Peace Education: History & Types

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will look at the various types and history of peace education in order to better understand how to live in harmony with oneself, others, and the environment.

A Brief History of Peace Education

Peace education began with the enlightenment philosophers like Immanuel Kant and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. These enlightenment philosophers helped usher in a new era of democratic government that effectively brought humanity out of the Dark Ages. These philosophers did not refer to their work as peace education, but it did emphasize similar themes, like humanitarian concerns, equal rights, liberty, equality and social justice.

While the study of war and military strategy dates back for millennia, the formal academic study of peace is relatively new. Several notable historical figures of the 20th century have engaged in overt peace education as a means of achieving their goals of harmonious nonviolence. Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr. are the most famous of these.

The anti-war movement and civil rights movement of the sixties went a long way to solidifying peace education as a valid means by which to help people get along in the world. This phenomenon of the convergence of several peaceful, humanitarian movements created an urgency in the development of formal theories and practices in peace education.

In 2013 the United Nations held its annual International Day of Peace and established peace education as its theme for that year. Today we still see humanitarian work in the form of peace education as the world becomes ever more dangerous and divided.

Types of Peace Education

Conflict Resolution Training

Conflict resolution training involves teaching people tools and strategies for effectively resolving a conflict within their personal lives. Students in conflict resolution training learn coping skills, anger management, taking responsibility, seeking compromise, improving communication and listening skills, articulating needs, and differentiating fact from emotion. The students benefit from learning that conflict is natural and strategies to work through that conflict can prevent interpersonal violence.

Because the focus of conflict resolution training is on an individual's experiences and means of managing conflict, this strategy is more microsocial by addressing interpersonal concerns, rather than macrosocial by addressing larger, more global concerns addressed by the other types of peace education below. These micro social issues may include interactions such as one's relationships with loved ones (like friends and family), authority figures (like teachers or employers), or other people they encounter in their daily routine (like customer service workers).

Democracy Education

Democracy education is generally focused on the political process of conflict and operates on the assumption that increasing democratic opportunities can reduce conflict in non-democratic societies that typically resort to war and violence. Just like with conflict resolution training, democracy education tends to emphasize changing students perception of conflict as positive and a source for promoting growth.

Democracy education helps by training students in debate, building coalitions, critical thinking and by promoting individuality, tolerance, and freedom of speech. Students are trained to hold their government accountable through the democratic process and engage in the adversarial system of a multi-party democracy with mutual respect or the opinions of others. The failure of bombing others into democracy became glaringly apparent in Vietnam during the era when peace education gained much of its momentum as a direct result.

Human Rights Education

Human rights education emphasizes a more global, universal approach based on fundamental principles of human rights to be treated with dignity and protected from oppression or violence. Human rights education is focused on teaching students about the United Nations declarations on peace education as well as how to recognize when a person or group is being treated in such a way that violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In areas where conflict is embedded in the community, human rights education can become difficult and actually lead to greater conflict. When severely oppressed groups learn that they have universal fundamental human rights that have been denied to them, they may lash out with violence. Situations like this warrant a practical approach, perhaps first by introducing democracy education and training and passive resistance and nonviolent action.

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