“Education is peacebuilding by another name.” — Kofi Annan
If we are more familiar with what it takes to create conflict than we are with what it takes to create peace — how do we change that? How do we become more “peace literate?” We teach it, just like we teach reading and writing.
Peace literacy was coined by Rotarian Paul Chappell, and is simply “the mastery over the many skills related to peace building, such as resolving conflict, treating everyone with respect, and seeking alternatives to bullying and other forms of aggression.” We can of course directly develop peace literacy through peace studies and conflict resolution courses, just as we can sharpen our reading and writing skills through literacy courses. But even further, we can develop peace literacy by incorporating it into everything we do, just as we incorporate reading and writing into everything we do.
We typically learn to read and write at a very young age so we can use those skills to better do other things. For example, we learn to read so we can better understand other subjects in school, but also so we can navigate the world — we read street signs, menus, instruction manuals, the list goes on. Our lives are exponentially easier when we know how to read.
Peace literacy is no different. So, what if in school, we were taught to recognize indicators of conflict? Or how to have non-violent conflict? Or how to listen with empathy and curiosity instead of judgment? Our lives would also be exponentially easier if we understood peace as much as we understand conflict. We would navigate conflict more easily, there would likely be less violence, and we would develop societies where peace, justice, and equity are able to thrive.
Unfortunately at the moment, we are in a place where disagreement, even in learning environments such as higher education, come with conversations around suppression, freedom of speech, and “cancel culture.” Additionally, educators are dealing with near daily mass shootings on school campuses, COVID-19 precautions, and a year of isolation that has sparked a mental health crisis across the United States.
Yet, as many challenges as educators are facing now, they still have so many opportunities to demonstrate productive discourse, learning, and ultimately — peaceful literacy — despite their differences. Community colleges in particular, are an excellent place to have these conversations, because they are laboratories for pluralism due to serving the most diverse student populations, and being the primary provider of career technical education. Therefore allowing the unique perspective on how to build peace through education at both an institutional level, as well as a very grassroots level.
With that said, BC sees an opportunity to expand its Peace Seminar Series to include an “Educators for Peace” Panel on Tuesday, May 18 from 5 to 6 p.m. The event will be hosted by President Sonya Christian, and I have the honor of moderating the conversation among panelists Richard McCrow, Jessica Wojtysiak, Bryan Hirayama, and Jeremy Staat. All panelists are leaders on the BC campus, and will discuss how we can build peace institutionally, in the classroom, as well as in the community.
We hope you join us. Peacebuilding is not an academic or intellectual experiment, but a collective moral pursuit. It includes all of us. So we hope to see you this Tuesday to continue the discussion on what peace looks like in Kern County, and how we can all contribute.
To attend the “Educators for Peace” Panel, please register at the link: https://bit.ly/33yV10m
Kara McDonald is a program manager for Student Success and Equity.