an active peace movement and peace education gained greater prominence. Others -- Betty Reardon and Johann Galtung among them – spoke up about  structural violence, positive and negative peace and related at least some of this research into peace to classroom teaching. 

* The problem of justice without violence continued.  By the late 70s and 80s, as the possibility of  full-blown cold war between the US and the Soviet Union began to frighten students as well as military analysts, more than one million people marched in protest in New York .  Violence it was recognized had many roots, as did peace.  Peace researchers, recognizing this, began to draw links among and between global development, disarmament, the environment, human rights – and the growing field of conflict resolution. 

* By the end of the 20th century though, the world was caught up in two major trends – the economic and cultural globalization that was supposed to knit the world together, and at the same time the fracturing of societies, as cultural and religion based nationalisms clashed with each other.  Peace educators recognized how much more complex peace education had become since internationalism and non-violence seemed the only answers.


II. Most peace educators acknowledge now that their field is a layering or palimpsest of all the interpretations of peace education that earlier generations have identified, and that it must grow and change shape with changing circumstances.  Peace education, like peace itself, is a process.  We are no longer teaching simply about achieving a safe world, or a just world, or non-violent citizens in a non-violent world,  but all of these and more, with all their accompanying and future ramifications….


III. Practically then, the job of promoting to school boards and ministries, even to teachers, this understanding of what peace education is, is difficult: 

First, because it is not a clear-cut objective but a process based on knowledge and an understanding which must both be transmitted to teachers themselves, and which, along with its content and methods is to be infused or integrated into the curriculum.  It’s hard to explain this to friends and neighbours let alone school boards or ministry officials without sounding vague. 

Second, because the general climate in the public school system in every province over the past several years, has tended to be antipathetic to new challenges or experiments in teaching or the curricula.  Ministries of education are overturning traditional policies in favour of politically imposed mandates. In the Greater Toronto Area, People for Education reports that, despite immigration increases of up to 23% in one year, there is a 30% decline in ESL teaching and programmes . In Ottawa-Carleton children with special needs are being dumped into regular classrooms whose teachers have no special training and no assistants.  The result is overworked teachers, boards of education that are cowed or closed down, faculties of education coping with hugely inflated numbers as older teachers quit, and parents deserting the public system in droves.

 The response from most of these people to proposals about peace education can be summed up as  “Very nice idea thank you but not now.  We have serious issues to promote/to battle against/to find funds for…. etc”  In other words peace education and its components are expendable.

And third because of course such a change in thinking and practice will not happen until many many more people, and people who are paid well, demand it.


What are the opportunities ?

I. All this being said, my experience in Ottawa over the years is hopeful and convinces me that opportunities for peace education must come from communities and people – from good, committed teachers and people pushing for peace education from outside the system while using it. Ninety-nine per cent the work we have done at E4P until very recently has been done by volunteers and that is never very stable. But in recent years more project money has trickled in, lately from the Canadian International Development Agency, and the generally supportive Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa is considering instituting a course for student teachers in peace and global education.


II. That’s all the very local to Ottawa Carleton scene.  Looking further afield there are some important opportunities for peace education which underpin our local work, in three important sectors – 1.theory, content and methodology, 2.civil society or the social climate, and institutions’ calls for action. We could not have advanced to where we are now without these major sources of help.  Here in outline is an account of these sectors, those most relevant to our work:



* Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR) in Cambridge Mass publishes a steady stream of excellent classroom material and supports country-wide school-based initiatives to implement its mandate. It is firmly grounded in the needs of teachers and students in the public school system. It also publishes important trade books such as Linda Lantieri’s Waging Peace in Our Schools. ESR was a beacon after September 11 last year and continues shine. You will see many of its publications listed in our E4P resource guide.

* The theoretical and practical work of Dr. Betty Reardon, of Teachers’ College Columbia University, who for many years has challenged peace educators with inclusive and far-reaching intellectual underpinnings for their work, as well as practical ways to advance it. Recently Teachers’ College instituted a one-year certificate course in “Teaching about conflict processes: a holistic approach” and “Curriculum infusion models for peace education”. The course is open to teachers and non-teachers alike.



