Peace: The Countercultural Value
About this articleFrom the February-March 1995 issue of Momentum, this article suggests that schools need to provide strong peace education programming to counteract the acceptance of violence as normal behavior. The article offers a model for implementing a peace education program that involves all constituents of the school community. Planning and implementation for the program start with definition and draw on two basic concepts: the beatitude "Blessed are the peacemakers" and Pope Paul VI's saying "If you want peace, work for justice." A model of assessment is given that examines instruction, curriculum, faculty modeling, and parent-community involvement.
Ours is a violent society. Furthermore, evidence strongly suggests that we are learning to accept violence as normal behavior. As a people, we appear to be increasingly indifferent to daily images of warfare, racial hatred and ethnic cleansing.
Murder and other vicious crimes are commonplace, and yet they generate little moral outrage. Furthermore, the violence of abortion is acceptable to many. In effect, we appear to have become hardened to human suffering and to the moral damage it causes.1
At the same time, Scripture challenges us to counter the culture and to live at peace with everyone, a challenge of the highest order in complexity and importance.
Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them. . . . Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good. (Rom 12:14,17,21)
One approach to countering violence at the community level is to provide strong peace education programming in elementary and secondary schools. Many Catholic schools are already doing an excellent job in this regard, and the messages gleaned from their experiences can be helpful to all concerned with developing peaceful communities.
From successful peace education programs we have learned that effectiveness begins with the adoption of a definition of peace. Focus then shifts to the identification of a set of principles to guide the program development process.
Assessment of program efforts follows, based on a set of characteristics associated with effective programming. Finally, action plans are developed and carried out in areas of assessed need. Each of these steps is explored here.
Peace connotes not so much an absence of violence as a sharing in the goodness of life with one another. It is first and foremost a matter of the heart and, as such, it encompasses the virtues of humility, kindness, civility and charity.2 These virtues constitute the underlying spirit for effective peace education programming.
Sound programs emphasize two basic concepts. The first, peacemaking, derives from the beatitude: "Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called children of God."
The second, working for justice, is embodied in the call of Pope Paul VI: "If you want peace, work for justice." From these two values all program activities emanate.
The program development process is, in one sense, as important as the substance of a peace education program. Faculty, staff, parents and community members tend to support programs in proportion to their involvement in the planning process.
Effective program developers honor the following principles:
- Since the school community is composed of students, teachers, administrators, parents and members of the larger community with whom students and parents interact, program planning must involve representatives of each group.
- Because the fundamental units for delivering education programs are the classroom, the school and the larger community, program activities are carried out at each level.
Once a commitment to honor these planning principles is in place, attention shifts to examining school efforts for the presence of characteristics commonly found in effective programs. These characteristics relate to instruction, curriculum, faculty modeling and parent-community involvement.
Readers are encouraged to assess their school's efforts in relation to each characteristic and to additional qualities that are viewed locally as essential to program effectiveness.
In classrooms with effective peace education programs, the following strategies are observed:
- Teachers provide support and encouragement for all students.3
- Teachers limit interpersonal competition and encourage the development of a cooperative community. Peer tutoring and cooperative learning approaches are employed regularly. 4
- Teachers instruct students on nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution and provide opportunities for practicing these approaches.
The following program experiences are planned for students throughout the school program:
- Members of the school community pray daily for peace.
- The gospel call as well as the church's teachings on peace are emphasized consistently.
- Peace-related values such as kindness, compassion, hope and charity, courage and humility are emphasized in all curricular areas.
- Students are involved in service activities that engender a sense of responsibility for others and they are called to reflect systematically on their service experiences.
- Recognition is given to students who model peacemaking and service ideals in their daily lives.
As faculty members-work to help students value peacemaking and service, it is essential that they model these values. In supporting formal peace education programming:
- Faculty reject violence as a way of managing conflict with students.
- Faculty demonstrate their concern for social justice by actively engaging in community service projects.
- Understanding that only the strong can be gentle, faculty take care of themselves physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.
Teachers' students and parents or guardians are members of a potentially powerful trinity. They interact with one another and their collective impact is most positive when all three sharecommon purposes. School personnel can strengthen this sense of trinity by:
- Taking specific steps to educate parents to foster a spirit of service and selflessness among their children5
- Making precise suggestions as to what parents can do at home to support the school's efforts to promote peacemaking
- Inviting parents to participate in school liturgies on a regular basis
Once the evaluation process is complete, program improvement efforts are keyed to characteristics that bear a marked discrepancy between "what is" and "what should be."
All who are responsible for programming are involved in the ongoing monitoring of the program's progress. A planning-implementation-evaluation cycle is thereby established and program integrity is assured.
Peace education programming is easier to talk about than to implement. While many Catholic school faculties do an excellent job of countering the violence so prevalent in our society, most can do better.
Strong peace education programs deserve all the energy faculty and staff can muster. When peace is valued, we honor the gospel call; help students develop personal synthesis of faith, culture and life; and provide the larger community with a model for building a better, more peaceful society. This is in good part what Catholic schools are all about.
Dr. Rogus is professor of education at The University of Dayton, Ohio.
1. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Harvest of Justice Is Forever in Peace, Washington, DC, United States Catholic Conference, 1994, p. 20.
2. Ibid., p. 3.
3. Thomas J. Lasley, Teaching Peace, Westport, CT, Bergin and Garvey, 1994, pp. 104–106.
4. Ibid., pp. 106–109.
5. Ibid., pp. 135–137.
AcknowledgmentsThis article originally appeared in Momentum, the journal of the National Catholic Education Association. It is reprinted here by permission of the NCEA. For more information about the NCEA, go to their web site at http://www.ncea.org.
Published February 1, 1995.