Learning the language of peace

On Mother’s Day, I was deeply saddened to open The News & Advance and read an article titled “‘Run, Hide, Fight’ Mindset Making Way Into Schools,” which reported that “a growing number of schools” are offering “guidance to students ... in some situations, to do what they can to disrupt school shootings.” I was absolutely stunned to consider that as a nation we have allowed ourselves to sink to this level. What in heaven’s name are we thinking?

In order to get some perspective on this horrifying development, we need to take a step back to see the big picture of current realities in most of our nation’s schools, realities that already preclude an optimum environment for learning.

Let’s start with our dedicated, hard-working teachers. In our schools today, many are: (1) working with shrinking budgets and need to spend large amounts of their own money on supplies and learning materials, (2) often working other jobs to supplement their meager pay and (3) using their free time to volunteer for election campaigns, marches and rallies to lobby for better pay and working conditions. And in recent developments they are now being encouraged to also train and arm themselves to repel shooters who invade their schools!

Students also face daunting obstacles to education with their everyday reality: (1) the constant distraction of a hyper-connected world and its abundance of electronic temptations, (2) the devastating alienation and suffering caused by social-media cruelty, (3) disciplinary policies that target students of color with disproportionate suspensions and expulsions creating a school-to-prison conveyor belt and (4) the anxiety, trauma and insecurity caused by violence in many households and neighborhoods that disrupt their learning. And now they are being encouraged to “do what they can to disrupt school shootings”!

One educator in the Mother’s Day article was quoted as saying, “In all honesty, I don’t know of another strategy.” If this is truly the best we can do for our young students, what a sad commentary it is on our society.

The truth is that there are many other long-term strategies that our citizens must work towards to create an optimum environment in our schools. Number one, of course, is to lobby for sensible gun laws that can allow firearms for self-defense or hunting but not high-powered assault weapons designed for killing mass numbers of human beings, including innocent children.

Another long-term solution is to implement programs in our schools, and larger society, to create a more peaceful society. I urge educators and concerned citizens to consider the work of Paul Chappell, a West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran who grew up in a violent household and has spent his life studying war and peace. He is now an author and educator with a growing movement based on his model for Peace Literacy, a “new approach to both peace and education ... that empowers people with the training, skills, and understanding needed to heal the root causes of our problems, rather than merely addressing surface symptoms.” More information can be found at www.peaceliteracy.org, which offers a wealth of free learning materials for all ages — for students, teachers and citizens alike — including lesson plans, informational pamphlets and links to videos and other learning materials.

As a society we would do well to consider this question from Michael Garnder, president of the Santa Barbara Rotary Club, which he posed after hearing a presentation by Chappell: “If we aren’t taught the language of peace, how can it be spoken?”



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