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Is It Possible To Teach Peace? A Pragmatic Program

Teaching Peace: A Pragmatic Program
The tempestuous condition of our society demonstrates that without this kind of emotional and spiritual knowledge, we may fail to resolve the daunting challenges of our times. Here is when learning to teach peace becomes critical.

The first step toward building a teaching peace curriculum program ought to begin with the pursuit of self-knowledge, for it is with the individual that all knowledge originates.

Knowledge, however, is not merely the compilation of external facts and information (“the idolatry of the factual,” as Nietszche called it), but a complex web of thoughts and emotions that transform information into understanding —of the self, society, and life overall. Thus, she who grows up without investigating the fundamental idyosincracies of her own psychological and social make-up is bound to have a flawed and incomplete education. How can he fathom the reasons sustaining people’s actions—and his own—when he does not understand human nature through himself?

The founder of Waldorf Education, the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), offers extraordinary insights on the pursuit of comprehensive self-knowledge through Anthroposophy, or the ‘knowledge of human kind.’ Steiner contends that human life is essentially the spiritual journey of individual souls. When the soul is nurtured, academic and all other types of learning ensue effortlessly. Whether one agrees with his philosophical views or not, his contributions to child development within the context of right human relations (peace) are profound and praiseworthy.

Peace has an indissoluble and intrinsic relationship with universal love. And in the same way that a person cannot love another without loving himself, so he can only understand other people to the same degree that he understands himself. Since peace involves the participation of everyone, harmonious existence requires substantial self-knowledge; not only in an individualistic and isolated manner, but in direct connection to the common reality shared by all.

Once diligent self-study (conjoining one’s individual human characteristics with sociological factors) has been initiated and securely established by an educational program, the bridge from self-knowledge to social knowledge can be safely crossed. After understanding and accepting the ephemeral, vulnerable, painful, and challenging aspects of the human condition, such prevalent motives as individual selfishness and self-preservation have the potential to be transformed into enlightened self-interest, i.e. an awareness for the need of brotherhood/sisterhood and peaceful cooperative effort. In this new stage of exploring social knowledge, it would be possible to assimilate the tremendous suffering humanity has endured hitherto.

Perhaps the best approach for such an educational endeavor would include more emphasis on the humanities (a human-centered investigation of historical events, arts, literature, etc.), and the cosmological ideas of the great Russian master G. I. Gurdjieff (1877-1949) and his most prominent pupil P. D. Ouspensky (1878-1947). They developed what became known as “The New Knowledge,” a theory based on the premise that man does not know himself; that she knows neither her own limitations nor her capabilities.

Knowledge v. Wisdom
The distinction between knowledge and Wisdom also needs to be emphasized in a feasible Teach Peace program. Knowledge, for the most part, has been perceived and acquired through a Cartesian (“I think, therefore I am”) perspective, that is, with the absolute dominance of the mind, while ignoring emotional and spiritual intelligence. Wisdom, however, encompasses all the elements that constitute the human make-up and experience. Therefore, knowledge is an asset only as a pathway to Wisdom; otherwise it inevitably becomes merely the product of an obsessive information accumulation process. By contrast, Wisdom is the zenith; the house where peace dwells; the stage in which mental, emotional, and spiritual intelligence are nurtured and expand. Following is a parallel that characterizes the distinction between the two in an educational context:

 Knowledge   Wisdom
 Information  Awareness
 Memorization  Assimilation
 Learning  Becoming
 I Know  I Am
 I Need  I Serve
 Competition  Cooperation
 Traditional  Progressive
 Cartesian  Holistic

“Knowledge without love can be evil.”
Philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

At the core of Wisdom lies brotherly/sisterly love. Without it, knowledge can be a dangerous intellectual weapon of oppression and destruction. Although it is intellectual knowledge that makes it possible to illuminate the cities with electric light, it is love that enlightens the human spirit. Love is the guiding torch out of the dark tunnel of greed and selfishness that distinguishes industrial capitalist societies. And, as it is utterly impossible to gestate a child without the participation of both man and woman (at least by natural means), it is equally impossible to achieve Wisdom without a balanced combination of knowledge and love. Peace being an essential element of Wisdom, teaching peace would only be possible if brotherly/sisterly love became a learning discipline of a radically reformed educational system.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) declares “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family,” and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms of the Declaration. Nevertheless, we are far from reaching such lofty ideals, in spite of specific recommendations of this important international document. For instance, regarding the role of education in the promotion of human rights, Article 26, Clause 2 of the Declaration states: “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.”

The above statement endorses the arguments presented in this article: the “development of the human personality” (self-knowledge), and “promoting human rights, tolerance and friendship” (brotherly/sisterly love), are fundamental elements for the maintenance of peace. Thus, teaching peace is not only possible but becomes an imperative requisite of any responsible educational system. The course of continuing social evolution must pass through this portal.

Is it possible to teach peace? Absolutely. Pragmatically useful curricula can, should and are being developed and tried in schools, irrespective of culture, language and nationality. This is the real education reform that our society, and all societies, so desperately need. As far as the future for humanity is concerned, teaching peace is synonymous with hope.

As Maria Montessori (1870-1952) once averred, humankind will achieve true peace only when the child’s developmental needs are fully met, and become society’s highest priority in its educational system—instead of focusing on the economic function of education.

Sebastian de Assis, Ph.D. is an educator, writer and the founder of The Educational Center for Human Development. His latest book is Re-Education Re-Form: Is It Possible to Teach Peace? Sebastian is an education consultant dedicated to fostering the development of the whole human person (mind, heart and spirit). He designs progressive curricula for independent, alternative, charter and home schools and is available for consultation, workshops and curriculum development. Sebastian can be reached at (541) 757-2594.