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Needed: teaching peace literacy by numbers.

Imagine you knew of a faraway country where citizens insisted 2 + 2 = 9 or 10 x 10 = 6. This was a nation of otherwise intelligent people, recognized globally for their achievements in everything from politics to athletics. It's just that nearly everyone was mired in a deep sinkhole of ignorance about math.

Social costs were large. Taxes couldn't be collected because few could fill in the forms with correct addition or subtraction and no one at the IRS could tell the difference. Workers never knew the amounts of their next paychecks. At sporting events, winners and losers were never known because the score couldn't be kept.

When you inquired, you were told: Math wasn't taught in the schools. A few citizens picked it up on their own, but they were a minority and tended to be eccentrics anyway. Reformers were rare. No politician ever ran for office on a pledge to get math courses in schools. Teachers who tried to get across the idea that 2 x 2 = 4 were reported to the school board as radicals.

That's about where we are regarding the teaching of nonviolent conflict resolution and peacemaking. We don't know because we weren't taught: not us adults yesterday nor our kids today. As a logical and forgone result, we are peace illiterates, all but helpless to deal with conflicts in families, schools, neighborhoods or among governments in any way except the failed methods of fists, guns, armies and threats.

The effects of ignorance -- peace illiteracy -- is a land awash in violence. No social problem is deadlier or more costly. Most U.S. cities saw record rates of homicide in the 1980s. A violent crime is committed every 17 seconds. The leading cause of injury among American women is being beaten by a man at home. The United States sells weapons to 142 of the planet's 180 governments. More than 100,000 weapons are brought into schools every day.

Those figures -- and more -- are routinely cited to describe the bind we are in. What's the solution?

I propose a modest but potentially powerful one: an office of peace education in the Department of Education in the Clinton administration. An assistant secretary for peace education would bring a federal presence where one is needed. Only a few of the nation's 78,000 elementary of 28,000 high schools have a nonviolence curriculum or have required courses in conflict resolution, something that is needed at all grade levels.

An office of peace education would be a resource center for school boards, administrators, teachers, students and parents who request help either to begin or expand the necessary courses. One of its services would be curriculum development. It would coordinate the successful programs that are now working in all parts of the country, from those of the Oregon Peace Institute in many o that state's schools to teacher-training workshops in Florida, organized by the Peace Education Foundation of Miami.

Courses in peacemaking and nonviolent conflict resolution are pedagogically similar to those in, say, math. Starting in first grade, society prepares kids for some of life's problems that a knowledge of math may possibly solve. We know, too, that children in first grade will go through life facing other problems: conflicts in human, social and political relationships. Yet we have children in school for 12 years and teach them little or nothing about nonviolent ways of settling those conflicts.

And then we call the cops, social workers, psychiatrists, judges, jailers and deviancy experts when homicides, spouse and child abuse, violent crime and war continues. We graduate peace illiterates and wonder why violence engulfs us.

A federal office of peace education, if allowed to be innovative, could be decisive in turning the country away from the vise of violence that grips it. It would affirm all those now in the schools teaching mediation, conflict resolution, theories in peacemaking alternatives to violence. It would be an overdue message from the Department of Education to those teachers of change: You're on to something. Peacemaking can be taught.
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Title Annotation:nonviolence education
Author:McCarthy, Colman
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 25, 1992
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