A New Era of Peace Education: Towards a Shared and Comprehensive Perspective by Tony Jenkins

Jul 07, 2011

This week’s original article by Kindle Project friend, Tony Jenkins is a welcome addition to our exploration of conflict transformation. As a central figure in the Peace Education movement, Tony’s wisdom, nuance, and candid observations act as refreshing revelations in what is often be perceived as a nebulous field.

As Tony describes, the most basic tenet of Peace Education, and often the most difficult and complex to practice, is to foster the ability to consider any given situation from multiple viewpoints. Sounds simple enough? It, however, is not. As we’ve seen from some of our other contributors this season, even the smallest of conflicts can be hard to view outside of one’s own lens.

While I’ve always struggled with the language of Peace Education, I have continually resonated with its message. What I appreciate about Tony’s article is his truthful outlook on the risks we’re taking as educators if we do not start to pay very careful attention to the need for a comprehensive perspective. This will take undoubtedly tremendous work at all levels. Knowing Tony, I am grateful that he is at the forefront of this movement helping to bring the hard-hitting skills to so many educators working for social change.


A New Era of Peace Education: Towards a Shared and Comprehensive Perspective

by Tony Jenkins, Director of Education, National Peace Academy

For the past 10 years my professional and institutional affiliations have placed me at the center of several intersecting global networks of peace educators.  From this unique position I’ve observed a significant expansion in peace education developments at all levels. While this growth seeds new hope it also ushers in several concerns.

The increase in numbers of peace educators the past decade can be traced to several factors, the most glaring being the new world order established by the perpetual global war on terror.  This new realpolitik has impacted nearly all levels of society, from the local to the global, reshaping the individual, interpersonal, political, economic and ecological dimensions of life on our planet.

In response to this shifting world order, a crop of activist leaning peace educators has emerged, many who have equated peace education to education for activism.  While it is critical for peace educators to capacitate students for action and change, turning classrooms into laboratories for activism is indoctrination.  This, and other pedagogical concerns, represents the greatest challenges to the field of peace education. While all education is political, and it is impossible to enter into a teaching relationship without bringing our personal values and principles, it is still possible to teach for peace in a value consistent way without indoctrinating.  Unfortunately, the complexity of peace education pedagogy is beyond the scope of this brief article.  I hope, rather, to illuminate the need for the development of a commonly shared, comprehensive conception of peace education.

The issues and concerns of conflict and violence are broad making the field of peace education difficult to define.  Peace education takes a different lens depending upon social and political contexts: issues of violence in Libya are very different than those in Kansas. While lens taking is essential, if peace education is to be personally and socially transformative, peace educators need to capacitate citizens to be able to take holistic, micro-macro, and past-present-future perspectives.  Such perspective taking helps to illuminate the systemic nature of violence and aids learners in uncovering the issues that lie beneath.  This is the perspective taken by Dr. Betty Reardon in her widely influential book “Comprehensive Peace Education: Educating for Global Responsibility” in which she defines the goals of peace education as oriented toward the “development of a planetary consciousness that will enable us to function as global citizens and to transform the present human condition by changing societal structures”   (Reardon, 1988).

A comprehensive approach to peace education can seem overwhelming.  It is transdisciplinary in scope and requires the nurturance of multiple modes of learning, reflection, thinking, and doing.  Trying to define the numerous, interrelated issues of peace and violence is beyond the scope of most learning experiences.  While we cannot easily convey such complexity, it is possible to capacitate learners to think systemically and holistically.

At the National Peace Academy (NPA) we have been seeking to demystify peace through a holistic, inquiry-based, conceptual framework.  While there are many holistic definitions of peace, the NPA’s framework starts with an understanding of peace as shaped by the definition contained in the Earth Charter:

“…peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part” (The Earth Charter, 2000).

This definition invites learners to deeply inquire into the nature of peace and “right relationships” by asking: what are the values, principles and ethics that inform and sustain right relationships, and how and by whom are they determined?  This concept of peace also illuminates five interdependent spheres of peace and “right relationships” that form the core of a comprehensive peace education inquiry: the personal, social, political, institutional, and the ecological.

From this framework, the substance and values of comprehensive peace education can be pursued through inquiry.   For example, how we nurture personal peace can be pursued through inquiry into how we manage and act upon our internal conflicts, attitudes, actions, and emotions toward living with integrity.   Similarly, the possibilities for understanding and nurturing political peace can be pursued through inquiry into how we engage in decision-making processes and public discourse.  This is only a snippet of a very complex inquiry.  These five spheres must also be examined systemically; observing how each represents a unique, reciprocally reinforcing sphere of human organization and relationships.

If having hope requires having possibilities, we can take comfort in that fact that possibilities can be generated through inquiries such as those introduced above.  It is my hope that a comprehensive approach to peace education can unite educators together through inquiry into commonly shared concerns and issues, while still allowing educators to address local issues of immediate concern.


Links, References and Recommended Resources


About the Author

Tony Jenkins is the Education Director of the National Peace Academy and serves as the Global Coordinator of the International Institute on Peace Education and the Global Campaign for Peace Education.  As the Education Director of the National Peace Academy, Tony oversees the development of formal and non-formal educational programs and a research agenda designed to promote and inquire into the conditions and learning and educational change strategies for nurturing positive peace.  Prior to joining the National Peace Academy, Tony was the Co-Director of the Peace Education Center at Teachers College, Columbia University where he coordinated peace education research and program development nationally and internationally. Tony has taught courses in peace education, human rights, disarmament education, and gender and peace at Teachers College, Columbia University’s New York and Tokyo Campuses; Jaume I University in Spain; and at the UN University for Peace in Costa Rica.  Tony’s current work and research interests focus on examining the impacts and effectiveness of peace education methods and pedagogies in nurturing personal, social, and political change and transformation.