*mass, free public schooling is a fact in industrialized countries despite the current assaults on it from many quarters.  Proponents of peace education, as taxpayers, have the democratic right to insist their voices are heard by the leaders and bureaucracy in schools, boards of education and ministries.

 * unprecedented movements of peoples away from their own homelands means we and our children are learning, fast and close up, to know other cultures and societies. Children from what were once widely separated societies and cultures sit side by side with our own kids in our school classrooms.  Both are an ‘in situ’ source of peace education – positive and negative,

* the growth in numbers and importance of civil society.  Non-governmental organizations are more active than ever before.  Many want access to the schools to promote their messages.  Carefully selected and managed by teachers NGOs can enrich the classroom experience and offer students real life experiences.

 * The current widely debated economic globalization that spreads trade and investment round the globe is the immediate, media face of globalization is. It is a major public debate and a source of excellent discussion material for classrooms – covering content and method.

*perhaps most important is the proliferation and good marketing of resources and classroom materials to teachers who want to use them, and the research happening in all quarters including faculties of education.

* all the above result in a definable change in the quality of students coming into the teaching profession, according to a seasoned faculty member.  The best are knowledgeable and committed to the issues of educating for peace; that’s why they are going into teaching. They are leaders, a strong influence on other students, and will be influential in the profession, their teachers believe.




**The Hague Appeal for Peace’s Global Agenda for Peace Education declares “A culture of peace will be achieved when citizens of the world understand global problems, have the skills to resolve conflicts and struggle for justice non-violently, live by international standards of human rights and equity, appreciate cultural diversity and respect the Earth and each other.  Such learning can only be achieved with systematic education for peace.”  Idealistic? Of course.  Only faintly heard -  if at all - from our classrooms? Yes. But this statement is inspiring for peace educators who are already active and could help their efforts to be heard more widely.

**The UNESCO inspired UN Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World.  The Canadian Commission for UNESCO published a kit that fleshes out what it meant practically by launching this decade, and quoted the seven guiding principles for education policy in member countries in its 1974 “Recommendation Concerning Education for International Understanding, Cooperation and Peace, and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms”.  This also is inspiring and may have helped peace educators on the ground obtain funding from donors.


III. In sum there are many opportunities now to put peace education at the heart of the educational system, not by doing more of the same but by changing our way of thinking about it.  If we conceive of peace education as a critical framework process that lies at the heart of everything teachers do in the classroom and everything students are taught; if we can convince ministries of education, teacher federations and school boards of this evolution in thinking and the facts and opportunities that underpin it,  then we will see the strengthening expansion of what is already being taught in the field and alert teachers and students to a new vision of education for a better, workable world.


IV. A compelling example of this, and an excellent, practical teaching unit, is outlined in Betty Reardon’s Education for a Culture of Peace in a Gender Perspective (2001) (section 5) which takes pre- and inservice teachers, or senior high school students through a fascinating process of envisioning, detailed research, critical thinking, cooperative decision-making and action for a better world: 

The students begin, in groups, by defining their preferred future under certain heads, eg human security, war and violence, poverty and development. Then, over the weeks, they identify the sort of global organizations, governments and civil society organizations that could enact advances in these sectors, how they would operate, and the present obstacles such institutions would face.  What global conditions and agreements would have to be in place for such bodies to be inaugurated in, say 30 years’ time ?  What steps forward have already been taken toward such a future – eg the International Criminal Court, the Anti- Personnel Landmines legislation. 

Students in groups prepare chronologies that detail everything that will have to take place in the next 30 years for such future to begin. They report to the class and agree on a common scenario that is possible to achieve, and then discuss what citizens (government, NGOs, individuals, educational institutions, the media and corporations) would have to do to bring this about.  The final step is to determine a framework of action and agree on how to convince educators and citizens to undertake these actions.

It makes you want to go back to school, doesn’t it !